Protecting speed or size? Impacts of warming on animal life histories


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Project overview


Body size profoundly affects survival, fecundity, and interactions within populations and communities. Body size reduction is considered a near-universal response to climate warming, impacting food production (e.g. fisheries) and conservation (e.g. species survival). Yet we have found that the amount of ‘shrinkage’ varies greatly among taxa and habitats. To understand this, we propose that size responses at a given life stage need to be combined with age, hence the pace of life. To extend our existing predictive model of responses to warming, the student will seek systematic covariation in responses of size and the pace of life both across genotypes within a single model species and across diverse animal species to predict how organisms from different niches will be hardest hit by warming scenarios.


  1. Perform a meta-analysis of responses of age- and size-at-maturity to warming across diverse species, and relate them to predicted causes.
  2. Experimentally compare different warming impacts on clones of the water flea, Daphnia, that differ strongly in the relationship between age- and size-at-maturity when growth is slowed, and relate these differences to hypothesized selection pressures in the field.
  3. Improve an existing model to predict warming effects on both the age- and size-at-maturity across diverse animals and ecological niches.


This new focus on the magnitude of size and speed responses to warming combines large-scale study with novel experiments on a model experimental system. We expect the project to generate exciting new biological rules linking temperature with body size, incorporating different temperature-size interactive effects on growth, development and reproduction.


The urgent need to adapt to climate change coincides with our new quantitative predictive model of body size that this project will extend.

Essential and desirable criteria


  • Organisational skills
  • Teamwork
  • Fundamentals of population and evolutionary biology
  • Quantitative skills including statistical analysis in R
  • Experience of performing experiments on animals


  • Life history theory
  • Meta-analysis
  • Experimental skills working with Daphnia
  • Measuring life-history traits
  • Freshwater ecology


How to apply

Notes and details of how to apply are available here:

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a personal/supporting statement or cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not. Candidates should also submit a CV and the contact details of 2 referees.

Part-time study options

All ACCE PhDs are available as part time or full time, with part time being a minimum of 50% of full time. Please discuss potential part time arrangements with the primary supervisor before applying to the programme.

Project CASE status

This project is not a CASE project. While individual applicant quality is our overriding criterion for selection, the ACCE DTP has a commitment for 40% of all studentships to be CASE funded - as such, CASE projects may be favoured in shortlisting applicants when candidates are otherwise deemed to be equal or a consensus on student quality cannot be reached. This will only be done as a last resort for separating candidates.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP programme starts from October 2024.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
  • Stipend (2023/24 UKRI rate £18,622)
  • Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2023/24 rate £4,712)
  • Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees. The DTP partners have various schemes which allow international students to join the DTP but only be required to pay home fees. Home fees are already covered in the UKRI funding, meaning that successful international candidates do not need to find any additional funding for fees.




1.Atkinson D, Leighton G, Berenbrink M. 2022. Controversial roles of oxygen in organismal responses to climate warming. Biol Bull. 243, 207-219.

2.Corona S, Hirst A, Atkinson D, Atkinson A. 2021. Density-dependent modulation of copepod body size and temperature–size responses in a shelf sea. Limnology and Oceanography 66, 3916-3927.

3.Plaistow SJ, Brunner FS, O’Connor M (2022) Quantifying population and clone-specific non-linear reaction norms to food gradients in Daphnia magna. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10:

4.Verberk WCEP, Atkinson D, Hoefnagel KN, Hirst AG, Horne CR, Siepel H. 2021. Shrinking body sizes in response to warming: explanations for the temperature–size rule with special emphasis on the role of oxygen. Biol. Rev. 96, 247–268.