Dr. Adam Martínez
Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolution
I'm interested in how symbiotic microbes influence the ecology and evolution of their host insects. During my PhD at the University of Georgia I studied pea aphids (Acrythosiphon pisum) which are often infected with several types of bacteria that can influence their ecological interactions. One of these symbionts, Hamiltonella defensa, protects aphids from parasitic wasps by killing wasp larvae before they can complete development inside the host aphid. My work involved examining variation in pea aphid resistance to parasitic wasps which can vary depending on aphid genotype, species of attacking parasitic wasp, and strain of H. defensa.
My current postdoctoral work at JGU represents a topic shift to nutritional interactions between firebugs (Pyrrhocoridae) and their gut microbiota. Firebug ancestors maintained infections with environmentally acquired Burkholderia bacteria, but firebugs apparently evolved a food-niche specialization on Malvales plant seeds through acquisition of a new set of bacteria often composed of Coriobacterium, Gordonibacter, Klebsiella and Clostridium. These symbionts supplement vitamins lacking in the firebug diet and may also be involved in detoxifying compounds present in Malvales seeds. I'm working on a firebug species, the Welwitschia bug Probergrothius angolensis, which represents a basal split in the firebug family. This bug feeds on a very strange plant, Welwitschia mirabilis, which is not a member of Malvales and only exists in the Namibian desert. The Welwitschia bug, which lacks two of the symbionts typical of other firebugs, may give us clues about the evolution of symbiosis and food specialization in the Pyrrhocoridae.