D. (Donghui) Ma
PhD project: Our changing world - Do ecological factors and sociality shape adaptive potential in social animals?
We are living in a constantly changing world, other creatures too, and most of them may be sensitive and vulnerable to environmental change. During my PhD, I want to address whether and how phenotypic plasticity helps social animals to adjust to the environment using burying beetle (Nicrophorus vespilloides) as a model organism. Specifically, I will uncover the relation between temperature and the degree of sociality, by testing the breeding performance under extreme temperatures. Meanwhile, I will also do another experiment in which the effect of soil moisture on the breeding behaviour (i.e. communal or biparental breeding) and reproductive outcome (i.e. the weight and number of larva and young beetles) will be investigated. The third ecological factor that will be studied is resources. As carcass is a bonanza for adult and larval burying beetles, I will adjust the size and distribution of carcasses, and study how this will affect the breeding behavior of the beetles. Finally, across Europe several wild beetle populations will be sampled and measured to know whether and how burying beetles adapt to different natural environments (e.g. altitude and habitat type) by morphological and behavioural change in nature.