We are studying the structure and dynamics of complex communities of interacting species. Our general aim is to uncover how the composition of ecological communities and macroscopic properties of ecological networks emerge from the interactions of individuals and evolve over longer time scales. This requires an integrative approach combining different methods, such as field observations, experiments, DNA (meta)barcoding, phylogenetic analyses and theoretical models.
Plant-flower visitor networks
We have been conducting field studies to improve our understanding of factors structuring plant-flower visitor networks in grassland ecosystems. Rather than doing purely observational studies, we tend to conduct field experiments manipulating local species composition and observing how the structure of plant-flower visitor networks changes after such manipulations. 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 introduced two non-native plant species into several grassland patches and tested how they were 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 insect species. This research direction involves a combination of greenhouse and field experiments. The first paper based on this line of research, led by our student Asma Akter, is available here: https://doi.org/10.1101/126581. A few more are in preparation.
Our current work is also venturing into the use of molecular genetic data in studies of plant-pollinator interactions and food webs. We have started several small projects using DNA meta-barcoding to identify pollen collected by flower-visiting insects and prey consumed by predatory and herbivorous insects. We are trying to take advantage of these techniques to gain novel insights into foraging biology of selected species in our grassland ecosystems.
Phylogenetic work in our group has been led by Irena Kleckova, who has been working on reconstructions of phylogeny, biogeography, and trait evolution in several groups of butterflies. We are now extending this line of research to other insects, mostly hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae).