Bart Pannebakker - The evolution of reproductive modes in parasitoid wasps

I study the evolution of reproductive modes in insects at different levels, from symbiont-induced alterations to the genes underlying these important life-history traits. My focus is on parasitoid wasps, insects that lay their eggs in or on other insects. The emerging larvae develop by consuming the host tissue, thereby killing their host. This makes them good alternatives to chemicals to control pests in agriculture and they are frequently used for this purpose in greenhouses and in the field. My research concerns a range of different aspects of reproductive behaviour, from symbiont-induced reproductive alterations to the evolutionary genetics of behaviour.

Genetic basis of sex ratio behaviour

In parasitoid wasps, like in other haplodiploid species, sons develop from unfertilised, haploid eggs, whereas daughters develop from fertilized, diploid eggs. This gives females full control of the sex ratio they produce when laying eggs on a host.

I am interested in the genetic constraints of adaptive sex allocation in the parasitoid Nasonia. By applying modern genetic and genomic techniques, we have: (1) estimated the mutational heritability for single and two-foundress sex ratios in a mutation accumulation study; (2) identified Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) associated with intra-population sex ratio variation. My results suggest that sex ratio in Nasonia is a polygenic trait and that the genes associated with sex ratio are pleiotropic for other fitness-related traits

Nasonia vitripennis female laying eggs on fly host (Photo: Peter Koomen)
Nasonia vitripennis female laying eggs on fly host (Photo: Peter Koomen)

Genomics of parasitoid life-history traits

An organism’s life-history defines the key processes that determine its survival, growth, and reproduction. Evolution fine-tunes life-histories to optimally match an organisms environment by selecting heritable adaptations. My current work is concerned with developing and applying genomic tools for studying parasitoid life-history traits.

The life-history of a parasitoid wasp determines for a large part how successful it will be as a pest controller. My current research aims to use the genetic information of life-history traits to help improve the performance of parasitic wasps in biological control.

Asobara tabida female (Photo: Kees Hofker)
Asobara tabida female (Photo: Kees Hofker)

Symbiont-induced alterations to reproduction

In my PhD project at Leiden University, I characterized the evolutionary consequences of parthenogenesis-inducing Wolbachia bacteria in the Drosophila parasitoid Leptopilina clavipes. Using a combination of field work, population genetics, cytology, QTL mapping and behavioural analysis, I showed that the Wolbachia infection is irreversible and that it causes reproductive barriers that can be considered as the first steps in speciation between infected and uninfected populations.

As a postdoctoral researcher at Lyon University, I studied the mechanisms behind an obligatory Wolbachia-infection in Asobara tabida, another Drosophila parasitoid. In A. tabida the presence of Wolbachia is necessary for host oogenesis and we have shown that Wolbachia influences programmed cell death processes (a host regulatory feature typically targeted by pathogens) in A. tabida, making its presence essential for the wasps’ oocytes to mature.

Curriculum vitae

  • 2012-present: NGI Zenith Researcher, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
  • 2008-2011: NWO Veni Research Fellow, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
  • 2005-2008: NERC Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K.
  • 2004-2005: CNRS Post-Doctoral Researcher, Université Claude Bernard Lyon , France
  • 2004: PhD "Evolutionary consequences of Wolbachia-induced parthenogenesis in the parasitoid Leptopilina clavipes", Leiden University, The Netherlands,
  • 2000: MSc Population biology, Wageningen University, The Netherlands,


Pannebakker, B.A., R. Watt, S.A. Knott, S.A. West, and D.M. Shuker. 2011. The quantitative genetic basis of sex ratio variation in Nasonia vitripennis: a QTL study. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24, 12-22.

Werren JH, Richards S, Desjardins CA, Niehuis O, Gadau J, Colbourne JK, Beukeboom LW et al. 2010. Functional and evolutionary insights from the genomes of three parasitoid Nasonia species. Science 327, 343-348.

Beukeboom, L. W., O. Niehuis, B. A. Pannebakker, T. Koevoets, J. D. Gibson, D. M. Shuker, L. van de Zande, and J. Gadau. 2010. A comparison of recombination frequencies in intraspecific versus interspecific mapping populations of Nasonia. Heredity 104: 302-309.

Niehuis, O., J. D. Gibson, M. S. Rosenberg, B. A. Pannebakker, T. Koevoets, A. K. Judson, C. A. Desjardins, et al. 2010. Recombination and its impact on the genome of the haplodiploid parasitoid wasp Nasonia. PLoS ONE 5(1): e8597. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008597.

Pannebakker, B. A., O. Niehuis, A. Hedley, J. Gadau, and D. M. Shuker. 2010. The distribution of microsatellites in the Nasonia parasitoid wasp genome. Insect Molecular Biology 19: 91-98.

Mateo Leach, I., B.A. Pannebakker, M.V. Schneider, G. Driessen, L. van de Zande and L.W. Beukeboom. 2009. Thelytoky in Hymenoptera with Venturia canescens and Leptopilina clavipes as case studies. In: I. Schön, P. van Dijk and K. Martens (eds): Lost Sex - The Evolutionary Biology of Parthenogenesis. Springer, Berlin; pp. 347-375.

Geuverink, E., S. Gerritsma, B.A. Pannebakker and L.W. Beukeboom 2009. A role for sexual conflict in the evolution of reproductive traits in Nasonia wasps? Animal Biology 59: 417-434.

Vavre, F., L. Mouton and B.A. Pannebakker. 2009. Drosophila–Parasitoid Communities as Model Systems for Host–Wolbachia Interactions. Advances in Parasitology 70: 299-331.

Vavre, F. N. Kremer, B.A. Pannebakker, B. Loppin and P. Mavingui. 2008. Is symbiosis evolution influenced by the pleiotropic role of programmed cell death in immunity and development?. In: K. Bourtzis and T.A. Miller (eds): Insect Symbiosis, Volume 3. CRC Press, Boca Raton Florida; pp. 57-76.

Pannebakker, B.A., D.L. Halligan, K.T. Reynolds, G.A. Ballantyne, D.M. Shuker, N.H. Barton & S.A. West. 2008. Effects of spontaneous mutation accumulation on sex ratio traits in a parasitoid wasp. Evolution 62: 1921-1935.

Pannebakker, B.A., N.R.T Garrido, B.J. Zwaan, J.J.M. van Alphen. 2008. Geographic variation in host-selection behaviour in the Drosophila parasitoid Leptopilina clavipes. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 127: 48-54.

Pannebakker, B.A., B. Loppin, C.P.H. Elemans, L. Humblot & F. Vavre. 2007. Parasitic inhibition of cell death facilitates symbiosis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 104: 212-215.

Pannebakker, B.A., N. Schidlo, G.J.F. Boskamp, L. Dekker, T.J.M. van Dooren, L.W. Beukeboom, B.J. Zwaan, P.M. Brakefield & J.J.M. van Alphen. 2005. Sexual functionality of Leptopilina clavipes (Hymenoptera: Figitidae) after reversing Wolbachia-induced parthenogenesis. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 18: 1019-1028.

Pannebakker, B.A., L.W. Beukeboom, J.J.M. van Alphen, P.M. Brakefield & B.J. Zwaan. 2004. The genetic basis of male fertility in relation to haplodiploid reproduction in Leptopilina clavipes. Genetics 168: 341-349.

Pannebakker, B.A., B.J. Zwaan, L.W. Beukeboom & J.J.M. van Alphen. 2004. Genetic diversity and Wolbachia infection of the Drosophila parasitoid Leptopilina clavipes in western Europe. Molecular Ecology 13: 1119-1128.

Pannebakker, B.A., L.P. Pijnacker, B.J. Zwaan & L.W. Beukeboom. 2004. Cytology of Wolbachia-induced parthenogenesis in Leptopilina clavipes (Hymenoptera: Figitidae). Genome 47: 299-303.

Pannebakker, B.A. 2004. Evolutionary consequences of Wolbachia-induced parthenogenesis in the parasitoid Leptopilina clavipes. Ph.D. thesis, Leiden University, The Netherlands. 135 pages.

Schidlo, N.S., B.A. Pannebakker, L.W. Beukeboom, B.J. Zwaan, J.J.M. van Alphen. 2002. Curing thelytoky in the Drosophila parasitoid Leptopilina clavipes (Hymenoptera: Figitidae). Proceedings of the Netherlands Entomology Meeting 13: 93-96.

Pannebakker, B.A., C. Leroy, L.W. Beukeboom, J.J.M. van Alphen. 2001. The response of Leptopilina clavipes (Hymenoptera: Figitidae) to cVA, a major component of Drosophila aggregation pheromone. Proceedings of the Netherlands Entomology Meeting 12: 57-60.

For an updated publication record, please see my Google Scholar profile


  • Dave Shuker, School of Biology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland, U.K.
  • Leo Beukeboom & Louis van de Zande, Evolutionary Genetics, Groningen University
  • Stuart West, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford, England, U.K.
  • Fabrice Vavre, Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Lyon, France
  • Jun Abe, Department of Biological Sciences, Kanagawa University, Hiratsuka, Japan
  • Hans Smid, Laboratory of Entomology, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
  • Coen Elemans, Institute of Biology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark