Department of Insect Symbiosis
The Department of Insect Symbiosis investigates how insects adapt to challenging environments or food sources, with a particular focus on ecological traits conferred by microbial symbionts. The main goal is to understand the evolutionary origins, ecological implications, and the chemical and molecular basis of insect interactions with mutualistic microbes, as well as with antagonists and the insects’ food plants. In order to derive general principles governing these interspecific interactions, we study a broad spectrum of insect taxa including diverse species of beetles, bugs, wasps, and flies.
Insects are the most diverse animal class on the planet, having successfully adapted to a multitude of environmental conditions and food sources. Their evolutionary success is at least partly founded in the ability to engage in mutualistic interactions with microorganisms that confer novel ecological traits to their hosts by providing nutritional supplementation, digestive or detoxifying capabilities, or defense against natural enemies.
The department’s main goal is to understand the evolutionary origins, ecological implications, and the chemical and molecular basis of insect interactions with mutualistic microbes, as well as with antagonists and food plants. Our philosophy is to approach these questions in a range of non-model organisms with interesting natural histories, aiming at an understanding of the chemical mediators of interspecific interactions and their functional implications from a cellular level to the fitness consequences for the interacting organisms under ecologically relevant conditions. To this end, we use a combination of ecological experiments, phylogenetic reconstructions, state-of-the art fluorescence microscopy, and molecular, chemical-analytical, and microbiological techniques.