Dr Ailsa McLean
I study the roles that symbiotic microorganisms play in the ecology and evolution of animals, particularly insects. Microbial symbionts can be recruited to form part of an insect’s resistance against attack by natural enemies. However, these interactions don’t take place in isolation but within a natural community containing many different players. I seek to place protective symbiosis in its ecological context. How are ecological communities structured by the microbes hidden within animals? Reciprocally, how is that symbiotic community impacted by the external ecology community? Understanding natural ecology can also help us to tackle questions surrounding the evolution of symbiotic interactions. How do symbionts influence the specialisation and potentially speciation of insects? What drives the variation we observe in symbiont function, both within and between symbiont species? To answer these questions, I use laboratory and field experiments with insect model systems, mainly aphids and their natural enemies.