In May 2010 I started my research thesis at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO) in Heteren, under the supervision of dr. Jeff Harvey and prof. dr. Wim van der Putten. For the following six months I looked at the performance of the Small and the Great Cabbage White ( Pieris rapae and P. brassicae respectively) and their (hyper)parasitoids on different populations of black mustard plants (Brassica nigra).
Black mustard seeds were collected from all over the globe, so both exotic and native plant populations were used in my experiments. The butterflies used came from populations maintained at the Entomology department of Wageningen University and the parasitoids were kept at the NIOO. Although not everything went entirely smooth, it was great fun to do the greenhouse experiments. I enjoyed setting up the experiments, growing the plants and working with the insects. Parasitic wasps are really incredible animals and I was able to witness their development from being oviposited as an egg to emerging from a still alive caterpillar to egression from their pupae. Overall, I weighed around 10,000 insect pupae and adults and thus had a good data set to analyze. The (hyper)parasitoids differed in their life history traits (solitary versus gregarious, endoparasitic versus ectoparasitic, etcetera) so the focus while analyzing the data was on comparing life history traits of the parasitoids in terms of the performance. I could also have chosen to focus more on the plants, on the aspect of exotic versus invasive, but I’m more an animal ecologist.
My thesis at the NIOO was a great experience. I learned a lot, had good fun and I’m happy with the end results of my research. I hope to be able to continue in research, by getting a PhD-position at the NIOO or Wageningen University.