The Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig

is a research museum of the Leibniz Association

Evolution and diversity of…



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Project title: 
Evolution and diversity of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles in cleptoparasitic and parasitoid cuckoo wasps and their significance for chemical mimicry
Object of research: 


The cuticle of insects is coated with a layer of waxes that serves as protection against desiccation. The nonpolar fraction of these waxes are cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs). These differ between most species and often between sexes, and insects use them as cues and signals. Given the importance of CHCs for insects, it surprises, that very little is known about how CHC profiles evolve. So far, few studies have found a potential correlation between CHC profiles of insects and environmental factors, such as temperature and moisture. Our research project aims to elucidate, whether or not positive Darwinian selection on females, to mimic the CHC profile of their host, is a major force, that drives the evolution of CHC profiles in a group of cleptoparasitic and parasitoid insects: cuckoo wasps (Hymenoptera: Chrysididae). We combine behavioral experiments with a phylogeny-based statistical analysis, that compares CHC profiles of cuckoo wasps and their distantly related hosts. The behavioral experiments are meant to demonstrate, whether or not hostparasite CHC profile similarity is causally interrelated with the host's behavior against cleptoparasites and parasitoids. The results of our research will for the first time allow for quantification of the malleability and adaptability of CHC profiles in parasitic insects.