I mainly use plant feeding spider mites of three different genera as model systems. Tetranychus mites rapidly evolve resistance to pesticides of various modes of action and are typically infected by WolbachiaCardiniumSpiroplasma, and Rickettsia. These bacterial endosymbionts are an important component of the biology of Tetranychus mites. Here, we developed BSA genetic mapping approaches to uncover 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. Currently, 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 arthropod-microbe symbioses
      (2) the genetic architecture underpinning pesticide resistance
      (3) the molecular basis of arthropod herbivory

 

RESEARCH GRANTS

  • Insights into the mechanisms that underlie the genomic diversification and global spread of a common asexual garden pest. Funded by FWO (1513719N)

 

INDIVIDUAL FELLOWSHIPS

  • 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)