Hayley McMechan

Hayley McMechan

Profile Display Name:

Hayley McMechan

E-mail Address:


Start Year

2022 (Cohort 9)

Research interests:

I am interested in plasticity in the face of rapid environmental change under the increasing temperatures of the Anthropocene. I want to investigate the changes to phenotypes and regulation of gene expression over warming temperatures, to see if changes are possible and reversible in the increasingly unpredicatble environments of our warming world.

I have a 1st class BSc Hons in Biology with Science Communication. I am a qualified secondary science teacher. I’ve worked in museum education and taught GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics in secondary schools.

Hobbies and interests:

I enjoy board games, hiking, running and embroidery. I also love every aspect of a larger project such as planning, budgeting, DIY, decorating and project management in my ongoing home improvements.

PhD Project
PhD Title

Evolution to the rescue? Understanding the evolution of plant behaviour in response to rapid environmental change.

Research Theme

Evolution and Adaptation

Primary Supervisor
Primary Institution


Secondary Supervisor
Secondary Institution


Additional supervisor(s)

Matt Clark (NHM),


Understanding phenotypic plasticity is essential to predict how organisms and communities will respond to rapid environmental change. Fitness could be maintained through differential gene expression or increases of beneficial alleles in the population, establishing new plasticity for novel environmental regimes (“evolutionary rescue”). Field experiments conducted on ragwort species Senecio chrysanthemifolius (Asteraceae), reveal “Adaptive Potential” (AP) genotypes, that show higher fitness than the average at elevations above their native range. However, transplant experiments cannot increase temperature before encountering sea level. I will, therefore, cultivate cuttings in laboratory growth chambers to test the effects of increased temperature on phenotypic plasticity and its genomic basis. Detailed phenotypic trait analysis and RNA-seq will identify differentially expressed genes and determine which genotypes show higher relative fitness as temperatures increase. Study of molecular pathways and gene expression will increase our understanding of the potential and limits to plasticity. Quantifying changes in functional traits (phenotypic plasticity), and their relative fitness will indicate which genotypes, demonstrate the potential for evolutionary rescue. Similarly, studies of the patterns of gene expression underlying these phenotypes will explore which genomic regions, and which kinds of gene network are associated with such novel forms of phenotypic plasticity.

Policy Impact
Background Reading



Social Links
University Departmental Website:

Personal Website:





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