The Department of Evolutionary Ecology studies the adaptation of organisms to interacting species and to their natural environment across all levels of organization, i.e. from the molecular basis via individual organisms to natural populations in the field.

In particular, we are interested in the evolutionary, chemical and molecular ecology of symbiotic associations between insects and microorganisms, which are ubiquitous in nature and play enormously important roles for the ecology and evolution of the host organisms. Our overarching goals are (i) to understand the diversity of functions that can be conferred by bacterial symbionts and their impact on insect ecology, (ii) to elucidate the evolutionary origins of symbiotic associations and the factors that promote their establishment and maintenance, (iii) to investigate the physiological and genomic consequences of the symbiotic lifestyle, and (iv) to understand the mechanisms ensuring partner specificity by characterizing the molecular basis of host-symbiont interactions. We are furthermore interested in the evolution of life history strategies across a large variety of animal taxa (including extant vertebrates and dinosaurs) and the ecological drivers behind this variability. This research is based on the analysis of large ecological datasets and is linked to diverse aspects of nature conservation including change in climate and land use. We also investigate parapatric speciation as well as host plant specialization in insects.

Our research combines traditional ecological experiments in the laboratory and in the field with molecular techniques (PCR, qRT-PCR, FISH, cloning, sequencing), high-throughput next-generation sequencing approaches (e.g. genomics, transcriptomics, 16S amplicon pyrosequencing, GBS), and chemical analytics (particularly gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry). We also apply statistical modelling and computer simulations in order to understand processes and to generate predictions that can be tested in the lab or field setting.

Research projects

Symbionts for pathogen defense in beewolves
Researchers: Prof. Dr. Martin Kaltenpoth, Dr. Tobias Engl, Dr. Mario Sandoval-Calderón,Chantal Selina Ingham

Multipartite microbial interactions in firebug guts
Researchers: Prof. Dr. Martin Kaltenpoth, Dr. Adam Martinez, Thomas Ogao Onchuru MSc,

Defensive symbiosis in darkling beetle
Researchers: Dr. Laura Flórez, Prof. Dr. Martin Kaltenpoth, Rebekka Janke MSc, Ramya Ganesan MSc

Bacterial symbionts of stored-grain beetle pests
Researchers: Dr. Tobias Engl,Julian Kiefer MSc

The importance of microbial symbionts for fungiculture and sociality in ambrosia beetles
Researchers: Dr. Peter Biedermann (MPICE)

Symbiont-mediated detoxification in pine weevils
Researchers: Aileen Berasategui MSc (MPICE), Prof. Dr. Martin Kaltenpoth, collaboration with Prof. Dr. Jonathan Gershenzon and Dr. Axel Schmidt at the MPICE

Evolutionary ecology of life history strategies
Researchers: PD Dr. Eva Maria Griebeler, Dr. Jan Werner, Dipl.-Biol. Konstantin Hallmann, collaboration with Prof. Dr. Martin Sander (Steinmann-Institut, Bonn), Dr. Nicole Klein (Museum für Naturkunde, Stuttgart), Dr. Nikolaos Sfakianakis (Mathematik, Universität Mainz)

Nature conservation and climate change
Researchers: PD Dr. Eva Maria Griebeler, Dipl.-Biol. Sebastian Hoffmann, Catherine Linn MA, Dr. Kamilla Koch

Development and test of new methods for the analysis of ecological and evolutionary datasets
Researchers: PD Dr. Eva Maria Griebeler