Project 5 Impact of multiple biotic and abiotic stressors on pathogenesis in mealworms and wax moths (DK)
I am interested in how biotic and abiotic stressors affect arthropod cultures for food and feed. It is known that climate change provokes physiological responses in insects, which in turn affect population growth. Coupled to this, is the threat of emerging infectious diseases, which can severely affect mass-reared populations of invertebrates where high densities facilitate disease transmission.
I will examine the impact of multiple stressors (temperature, CO2 and pathogens) using in vivo model insect mass culture systems. Primarily, my experiments will focus on Coleopteran larvae of the yellow mealworm Tenebrio molitor, which is mass-reared for food and feed. Later on, I will extend my project and challenge some of the insights gained in this system to examine comparable issues in the insect order Lepidoptera, such as the wax moth Galleria mellonella. Potentially I will also include an established model of aquatic arthropod system using amphipod spp. as a proxy for shrimp and crayfish arthropod cultures used for food and feed.
With my research, I seek to understand which challenges arise in mass-reared arthropod cultures in a changing climate. Moreover, I am investigating how the production of arthropods for food and feed can be optimised and the risk of disease outbreaks can be minimised at the same time.
My experiments will be completed in a tiered approach, adding different stressors to the system over time. To quantify the immune response in stressed insects I am measuring phenoloxidase activity and concentration of hemocytes in the hemolymph. Moreover, I am using qPCR to quantify the development of pathogens inside hosts during sublethal infections. To measure host fitness responses I am mainly looking at survival, growth and development time of challenged hosts. I will use mixed effects models to analyze my data of individual host fitness. Furthermore, I will deliver a model that shows the impact of combined stressors at the population level to provide recommendations to industry of best culture practice and key points of intervention to reduce disease outbreak risks.
I am employed at UKCEH (UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) and I am enrolled at the University of Leeds and the University of Copenhagen. During my PhD, I will spend time at all three institutions, which is a great opportunity for me to get to know different people working in related fields. Furthermore, I will get insight in different working environments and I can benefit from different resources available at these locations.