In our working groups we use morphology, DNA and optical methods to expedite and facilitate the process of identifying and differentiating units of biological diversity, often species. High-throughput, specimen based integrative taxonomy forms the basis of this work, but we are exploring a variety of innovative imaging technologies with potential for automation. This is especially important to us as we try to extract not only taxonomic information, but also functional information from the treasures lying in museum insect collections.
Example research projects :
The evolution of traits is essential for species diversification and adaptation to changing environmental conditions. Understanding how traits evolved and allowed taxa to diversify ecologically is essential for understanding present-day species and ecological diversity. Phylogenomic methods allow generating very robust assessments of the evolution of ecologically interesting groups, a prerequisite for assessing morphological and ecological diversification patterns and processes.
Example research projects:
Phenotypic variation and changes of this variation in populations are the fundamental basis for evolution. In my working group, we are interested in how environmental changes act as selection pressures in populations and species. Using population genetic and genomic methods in time series data we assess population dynamics of species and communities and how environmental changes drive shifts in genetic and phenotypic variation. We do this in the context of both historic and ongoing environmental change.
Example research projects :
At the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics, we are interested in harvesting genomic information from a wide range of organisms to better understand the genomic underpinnings of diversification and making genomic resources available for basic and applied research. In my working group, we specifically use genomic and transcriptomic methods to study the genomic basis of caddisfly silk.
Trichoptera (caddisflies) produce silk, which is used to build a wide variety of underwater structures, such as underwater life lines, to build filtering nets or living retreats, and even to “glue together” mineral or organic particles to build portable cases. This diverse silk usage allows them to exploit a wide range of aquatic environments. The properties of caddisfly silks are unique; they adhere underwater, have high tensile strength, extensibility, and toughness. These qualities make it of interest as potential biomimetic adhesives, e.g. in surgery. In this project we aim to study the genomic basis of different uses and characteristics of caddisfly silk and how these evolved. Using a comparative genomics framework, we aims to uncover the genomic basis of the evolution of genes and gene families encoding for silk phenotypes in Trichoptera and other freshwater arthropods. Understanding the genomic evolution and molecular mechanisms of silk production will not only address questions regarding molecular adaptations responsible for diversification in aquatic environments but also lay the foundation to gauge the potential of underwater silk for biomedical and biotechnological applications.