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ERC

META-STRESS Report Summary

Project ID: 637412
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - META-STRESS (Unravelling life-history responses and underlying mechanisms to environmental stress in wild populations)

Reporting period: 2015-04-01 to 2016-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Organisms in the wild are constantly challenged by environmental variation for example in resource quality. The goal of the META-STRESS project is to move beyond laboratory experiments to understand the mechanisms that allow organisms in the wild to cope with environmental stress, more specifically variation in host plant quality. We are utilizing the large metapopulation of the Glanville fritillary butterfly to study processes operating from genes within individuals all the way to metapopulation-level dynamics. We will effectively couple laboratory and field-based studies. Furthermore, the ecological studies will be integrated with molecular approaches to unravel the significance of different mechanisms – candidate genes, epigenetic inheritance and intestinal microbial communities – potentially influencing individual responses to environmental challenges. The proposed project has potential for groundbreaking results in evolutionary ecology, as the results will increase our understanding of 1) how individual responses to unfavorable environmental conditions and the underlying mechanisms vary within and among local populations in a spatially and temporally heterogeneous environment, and 2) how the consequent life-history variation influences the ecological and microevolutionary dynamics of wild populations.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

We have used statistical and modelling approaches to analyze the long-term survey data on the Glanville fritillary with the goal to assess variation among the habitat patches in the amount of variation in host plant quality and quantity. With these analyses we have selected a set of contrasting local populations that differ in the extent of drought they experience. These populations will be used in several projects in the following years. So far we have conducted field assessments of these populations during two summers to quantify within patch variation in drought and host plant quality and to assess larval responses to these changes. In addition, genetic samples have been collected from the populations for future analyses. We have additionally conducted two experiments: 1) larval responses to reduced host plant quality have been assessed, and 2) co-variance between tolerance to reduced host plant quality and immune defence is being assessed. A gene-expression study is also underway to identify potential genes that may be related to stress tolerance. This data will be used to select candidate genes for the following studies. Finally, the Initial analyses of individual level variation in the gut microbiota, and how population structure impacts the microbiota composition has been performed. An additional experiment related to the project has been initiated. For some of the work described above manuscript preparation has been initiated.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The project will potentially allow us to understand how organisms in the wild are able to cope with human induced climate change. More precisely with the extreme weather events such as drought, which is predicted to increase in frequency in the coming years.

Marjo Saastamoinen, PI
Public and societal events:

2016 - Participation by invitation in an event for Women in Decision Making (Helsinki)
2015 - Participation at the ‘Science Night’ at the University of Helsinki (hosted by the Chancellor of the University Thomas Wilhelmsson)
2015 - Interaction with the Municipality of Sipoo on the conservation of the Scarce fritillary butterfly (Euphydruas maturna)
2015 - Participation in the yearly ‘Science goes kindergarten’ event (organized by Prof. A-L Laine) (University of Helsinki, 2014)
2015 Participation in a video that was aimed to promote young researchers in Finland to apply ERC grants. The project was initiated by the Academy of Finland.
2014 - Our research has also been featured in local and regional newspapers, as well as in science blog (e.g. http://www.aka.fi/fi/tietysti/luonto-ja-ymparisto/nyt-pinnalla1/ymparistonaiheuttama-stressi--kuinka-perhonen-siita-selviaa/ : in Finnish only)

Since obtaining my ERC StG I have been invited to give several presentations and participations on panel discussions on how to write successful research proposals for PhD students & post docs (University of Helsinki and University of Turku). Similarly, I have been invited to participate in the mock interviews of ERC candidates.

Contributed presentations:

2015 - European Society for Evolutionary Biology meeting, Lausanne, Switzerland - talk
2015 - Ecological & Evolutionary Genomics. Biddeford, USA - poster
Invited talks (meetings):

2016 - Oikos NORDIC meeting – Per Brick symposium, Turku, Finland
Invited talks (universities):

2015 - University of Greiswald, Germany
2015 - University of Uppsala, Sweden
2016 - Oxford Brooks University, UK
2016 - University College London, UK
2016 - University of Turku, Finland

Aapo Kahilainen, PhD

Public and societal events:
2015 - Participation in ‘Science goes to kindergarten’ (organized by Prof. A-L Laine), University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
2015 - Presentation for press officers, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Contributed presentations:
2015 - European Society for Evolutionary Biology meeting, Lausanne, Switzerland - poster
Invited talks (meetings):
2015 - Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Research Seminar, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Organizational attendance & teaching:
2016- Member of organizational committee, Finnish Molecular Ecology and Evolution Symposium 2, University of Helsinki, Hämeenlinna, Finland
2016 - The main coordinator of course “Population Biology in Fragmented Landscapes”, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

Ana Salgado Maldonado, PhD student

Public and societal events:
2015 - Participation in the ‘Science goes kindergarten’ event (organized by Prof. A-L Laine) University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
2016 – Making Science Matter (blog)
Contributed presentations:
2016 - 22nd European Meeting of PhD Students in Evolutionary Biology - talk
2016 - Spring Symposium in Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, University of Helsinki - talk
2016 - Nordic Oikos Meeting - poster
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