Hydrocarbon pollution is an acute environmental stressor that requires organisms to plastically change their phenotypes to avoid illness or death. These plastic responses are regulated by molecular mechanisms, such as changes in gene and protein expression, but they are poorly characterised in marine species. Understanding how organisms respond to pollution is vital so we can assess and mitigate our impacts on coastal ecosystems. This will allow us to predict how the levels of populations are evolving in response to our actions and its potential impact on the aquatic environment. As a first step toward identifying those molecular responses we will use a common intertidal invertebrate, the beadlet anemone Actinia equina, to:
1) investigate how changes in gene and protein expression underpin behavioural and physiological responses to experimental oil pollution and
2) test whether responses to repeated exposure are underpinned by long term changes in either gene or protein expression.
This will provide insight into the molecular basis of phenotypic plasticity, preparing us for identifying its role in long-term adaptive responses. Our project represents a multidisciplinary approach (with behavioural ecology and systems physiology) to understand the biological consequences of anthropogenic change, from genotype to phenotype to population levels.