LIMITS TO ADAPTATION: CAUSES, AND CONSEQUENCES FOR ECOLOGY AND ECOSYSTEM FUNCTION

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Institute of Integrative Biology

Abstract

Species are increasingly faced with the challenge of coping with a changing environment caused by human disturbance or climate change. Whether they are able to cope or not is critical for biodiversity and the benefits that we get from ecosystems. The ability of species to evolve and adapt to new environmental conditions is a key factor that we need to understand if we are to predict how species will cope with a changing environment or to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. It is particularly important to understand how rapidly species can adapt, what the limits are to evolution, and how evolution of one species will affect the rest of the ecosystem with which it interacts.

In this project, we will investigate these questions through a series of large scale experiments using a small crustacean called Daphnia, which has a major impact on water quality and the health of freshwater ecosystems. Our approach has several unique strengths. First, Daphnia can reproduce clonally, which means that we can manipulate the genetic diversity of populations to examine its effects on the rate and limits of adaptation. Second, we will use a system of large outdoor heated tanks - the largest such facility in Europe - to examine the response of Daphnia, and its associated ecosystem, to heat-waves, which is a key environmental challenge faced by species. Third, we will exploit the latest DNA sequencing technologies - available at a major genomics centre at Liverpool - to examine the genetic mechanisms underlying adaptation to climate change. Finally, our study is supported by recent, exciting findings from our laboratory where we have demonstrated the potential importance of two processes - plasticity and epigenetics - for adaptation. Plasticity allows individuals to change their pattern of development, growth and/or reproduction in response to the environment, and epigenetics allows these changes to be transmitted to their offspring by modifying the action of genes. These processes are central to questions about what limits the ability to adapt to environmental change, since they could allow the animals to adapt far more rapidly than they would by conventional evolution alone, in which only frequencies of genes change over time. As such, these processes may also help protect the animal populations from going extinct following an environmental change, so allowing time for the species to evolve over a longer period.

The research will: i) quantify how two major influences on animals (food and temperature differences) affect many different and crucial aspects of the lives of Daphnia (phenotypic plasticity); ii) use the knowledge of this plasticity together with whether the Daphnia are adapted to local or different environments, to undertand how plasticity, genetic diversity and epigenetics determine the potential of populations to evolve; iii) understand how limitations in the potential of populations to evolve will alter the fate of other species in the community and the functioning of the whole ecosystem (e.g. by regulating water quality and blooms of harmful algae).

This research will, therefore, fundamentally advance our understanding of how three different influences (genetic diversity, plasticity and epigenetics) contribute and combine to allow populations to adapt to environmental change, and how this can affect other species and ultimately the services (clean water, food, fibre, amenity) that freshwater ecosystems and their biodiversity provide. Our findings will be disseminated to the academic community, to policy-makers, to schools and to the general public.

Planned Impact

Policy makers:
A greater understanding of the mechanisms that either hasten extinction or underpin rapid evolutionary responses to anthropogenic stressors, and the effect that this then has on population, community and ecosystem level processes will help environment and health legislators to deliver informed conservation, medical and sustainable harvesting strategies that will mitigate or avoid anthropogenic effects, and/or protect the evolutionary processes that determine future patterns of biodiversity.

Training of scientists:
The project will train researchers in state-of-the-art 'omic techniques that are transferable to other fields such as health and medicine, stem cell technology, disease biology, agriculture, conservation, and environmental sciences. The conceptually broad and integrative nature of this project - investigating links along pathways between molecular biology and ecosystem function - will not only train researchers in several specialist areas of life and environmental sciences, but crucially also in working in multidisciplinary teams to advance a more thorough and comprehensive understanding of complex environmental challenges.

Commercial/private sector:
Understanding individual, population, community and ecosystem level responses to human-induced evolutionary change can help us to mitigate these effects in natural environments. But also, a mechanistic understanding of rapid evolutionary responses might also be used to improve responses to artificial selection used in agriculture and food industries.

Wider public:
Concepts such as contemporary evolution, phenotypic plasticity, non-genetic inheritance and epigenetics are complex topics that are poorly understood by the general public. Yet they are increasingly an everyday part of our lives, impacting on society through antibiotic and pesticide resistance, the over-harvesting of natural resources, and their implication in diseases including aging, cancer, schizophrenia and lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Our work will improve the public understanding of science by introducing these topics into the public domain. Second, the wider public will also benefit from our work because incorporating rapid evolution into the management of shallow freshwaters will help to protect them and the ecosystem services that they provide, including the provision of freshwater, power-generation, regulation of waste and nutrients, retention of soil and transport and recreation.

Publications

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Sadler DE (2019) Temperature and clone-dependent effects of microplastics on immunity and life history in Daphnia magna. in Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987)

 
Description So far we have demonstrated that there is considerable genetic variability in multivariate plastic responses to food and temperature in a natural population of Daphnia magna. Our phenotypic evolution results are suggesting that heatwaves have a transient effect on both Daphnia magna phenotypes and the community dynamics of shallow freshwaters which reverses after a few months. Heatwaves do not appear to induce major phenotypic evolution and as a result, differences in genetic diversity and plasticity do not have large effects of phenotypic evolution. However, a seasonal shift in temperature does generate a large scale maternal effect. We have collected all the data required to test whether this shift is a result of temperature-induced epigenetic change. Once we have genotyped all of our samples we will be able to test the hypothesis that populations use existing plasticity to respond to heatwaves and that a lack of evolutionary response arises because of fluctuating section in wile populations.
Exploitation Route Our findings will hopefully provide one of the most thorough examples of how a population that is embedded in a natural community in a semi-natural environment responds to an increased frequency of heatwaves.
Sectors Education,Environment

 
Description Evolutionary resistance: Does adaptation stabilise plant community structure and function under climate change?
Amount £647,858 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R011451/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 01/2022
 
Description Internal funding
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Liverpool 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2016 
 
Title Semi-automated Daphnia population counts 
Description We have developed a semi-automated image analysis technique for studying Daphnia population dynamics 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Allows the study of eco-evolutionary feedback loops 
 
Title University of Liverpool experimental freshwater mesocosms 
Description We have built 50 x 3000 litre freshwater 'smart' mesocosms that are fully temperature controllable and incorporate telemetric collection of data. The facility allows us to program heatwaves into shallow freshwaters and study the environmental consequences. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The facility will allow the controlled and replicated study of the effects of warming on semi-natural shallow freshwater communities. 
URL https://smartponds.liverpool.ac.uk/Ness%20Summary/index.html
 
Title Population level plasticity assays (temp x food) 
Description A comparison of multivariate plasticity generated by temperature and food for 75 clones from a single population and 30 clones from other thermal niches. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact In progress 
 
Description Daphnia egg development assay 
Organisation University of Liverpool
Department Department of Public Health and Policy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Developing a high throughput assay of Daphnia egg development using confocal microscopy
Collaborator Contribution Developing a high throughput assay of Daphnia egg development using confocal microscopy
Impact Two manuscripts are currently being prepared
Start Year 2016
 
Description Prof. Lu-Yun Lian 
Organisation University of Liverpool
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Development of individual egg metabolomics
Collaborator Contribution Development of individual egg metabolomics
Impact Development of novel metabolomic data and results
Start Year 2016
 
Description Tom van Dooren 
Organisation École Normale Supérieure, Paris
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are working on how Tom can use the data collected from this grant tp parameterise models of evolutionary lag.
Collaborator Contribution We are working on how Tom can use the data collected from this grant tp parameterise models of evolutionary lag.
Impact Harney E.H., Van Dooren, T.J.M., Paterson, S & Plaistow, S.J. (2013) How to measure maturation: a comparison of probabilistic methods used to test for genotypic variation and plasticity in the decision to mature. Evolution, 67(2), pp. 525-538. Van Dooren, T.J.M., Hoyle, R.B., & Plaistow, S.J. (2016) Maternal Effects. In: Kliman, R.M. (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Biology. vol. 2, pp. 446-452. Oxford: Academic Press.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Non-Genetic Inheritance workshop (Moulis, France) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 20 + experts in non-genetic inheritance will meet to give talks and discuss the evolutionary significance of NGI
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description BES Thematic topic 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I organised a thematic session on rapid evolution and invited speakers from various European institutions to contribute.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Birmingham seminar 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Research seminar
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Family Science fair (British Science week) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The activity involved table-top pond-dipping and microscope work for kids and active discussion about research goals for adults. The day was successful and received lots of good feedback.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/ness-gardens/whats-on/events-ness/familysciencefair.html
 
Description Gardeners question time event at Ness Gardens 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We led adult pond-dipping sessions and gave multiple talks about our research project to members of the public. This resulted in numerous questions from the public about climate change and organisms response to it and some feedback on twitter etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Public engagement with research event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our research team will take part in an event designed to interface research conducted at the university with the public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Research talk at QMUL 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Plaistow presented a research talk on recent findings from our group and the progress to date on this project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Royal Society partnership grant film 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Our Royal Society funded partnership grant was featured in a Royal Society video designed to promote the partnership scheme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://youtu.be/I5ljysxh6gE
 
Description School visit x 3 (Liverpool, UTC) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Talk introducing pupils to non-genetic inheritance and its ecological, evolutionary and health consequences
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016