I mainly use plant feeding spider mites of three different genera as model systems.
Tetranychus mites are agricultural pests that rapidly evolve resistance to pesticides of various modes of action. Tetranychus populations are typically infected by various reproductive parasites (Wolbachia, Cardinium, Spiroplasma, and Rickettsia), making it an attractive model system to study the molecular-genetic mechanisms that drive the antagonistic interactions between animals and parasites. Tetranychus mites have great genomic resources. For instance, we developed BSA genetic mapping approaches that can reveal the genetic basis of both monogenic and quantitative traits (including pigmentation, pesticide resistance, and host plant use).
I established Bryobia mites as a model system during my post-doctoral work at the University of Amsterdam and Ghent University. One research line focuses on four sympatric Bryobia species that are infected by a great diversity of Wolbachia that manipulate each species into a parthenogenetic mode of reproduction. By whole-genome typing, I am uncovering unusually high levels of intra- and inter-specific horizontal transfer of different Wolbachia variants. Other research lines center on the Berlesei clade where sexual Bryobia species co-occur with parthenogenetic lineages and Bryobia kissophila, a common garden pest. My goal is to understand the eco-evolutionary drivers that underlie the Wolbachia pandemic in this cosmopolitan genus, with a focus on trait and genome evolution. Lastly, within an international consortium, I also focus on Brevipalpus mites that are feminized by different Cardinium endosymbionts.
The host plant range of these mite genera varies greatly, even between closely related sister species. For instance, I study how their ability to cope with cyanogenesis, a common plant defense mechanism, differs across spider mite species.
I use the breadth of these systems to study
(1) the eco-evolutionary dynamics of reproductive parasitism
(2) the genetic architecture underpinning pesticide resistance
(3) the molecular basis of arthropod herbivory
- Insights into the mechanisms that underlie the genomic diversification and global spread of a common asexual garden pest. Funded by FWO (1513719N)
- The eco-evolutionary drivers of the Wolbachia pandemic in garden spider mites. Funded by BOF (01P03420), Oct 2020 - Sep 2023
- Bacteria-induced asexuality and its eco-evolutionary consequences in mite herbivores. Funded by FWO (12T9818N), Oct 2017 - Sep 2020
- DOGMITE - The unique dioxygenases of phytophagous spider mites: new enzyme players in plant-herbivore interactions? Funded by MSCA-IF Horizon 2020, Sept 2015 - Sept 2017
- IWT PhD fellowship (SB/101451)