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.



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.



Together with Flore Zélé (University of Lisbon), we are putting together a special issue for Current Zoology that focuses on the effect of bacterial symbionts/communities on animal host ecology and evolution. Researchers that might be interested in contributing to this special issue, please contact me or Flore! Deadline for abstract submission is 30 May 2020, deadline for manuscript submission is 30 August 2020. Go HERE for more information.


Also, I am about to finish In The Blink of An Eye by Andrew Parker – a book that aims to unravel the processes that underlie the Cambrian explosion. Although I do not always agree with the generalizations and conclusions, the book offers an interesting insight into the evolutionary history of animal eyes and colourations.