The Aphid Project

Using aphids to explore questions in ecology and evolution

We use aphids and especially the pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) as model systems to explore a range of issues in population and evolutionary biology. There is a growing community of researchers using the pea aphid to study questions in fields as diverse as community ecology and insect biochemistry.  The importance of the pea aphid is likely to increase now that the insect’s complete genome sequence has been published.

We began working with aphids in the mid 1990s at Imperial College, conducting a long-term study of the community ecology of aphids and their natural enemies.  From 2000 (and especially after our move to Oxford in 2006) we started to use the pea aphid as a model system, initially to explore aphid resistance to natural enemies, but then after we found that bacterial endosymbionts protected their host from fungal pathogens we became particularly interested in these fascinating symbionts.

At the moment study of the biology of how facultative bacterial endosymbionts affect aphid ecology and evolution is the main research project in the laboratory, though we are also interested in other topics that this system can help us understand such as ecological speciation, apparent competition and other indirect effects, and the forces structuring insect food webs and communities.

We collaborate with several groups in the UK (in particular Julia Ferrari at York who was used to be part of the group before setting up her own lab in 2009) as well as in France, the United States and, most recently, China.