Our main research question is how sexual attraction is involved in the initial divergence of populations, and thus the first step in speciation. Since sexual attraction can directly lead to assortative mating, we aim to understand which genes are involved in within-species variation and which factors may cause variation in sexual attraction. For a more detailed description, click on tab "Research" and on the link below to my website at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Metro filmpje: Hoe belangrijk zijn seksferomonen (in Dutch)
Promo-clip Master track Ecology & Evolution
Science video „How is Genetic Variance Maintained through Sexual Selection?” with Astrid Groot, published on www.latestthinking.org (Open Access Video Journal)
Inaugural lecture 19 September 2018 (in Dutch)
Sexual attraction is the first step in determining who mates with whom. The evolution of sexual communication thus plays a pivotal role in the process of speciation. However, very little is known on the causes of initial divergence between populations in finding mating partners, and whether variation in sexual attraction can drive divergence between populations or whether such variation follows after populations have diverged due to ecological factors. Nocturnal moths are ideal animals to address this research question, because their communication channel is virtually all pheromonal, and the pheromone components are very well defined. Our research revolves around the following two major questions: I) what is the genetic basis of intraspecific variation in sexual communication, and II) what environmental factors may (have) cause(d) variation in sexual communication. Our research can be divided into six main areas.
Moth sexual pheromones are widely studied as a fine-tuned system of intraspecific sexual communication that reinforces interspecific reproductive isolation. The female signal is unimodal and exclusively chemical, produced in a well-defined gland, and readily quantified. The male behavioral response is robust and specific, and the well-studied pheromone sensory system serves as an important model for decoding olfactory preference in general. However, although female sex pheromones of >1,600 moth species have been identified, their evolution poses a dilemma: How can the female pheromone and male preference simultaneously change to create a new pattern of species-specific attraction? We aim to solve this puzzle by identifying the genes underlying intraspecific variation in signals (Lassance, Groot et al. 2010. Nature 466) and responses (Koutroumpa et al. 2016. PNAS 113) and to understand the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for their interspecific divergence. The methods we use are quantitative trait locus (QTL) analyses to identify the genomic regions and candidate genes, and CRISRPR-cas9 to functionally characterize the candidate genes.
Postdoc project Arthur de Fouchier (funded by the Max Planck Society), PhD project Elise Fruitet (IMPRS fellow)
Plasticity in the sex pheromone composition in female moths can be expected, because females produce their pheromone de novo every night and in many moth species females can perceive their own pheromone compounds. We found plasticity in the sex pheromone of a noctuid moth (see Groot et al. 2010. J. Evol. Biol. 23). We currently aim to identify the level and extent of plasticity in moth sexual communication, and the underlying mechanisms.
PhD project Rik Lievers, funded by NWO-ALW (award nr. 822.01.012)
In animals, sexual attraction is essential to finding the right mating partner. In moths, sexual attraction is very well defined: females attract males from a distance with a species-specific sex pheromone. In addition, moths are one of the most diverse group of animals, with ~120.000 species, each having its own sexual communication channel. However, sexual selection may also act on moth signals that have hardly been studied at all: close-range attraction, whereby males emit a sex pheromone from elaborate glands (hairpencils). The male sex pheromone is likely used by males as a chemical “ornament” that allows females to choose among males, and/or it may function in male-male competition. To understand how this chemical diversity is generated, we aim to determine the role of male close-range pheromone in female choice and male-male competition, to develop evolutionary scenarios on how mutual mate choice contributes to speciation. Collaborative project with Coby Schal at NCSU
PhD project Naomi Zweerus, funded by NWO-ALW (award nr: ALWOP.2015.075 ), and postdoc project Michiel van Wijk, funded by NSF (award nr: nr IOS-1456973)
Most likely generalists are exposed and/or affected differently to stress factors in their larval life than specialists, as generalists may encounter a number of different environments. Possibly, stress factors early in life (i.e. in the larval stage) affect adult (sexual) behavior. We are exploring differential immune defense responses in the generalist Heliothis virescens and the specialist H. subflexa and possible effects on their sexual communication (see Barthel et al. 2016. Nat. Comm. in press). In addition, we are exploring the level and extent of parasite-mediated sexual selection in moths (specifically Helicoverpa armigera) and butterflies, in collaboration with Dr. Jacobus de Roode.
PhD project Gao Ke
Many moth species show specific daily rhythms in their sexual activities, some species being sexually active early at night while others are sexually active late at night. However, the genetic differentiation of this allochronic separation has not been examined in any species so far. We are investigating the genetic basis of allochronic differentiation in two strains of the noctuid moth Spodoptera frugiperda, and latitudinal and temporal variation in timing of sexual activities in the noctuid moth Helicoverpa armigera.
Postdoc project Sabine Haenniger and PhD project Gao Ke
Female moths need to find suitable host plants to lay their eggs on. Identification of the host plant odors that females use can help to develop pest management strategies specifically aimed to trap female moths. In collaboration with Dr. Hossein Goldansaz (University of Tehran), we aim to identify host plant odors to which females of the carob moth Ectomyelois ceratoniae are attracted.
Postdoc project Seyed Ali Hosseini
Master students (Jan - July 2018):
BSc students (Feb - June 2018):
If you are highly motivated, dedicated and eager to become involved in our research on the evolution of sexual attraction, please contact me at email@example.com. Highly motivated MSc students are always welcome, and I would very much like to help PhD students and postdocs in finding funding for a research position.
Dr. Pascaline Dumas - Postdoc at UvA from May 2014 – Aug 2015, now teacher
Dr. Fraz Hussain - Postdoc at UvA from Jan – Nov 2013
Dr. Jinzhu Xu - visiting postdoc at UvA from Guandong Academy of Forestry, Guanzhou, China from Feb - Aug 2012
Dr. Gerhard Schoefl - Postdoc at MPICE from Feb 2007 – Jul 2010, now at DKMS Life Science Lab
Camila Andrea Plata Corredor - Honorary MSc student at RUG, MSc student at Groot lab from Jan - July 2017
Natalie Niepoth - MSc student at UvA from Jan - July 2017, now PhD student at Columbia Univ
Melis Yalçin - ERASMUS student from Adnan Menderes University, Aydin, Turkey from June - Aug 2016
Estefania Velilla Perdomo - MSc student at UvA Feb 2014 – May 2015, now PhD student at Free University
Ernesto Villacis Perez - MSc student at UvA Jan – Dec 2014, now PhD student at UvA
Zoe Clement - international student from Agrocampus Ouest, France. Internship at UvA from Sept 2014 – Jan 2015
Claudia Melis - ERASMUS student Italy, at UvA Oct 2012 – Jan 2013
Ignaz van Hasselt - MSc student at UvA Feb– Oct 2013
Laila Kee - MSc student at UvA Feb 2013 – Jan 2014
Florian Winkler - MSc student at UvA April – Nov 2012
Claire Dumenil - MSc student at UvA March – Dec 2012, now PhD student at Cardiff Univ, UK
Orsi Decker – MSc student at UvA Jan – July 2012, now PhD student at La Trobe Univ, Melbourne, Australia
Tomasz Przybyłowicz – MSc student at UvA Sept 2011 – Mar 2012
Alex Huiberse – MSc student at UvA Sept 2011 – May 2012
Darina Hornicova - DAAD student from Czech Rep. at MPICE Sept – Nov 2011
Anne Karpinski – Diplom student at MPICE Oct. 2010 – Oct 2011, now Anne Bretschneider and at Syngenta
David Neunemann – Diplom student at MPICE June 2010 – June 2011, now PhD student at MPICE
Andrea Barthel – Diplom student at MPICE Feb 2009 – Jan 2010, now postdoc at MPICE
Alice Classen – Diplom student at MPICE Jan – Oct 2009, now postdoc at Wuerzburg Univ. Germany
Heike Staudacher – Diplom student at MPICE Dec 2008 – Sep 2009, just graduated
Melanie Marr – Diplom student at MPICE Feb – Nov. 2008, now Melanie Unbehend and postdoc at MPICE
Anja Dill – Diplom student at MPICE Dec 2007 – Oct 2008