Master project in Chemical Ecology

Effects of Norway spruce toxins on development and survival of Ips typographus (bark beetle)

Ips typographus (European spruce bark beetle) is the most damaging pest of Norway spruce; only during the last two summers millions of spruce trees have been killed in Germany alone. Bark beetles attack trees by digging galleries into the inner bark (phloem) to lay eggs where the sugarrich phloem serves as nutritional source for the developing larvae. Many studies have investigated the role of tree defense during initial attack when resin secretions slow down beetle movement or even poison the invading beetles. The role of chemical defenses during later phases of invasion, i.e. when larvae feed on phloem tissue, are still not well understood. Toxins may slow down larval development and reduce successful establishment of a new beetle generation which, in turn, could hamper seasonal build-up of large beetle populations that cause wide-spread tree mortality. Results from this experiment are thus highly relevant for predicting survival of individual trees and for forecasting of forest mortality from bark beetles.

The DFG-funded collaborative project of the Max Planck Institutes for Biogeochemistry and for Chemical Ecology addresses this particular aspect. We will be using feeding assays to test the influence of different concentrations of tree toxins on the development of laboratory-reared beetle larvae. The project combines highly sophisticated analytical chemistry (Liquid chromatography for the analysis of phenolics), manipulations of the insect diet, and measurements of larval performance. The generated data set will be published in an internationally renowned scientific journal and we expect the student to substantially contribute to or even lead this publication.

We are looking for a candidate who enjoys working in the laboratory and who has both practical and analytical skills for setting up and testing the experimental design, running the experiment and to generate and interpret the data. The student will be co-supervised by Dr. Dineshkumar Kandasamy (MPI-CE) and Dr. Henrik Hartmann (MPI-BGC) who will provide support during all stages of the project.

Note that this is a thesis project settled within the structure of a European master’s program and as such does not comprise an employment status.

If you’re interested, please send a short cover letter and your CV to

PDF of announcement