Language of life under climate change- quantifying marine life’s tipping points in a changing world

Language of life under climate change- quantifying marine life’s tipping points in a changing world


Primary Supervisor: Dr. Jorg Hardege

Secondary Supervisor:  Dr. Katharina Wollenberg Valero

Collaborators: Dr. Jasmin Godbold, Prof. Martin Solan 

Contact e-mail:



Environmental changes such as climate change and ocean acidification (OA) can alter ecosystem functioning and stability consequently impacting a species’ resilience to extinction events.  Animals perceive their environment through their sensory systems utilising vision and chemoreception to control vital behaviours including predator-prey interactions, settlement, and reproduction. Although olfactory disruption is widely acknowledged as a major threat to marine life the ecological consequences of disrupting such functional biological traits have not been considered over multiple generations. If these important ecological functions are severely impacted across one or more generations, a tipping point is reached with severe consequences for an individual, a species and the marine ecosystem. 


The project will use multi-generational studies on marine model species to quantify functional traits related to fitness (behaviour, physiology, reproduction) in changed aquatic environments, and determine trait expression in surviving communities to enable us to determine tipping points where changes to ‘effect traits’ (animal behaviour /physiology) lead to a point when a species’ abilities to thrive and persist in the face of environmental change is altered, Dr. Hardege’s Chemical Ecology group and Dr. Wollenberg Valero’s MolStressH2O research cluster will provide a vibrant research atmosphere for the successful candidate with this PhD project is linked to and supported by a new NERC grant starting in 2020 .


The PhD student will focus on feeding behaviour (response to food odour), anti-predator responses (burrowing/ predator escape responses), respiration as measure of physiological effects, and reproductive capacity (quantity/quality of gametes fertilization rates) ‘effect traits’ and record changes to traits over multiple generations (10+). Ecosystem consequences of long-term environmental forcing (temperature/ocean acidification: ambient + 4°C/[CO2] 700ppm) on the ‘response traits’ so the species’ abilities to thrive in a habitat and to persist (endpoints) will be recorded using marine model species, Platynereis dumerilii and Hediste diversicolor. 


Project team

Dr. Jörg D. Hardege (JDH) is a marine biologist and head of the Chemical Ecology group at the University of Hull (UoH). His team studies the timing of reproduction in marine invertebrates and the role of pheromones. A focus of his team is the impact of environmental stress (heavy metals, pH and CO2) on chemical signals examining i.e. Nereids (Garcia-Alonso et al. 2011) maturation and reproductive trait changes as a result of ‘olfactory disruption’ (Wyatt et al. 2014) and climate change (Hardege et al. 2011). JDH has developed biomarkers for toxicology and used CO2 vents (Wäge et al. 2016) to examine adaptation potential to ocean acidification (Calosi et al. 2013). Recently his group showed that reduced pH leads to altered signaling molecules, impacting the stability of behavioural traits (reproduction) that are key for ecosystem functioning (Roggatz et al., 2016, Velez et al. 2019). 

Dr. Katharina Wollenberg-Valero (KWV) is a Lecturer at UoH, School of Environmental Sciences, with a ten-year track record in molecular and Evolutionary Biology. Her research focuses on the molecular basis of the organismal response to environmental stress, and its evolution across different phyla using functional and comparative genomics approaches(Wollenberg Valero et al., PeerJ 2014, Rodriguez et al., Ecol. Evol. 2017, Wollenberg Valero et al., Nat. Comm. 2017). She is currently leading the Molecular stress in changing aquatic environments research cluster (MolStressH2O) at UoH. 

Prof. Martin Solan (MS) is Professor in Marine Ecology at UoS. His track record (> 80 publications, H-index 29) that focuses on understanding biodiversity-environment interactions and the ecosystem consequences of altered diversity and environmental change in benthic systems (Solan et al. 2004, Thomsen et al. 2016). He has been instrumental in characterising of how species mediate ecosystem properties (Hale et al. 2014), respond to drivers of change (Godbold & Solan, 2013, Solan et al. 2016), and has developed concepts of functional group ecology (Murray et al. 2014). He is Director for the NERC SSB – Benthic, co-director of the NERC Coastal Biodiversity and NERC Arctic Benthos research programmes, and is a Scientific Committee member of ecoSERVICES (a project of Future Earth) and the Global Environmental Research Committee at the Royal Society.