University of Glasgow (supervisors: Neil Metcalfe and Kath Sloman) 2015-2018
The effects of environmental stressors on organisms have been extensively studied in a wide range of phyla, including mammals, birds and fish. It has also been shown that environmental stress experienced by mothers may affect the phenotype and behaviour of their future offspring. The questions that remain largely unanswered are whether chronic exposure of mothers to environmental stressors can cause such effects in offspring and how these are influenced by the timing and duration of stress. Untangling the relationships between these factors would give an insight into the effect that environmental changes (and the potential for increased environmental stress) may have on wild fish populations. My project aims to address these questions using an established laboratory population of three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus). Only the male three-spined stickleback provides parental care, and so the non-genetic influence of the mother on the offspring is limited to the substances deposited in her eggs or ovarian fluid at the time of egg production and spawning. This provides an opportunity to use an experimental approach to study whether environmental stressors acting upon females in the period leading up to spawning affect the growth, survival and behavioural phenotype of their offspring. This project addresses the question of transgenerational effects of chronic mild environmental stressors using a chronic, unpredictable stress protocol and non-invasive and minimally stressful method of measuring water-borne cortisol.