Marcel Dicke investigates the ecology of insect-plant interactions. During his PhD project (1980s) he made the breakthrough discovery that plants respond to herbivory with the production of a complex odour blend that attracts the enemies of the herbivores that inflicted the damage (coined plants cry for help). This has resulted in a paradigm shift in the research field of plant-animal interactions (covering animals ranging from tiny mites to birds) and has resulted in a new research field on multitrophic interactions and community ecology. In the past 10 years his research has been instrumental in the integration of community ecology (Science 2008, Plos Biology 2012) with analytical chemistry and molecular biology (Science 2005, PNAS 2008, 2009, 2011, Nature Chemical Biology 2009, Plos Biology 2012). This integration is at the basis of an extensive form of systems biology, i.e. from genes to communities (Science 2004, Trends in Plant Science 2011, Annual Review of Plant Biology 2014).
Dicke has received various awards for his research such as:
- the NWO Spinoza award (aka the Dutch Nobel Prize), awarded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (2007)
- Eureka prize for science communication, awarded by NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) and KNAW (Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen)
- Academic Year Prize (Battle of the Universities) for translating excellent scientific research to the general public (NRC, NWO & KNAW) (2006)
- Rank Prize for Nutrition (Trustees of Rank Prize Foundation, United Kingdom) (2006)
- VICI grant awarded by NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research)
- Belgacom Prize awarded by the Royal Belgian Academy of Sciences (1996)
- Dutch Zoology Prize awarded by the Netherlands Society for Zoology (1992)
Dicke is elected member of:
- the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, abbreviated: KNAW)
- The Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities (Koninklijke Hollandse Maatschappij der Wetenschappen)
Marcel Dickes research focuses on four major themes
Body odour - the role of volatiles in interactions between plants and insects. His research demonstrated that plants respond to feeding by insects and mites with the production of volatiles that attract carnivorous enemies of the herbivores, repel herbivores and affect neighbouring plants (e.g. Annu Rev Entomol 37: 141-172 (1992). In more recent years it has become clear that such volatiles affect potentially any interaction within plant-insect-microbe communities. See e.g. Annu Rev Plant Biol 65: 689-713 (2014) and Plant Cell Environ 36: 393-404 (2013). Among the research questions are: how do interactions between a plant and an herbivorous insect of a root-associated microbe affect interactions of the plant with other herbivores, with pollinators or with carnivores that forage for herbivores or develop in them.
Molecular ecology of multitrophic interactions: what signal-transduction pathways are induced in plants by herbivory, what genes are induced, what transcriptome changes occur in response to attack by different types of organisms? Plants undergo major transcriptomic changes in response attack by insects herbivores or microbial pathogens (e.g. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions 18: 923-937 (2005)) and the changes induced by one herbivore interfere with the induction by a second herbivore (e.g. New Phytologist 197: 12911299 (2013)) with consequence for phenotype expression and interactions with carnivorous insects (PNAS 106: 2120221207 (2009)).
Individuals are not isolated entities but comprise a community in themselves. Such communities can comprise microorganisms and macroorganisms (Trends in Ecology and Evolution 27: 705-711 (2012) and New Phytologist 204: 315321 (2014)). Organisms associated with an herbivore can decisively influence herbivore-plant interactions, affecting plant gene transcription, biosynthesis of plant metabolites, and species interactions. A major challenge in the ecology of insect-plant interactions is to investigate how an herbivore as a community influences plant responses with consequences for plant-insect community dynamics. Because preliminary work shows that the passengers of an herbivore may be more important than the herbivore itself for the interaction of the herbivore with its food plant (PNAS 108: 1964719652 (2011)), it is important to investigate insect herbivores as communities when addressing herbivore-plant interactions.
Insects as food and feed the use of insects as a durable source of animal proteins for human consumption and as feed for livestock. How can we use edible insects to address issues of food security, human health, reduction of ecological footprint, reduction of greeenhouse gas emission. See e.g. Van Huis, van Gurp and Dicke, M. (2014) The Insect Cookbook - Food for a Sustainable Planet. Columbia University Press, 191 pp. winner of the 2014 Green Book Festival Cookbook category, San Francisco, California, USA. (http://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-insect-cookbook/9780231166843)
Marcel Dicke is active in translating his scientific research to a wide audience.
- In 2006 he organised with his team the science festival Wageningen City of Insects, which attracted more than 20,000 visitors
- He organises a bi-annual lecture series Insects and Society that includes a broad scala of topics ranging from insects as food to insects to heal wound, from insects in art and music to insects as pets, from insects and diseases (malaria - Lyme) to insects in music, etc.
- He has authored and co-authored popular scientific books such as The Insect Cookbook (winner 2014 Green Book Festival Cookbook category), Muggenzifters en Mierenneukers (2006), Blij met een dooie mug (2011), Het Insectenkookboek (2012).
- He presented an invited TED talk, 'why not eat insects?"
- He received the Eureka prize for science communication, awarded by NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) and KNAW (Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen)
- He has given ample presentations for a lay audience, see e.g. his presentation on the benefits of insects in the lecture series Spinoza te Paard (in Dutch)