Inside the Tangled Bank of Arthropods

 

I am a molecular evolutionary biologist, primarily interested in the interactions of arthropods with symbiotic bacteria, plants, and pesticides. My research focuses on trait and genome evolution that is driven by ecological interactions and toxins.
As model systems, I mainly use plant feeding spider mites of three different genera; Tetranychus, Bryobia, and Brevipalpus, and their bacterial endosymbionts; Wolbachia, Rickettsia, Spiroplasma, and Cardinium. These arthropod herbivores display great variation in their host plant range with some species being strictly monophagous, whereas others are highly polyphagous.

 

 

Summer is over and I sampled my last T. urticae field population yesterday in the Beisbroek forest near Brugge.

I am very proud to announce that Masoumeh’s PhD thesis has been approved by the Doctoral Committee and that her doctoral defence ceremony will take place on November 17th at 15:00. Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions, the ceremony will mostly be virtual without in-person interactions. But everyone will be able to follow the procedures via a livestream!

Some weeks ago, I finished Martin Brasier’s truly excellent book Darwin's Lost World where he very clearly outlines the recent scientific discoveries and theories on the Cambrian explosion. The author also recounts his own wonderful personal research history and takes you to various remote locations across the globe where his key findings were made.

I am delighted to announce that BOF will be funding my research project The eco-evolutionary drivers of the Wolbachia pandemic in garden spider mites from October 2020. My host PI will be Dries Bonte at the Terrestrial Ecology lab of Ghent University.
I will continue my work on reproductive trait and genome evolution that is shaped by animal-microbe symbiosis. Although my main focal system remains Tetranychus and Bryobia spider mites, my research is now also incorporating other miniature beasts, including ants and silverfish.

Lately, I have been busy with generating a first set of phylogenomic trees to better understand the origin of an enigmatic clade of Wolbachia that is restricted to Bryobia spider mites. In addition, I have been enjoying some modest field work these last couple of weeks. Together with Thomas Parmentier, we have been collecting ants for collaborative projects!

             

Although I cannot get much work done, and this period induces some level of stress for everyone, I have been greatly enjoying the extra family time. We have been exploring much of the fauna and flora in our little corner of the world. My son especially favours mason bees (not honey bees - they are not fluffy enough). Below, I have added a photo of a female Osmia cornuta. Meanwhile, my daughter is slowly learning not to eat all the leaves we come across during our walks.

I am also proud to announce that Masoumeh's second manuscript has been published in Journal of Pest Science (click here!). Here, we present a first insight into the complex molecular mechanisms that underlie pyflubumide resistance in T. urticae.