Research of the Laboratory of Entomology

The Laboratory of Entomology studies fundamental aspects of insect biology, ecology, and evolution with the aim to understand how insects function in their ecological setting and how they evolve.

The team at the Laboratory of Entomology is driven by curiosity and aims to make significant contributions to important societal issues such as food security, biodiversity loss and a healthy living environment. This is achieved by research on the interface of molecular, physiological, developmental and evolutionary biology, with special attention to the ecological, behavioural and molecular interactions between insects and their environment. This is accomplished with laboratory, greenhouse and field experiments at national and international study sites, and through an active dialogue with stakeholders and the society.

Specifically, the objectives of the research programme of the Laboratory of Entomology are to:

1. Unravel insect-plant interactions to understand the dynamics of interactions at the level of individuals with consequences for population and community dynamics at multiple trophic levels (herbivores and pollinators, parasitoids and predators, and hyperparasitoids). We integrate these ecological insights of antagonistic and mutualistic plant-insect interactions to evolutionary interpretations of plant growth, defense and reproduction strategies, and apply this knowledge in developing ecology-based sustainable agriculture and biological control strategies.

image banner insect plant.jpg

See the homepage of Prof Erik Poelman for more information

2. Unravel molecular mechanisms underlying insect-plant-microbiome interactions to understand plant physiological resistance mechanisms to herbivorous insects, the role of rhizosphere communities and other microbes in this process, and how insects circumvent or suppress plant defenses via changes in their behaviour and the secretion of effectors. With these mechanistic insights we contribute to the breeding of resistant crops and development of sustainable insect pest management strategies.

image banner aphids.jpg

See the homepage of Dr Karen Kloth for more information

3. Understand the biology and ecology of haematophagous arthropods (i.e., disease vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks) in interaction with their blood hosts (humans and animals), the pathogens they transmit, as well as their microbial communities. Through this research, we aim to develop and experimentally evaluate sustainable approaches for vector control.

image banner vector biology.jpg

See the homepage of Dr Sander Koenraadt for more information

4. Investigate the molecular and physiological mechanisms underlying insect behaviour and development and their applications in farming insects for food and feed. We specifically address the effects of different environmental conditions and rearing methods on the neurobiological and cognitive development in a range of insect species. Through this research, we aim to safeguard sustainable insect farming and insect welfare.

image banner brain-behaviour.jpg

See the homepage of Dr Alexander Haverkamp for more information

5. Unravel the evolutionary driving forces affecting complex developmental processes and molecular pathways (specifically sex determination and differentiation) that shape insect species, populations and ecosystems. We use these insights to understand the complex interaction of insects and their endosymbionts that manipulate these developmental processes to their own advantage. This research contributes to the optimization of biological control of pest species.

image banner sex determination.jpg

See the homepage of Dr Eveline Verhulst for more information

Check our people page for an overview of the research of all our scientists

The Laboratory of Entomology has a strong expertise in linking fundamental to applied entomological research, from the molecular to the ecological and ecosystem levels and is uniquely positioned to address these objectives. The chairgroup has unique insect rearing facilities available, maintained by dedicated insect rearing staff, as well as state-of-the-art greenhouse spaces and a number of high-tech facilities in the group, including a Biological Safety Level 3 laboratory (in collaboration with the Laboratory of Virology), a D-I laboratory for CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, and a camera-equipped experimental lab to study insect flight and behaviour. At Wageningen University, the chair group benefits from large experimental fields and an experimental farm on campus. The chair group is nationally and internationally recognised and visible in different insect science domains, such as insect-plant interactions, multi-trophic interactions, insects as food and feed, vector-borne disease ecology and control, and insect molecular development, physiology and behaviour. This fits well with the research themes of WUR to preserve biodiversity and provide sustainable food security. The group exploits citizen science to involve the general public, and actively invests in the dissemination of its work via public lecture series, books, television and social media. In addition, the research lines connect to the National Science Agenda and the FAO domains agroecology, food safety, biodiversity and One Health.

The chair group has intensive collaboration with national and international partners. In addition, the group valorises knowledge in cooperation with biocontrol, plant breeding and biotech companies via (inter)national projects funded by EU, ESF, NWO and TKI.
The fundamental and applied entomological research inspires the chair group in its teaching. We incorporate our research findings in basic and advanced courses for a wide spectrum of teaching programs. We highly value the central position of fundamental knowledge in the domains of ecology, evolution, physiology and development in our courses and offer specialised courses on the state-of-the-art of our research fields. We are strong in bringing these perspectives to societal challenges and applied sciences such as sustainable crop management, breeding for resistant crops, disease vectorcontrol and insects as food and feed. Each staff member, including the chair, is dedicated to teaching in multiple courses and supervision of BSc, MSc and PhD students. We find it highly valuable that most of our courses are developed and taught in collaboration with teachers from a broad range of chair groups to stimulate interdisciplinarity in training of our students.
To strengthen its research and education portfolio, the Laboratory of Entomology sees opportunities in expanding and consolidating across various scientific domains, including research on the role of insects in ecosystems services, insects and food security, and insect biodiversity. The Laboratory values interdisciplinary approaches, which may vary from using state-of-the-art molecular tools (e.g. CRISPR-Cas, RNAi, genome sequencing) to answer ecological questions, to the inclusion of social sciences to address societal challenges.

The Laboratory of Entomology consists of a diverse group of people that actively invests in social safety, inclusiveness and a positive working atmosphere. The chair group looks for inclusive leadership that facilitates personal development, team effort, transparency, collective decision making, and stimulates a healthy work-life balance and vibrant social atmosphere.

All our research is embedded in the Graduate Schools Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS) and Production Ecology and Resource Conservation (PE&RC).

the black soldierfly
the black soldierfly