Evolution of receptors for pheromones in forest beetles
Conifer forests worldwide are attacked by a myriad of economically important pest insects of which many belong to the order Coleoptera. These beetle species include a variety of bark beetles and other weevils (Curculionidae).
Whereas a large body of knowledge has accumulated over the past decades regarding their chemical ecology, with sex/aggregation pheromones, host compounds, and non-host compounds identified in many species, essentially nothing is known about the evolution and function of their odorant receptors (ORs) that detect these odors. Many of the active odorants are shared among the coniferous pests, and are interestingly also exploited as prey localization cues by their beetle predators (e.g. Thanasimus spp.), which are phylogenetically unrelated. This suggests that similar functions (odour specificities) has evolved in distantly related receptors to fulfill different ecological requirements (mate finding vs. prey finding).
By combining genomic and transcriptomic approaches with functional assays of ORs in heterologous systems, I investigate the functional evolution of ORs in a set of bark beetle species, the pine weevil, as well as a predator of bark beetles, which all spend their lives in conifer forests and thus occupy highly similar “odour spaces”.