Mutualism evolution and stability are major outstanding questions in evolutionary biology. To address these questions, I have adopted subterranean ant-trophobiont (e.g. aphids & mealybugs) interaction networks as a novel study system. My research can be subdivided in four research themes: three empirical and one theoretical, and employs a broad range of methods, from behavioural experiments, advanced microscopy, high-throughput sequencing to computer simulations. In this way, I aim to contribute to a better understanding of the emergence and persistence of cooperation between species.
EDUCATION & EXPERIENCE
Ant-trophobiont ecological interaction networks
Using DNA barcoding and morphology, I map specificity in subterranean network of ants, aphids, mealybugs, their gut bacteria and the aphids' and mealybugs' host trees.
2013 - 2017
The Rockefeller University, New York
Microbiomes in ant-trophobiont mutualisms
Both ants and their trophobionts have specialized bacteria in their gut that facilitate nutrient uptake and excretion. I study what bacteria are there and what their influence is on the mutualism.
2007 - 2012
University of Groningen & University of Copenhagen
PhD Theoretical Biology CUM LAUDE
2004 - 2006
University of Groningen
Top-MSc. Evolutionary Biology CUM LAUDE
2001 - 2004
Wageningen University & Research Center
BSc. Biology, specialised in Ecology CUM LAUDE
Partner choice in ant-trophobiont mutualisms
This theme ties the previous two together. The prime commodity of ant-trophobiont mutualisms is 'honeydew', the sugary excrement of aphids. I study whether the ants' preference for certain aphids can be influenced by the ants' and aphids' gut bacteria.
Universal patterns in mutualistic networks
Using computer simulations, I study whether some network architectures may be more favorable than others for the evolution and stability of mutualism, such as that between ants and the trophobionts they tend in their nests.
De Nationale DenkTank 2012
Selected member, topic: sustainable food chains
2015 - present
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
EU Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow