What we do

We direct much of our energy towards testing evolutionary theory of species interactions. We tend to focus on parasites, which can impose strong selection in natural systems. We’re often thinking about coevolution, the consequences of coevolution, and the factors that can generate variation in the strength of coevolution in the wild. 

Questions that we’re currently interested in include:

  • Does genetic variation limit the spread of disease?
  • What use is sex?
  • Does reciprocal adaptation limit the efficacy of biological control?
  • Do migrating hosts escape their parasites?
  • How do parasites adapt to heterogeneous host populations?
  • Why be a generalist? (i.e. why do some parasites have such large host ranges?)
  • Why do parasites vary so much in virulence? 

Some approaches we use:

  • field sampling
  • experimental evolution
  • microcosms and mesocosms
  • theory
  • phylogenetic comparisons
  • meta-analysis

We often study nematodes, including:

  • The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans
    • plus its natural parasite, the microsporidia Nematocida parisii
  • Plant-parasitic nematodes of the genus Meloidogyne
    • they attack lots of plant species, including peanuts
    • Meloidogyne are in turn attacked by bacteria of the genus Pasteuria

Some detailed summaries of our work

Endorsements of our research

“If we only thought about it, we would find that in nature it is the smallest things that have the greatest effects.”

~Carl Linnaeus, 1750, Der Königlichen Schwedischen Akademie der Wissenschaften neuen Abhandlungen der Naturlehre, Haushaltungskunst und Mechanik 12: p185-190. (translation and quote from Antonovics and Hood, 2018, Archives of Natural History 42: 213-232)

“If all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes, and oceans represented by a film of nematodes. The location of towns would be decipherable, since for every massing of human beings there would be a corresponding massing of certain nematodes. Trees would still stand in ghostly rows representing our streets and highways. The location of the various plants and animals would still be decipherable, and, had we sufficient knowledge, in many cases even their species could be determined by an examination of their erstwhile nematode parasites. “

~ Nathan A. Cobb, 1915, Nematodes and their Relationships, Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture, 457-490.