Responses to global environmental change


Since its inception, life on earth has had to adapt to changing environmental conditions, either through phenotypic plasticity (across rapid, diurnal or seasonal timescales), or through evolution (across multiple generations). This module investigates how organisms detect and respond to variable environments, including anthropogenic (human-made) change, and reviews the different molecular signalling pathways and physiological mechanisms underpinning adaptation to changing conditions. Examples are provided from a range of organisms, but with a specific focus on plants and insects. Case studies highlight different research techniques employed in examining responses to environmental change, as well as how to potentially manipulate these responses in order to develop mitigation strategies/enhance resilience at species, population and ecosystem levels, as well as for food security.

The main aims of this module are to provide students with information, guidance, and access to resources, that will allow them to:
(a) Gain an in-depth understanding of how organisms respond and adapt to changes in their environment.
(b) Recognize that the term “environment” covers a continuum of spatial scales from molecular environments within cells, to broad-scale geographic environments and climatic zones.
(c) Appreciate that adaptation to environmental change for an individual organism is transient and occurs across a temporal spectrum of seconds to seasons. For species, adaptation is long-term, but not fixed/permanent, and occurs across a timescale of generations.
(d) Interpret the potential impact of climate change on species (including crops), communities and ecosystems, as well as the provision of food security.
(e) Become effective independent learners, capable of interpreting and critically analysing the scientific literature to help formulate and express their own ideas and develop mitigation strategies against the negative impacts of climate change and extreme environments.

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • Recognize, recall and define terms relevant to the study of molecular, physiological and behavioural strategies of environmental adpatation.
  • Explain and contrast the signalling pathways and adaptive mechanisms by which organisms respond to rapid changes in their environment, seasonal transitions, regional climates and global climate change.
  • Interpret and critically analyse the scientific literature to provide an evidence base supporting the achievement of learning outcomes 1 & 2, and in set exercises.
  • Evaluate experimental strategies that could be applied to address specific problems associated with mitigating against the impacts of climate change, e.g. in enhancing food security.
  • Formulate and express their own ideas through independent learning and writing skills including writing for a non-scientific audience.


  • Exam (Centrally Timetabled) - Open Book (50%)
  • Policy Document : Coursework (50%)