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My research focuses on natural variation in learning and memory formation and on brain size plasticity in parasitic wasps. Parasitic wasps lay their eggs into the eggs, larvae of pupae of other insects. They can use a variety of cues to forage for their hosts, and learn to remember cues that were experienced upon a host encounter, so called oviposition learning. For instance, wasps that parasitize caterpillars remember the odours of host plants where the caterpillars were feeding on. Considerable variation in learning and memory formation has been observed between different parasitic wasp species; some species learn slowly, whereas other, closely related species learn fast. These observations led to the concept of "tailor-made memory"; each species adapts its learning rate and memory formation to species-specific ecological parameters that determine factors such as the reliability and value of the reward. My aim is to find how the observed differences in (host) searching behaviour are reflected in differences at the central and peripheral nervous system. The research goes from behaviour to molecule, and combines neurobiology with evolutionary ecology. For my research, wasps are used mainly from the genera Cotesia, Nasonia and Trichogramma.
The Parasitic wasp Cotesia glomerata parasitizing caterpillars of the species Pieris brassicae
For more information, see:
Brain model of the species Nasonia vitripennis. From Groothuis J, Smid HM (2017) Nasonia Parasitic Wasps Escape from Hallers Rule by Diphasic, Partially Isometric Brain-Body Size Scaling and Selective Neuropil Adaptations. Brain Behav Evol. doi:10.1159/000480421.
The Jewel Wasp Standard Brain: Average shape atlas and morphology of the female Nasonia vitripennis brain.