We are studying the structure and dynamics of complex communities of interacting species. Our general aim is to uncover how the structure of ecological networks emerges from the interactions of individuals, responds to various types of environmental pressures, and changes at different time scales. This requires an integrative approach combining different methods, such as field observations, experiments, DNA metabarcoding, phylogenetic analyses, and simulation models.
Plant-flower visitor networks
We have been conducting field studies to obtain a deeper insight into the role of various factors structuring plant-flower visitor networks in grassland ecosystems. Rather than doing purely observational studies, we tend to conduct manipulative field experiments to test how the structure of plant-flower visitor networks changes after different perturbations. Recently, we conducted an experiment where we tested the effects of sequential removal of several plant species on plant-flower visitor network structure in several grasslands. In another experiment, we tested the effects of the introduction of two non-native plant species on visitation of native plants and studied how the non-native plants become integrated into the local plant-flower visitor networks.
We have been also running a number of smaller experiments to study flower visitation in single plant species or to gain detailed insights into foraging behaviour of selected insects. This research direction involves a combination of greenhouse and field experiments. For example, we performed experiments to investigate the role of the size of patches of flowering plants for visitation by pollinators. In another experiment, we investigated the importance of vertical stratification of plant-flower visitor interactions.
We have successfully implemented DNA metabarcoding in our lab to study multiple types of species interactions. So far, we have used this approach to obtain novel results on foraging biology of pollinators, such as bumblebees and solitary bees. We are currently using DNA metabarcoding to construct pollen transport networks, evaluate diets of herbivorous insects, and study predator-prey and host-parasitoid interactions. We are also working on practical applications of DNA metabarcoding for monitoring of biodiversity.
The role of individual variation for predator-prey interactions
We are testing how individual-level variation in physiological, behavioural, and morphological traits affects foraging behaviour and life histories in spiders. So far we performed several laboratory experiments, led by Pavla Dudová, to test the presence of the bold-aggressive behavioural syndrome in a spider, Pisaura mirabilis, in different contexts, tested the consequences of individual-level trait variation for predation rates and life-history parameters, and evaluated the role of intraspecific competition on foraging behaviour mediated by individual-level traits.
Phylogenetic work in our group has been led by Irena Klečková, who has been working on reconstructions of phylogeny, biogeography, and trait evolution in butterflies. We have ongoing projects on the phylogeny of hoverflies of the genus Temnostoma (Diptera: Syrphidae) and on coevolution of plants and flower visitors.