Laboratory of Urban Pestology
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Research interests in our lab include genetics, genomics, behavior and ecology of urban ants and other pests, with a particular aim to pursue a better understanding of how these pests adapt to anthropogenic environments. Current model systems are fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) and crazy ants (Paratrechina longicornis & Anoplolepis gracilipes) and are extending to other groups including termite, stink bug and bed bug.
Ongoing projects in our lab
Reconstruction of invasion/demographic history of urban pests using historic record, co-evolving parasite and genetic/genomic resources
Characterization of invasiveness of urban pests through behavioral, genetic and genomic approach
Behavioral, physiological and gene expression responses of urban pests to pathogen/parasite infection
Development of innovative management framework against urban pests based on our research findings
Global invasion history of the fire ant
Science (2011) 331 1066-1068. DOI: 10.1126/scuence.1198734
Worker reproduction of the invasive yellow crazy ant
Frontiers in Zoology (2017) 14:24. DOI: 10.1186/s12983-017-0210-4
Ants thriving in urban environment?
Evolution of "urban" trait
Numerous invasive ant species are known as urban pests. While mechanisms underlying ecological success of these ants have been studied extensively, trait(s) that facilitate the dominance in urban environment receive little research attention. Using fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), longhorn crazy ant (Paratrechina longicornis) and yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes), we aim to reconstruct evolution history of key “urban” trait(s) in ants (and other urban pests) through an interdisciplinary approach.
Invasion/demographic history of urban pests
A core question that is commonly asked after a control attempt on an urban pest is: are individuals that are present after control effort survivors or new colonists? To answer this question, population genetics and genomics are by far the most powerful tool since they allow accurate determination of connectivity between spatiotemporal samples of interest. We are currently building a genetic/genomic monitoring system for several key urban pests, and hope to provide direct scientific evidence to pinpoint if the presence of target pests after control results from control failure or new immigrants from local population.
Identification of pathogens in urban pests
While chemical control has been a major management strategy against urban pests, biorational approach such as biocontrol likely represents a new avenue for urban pest management. Approach like this is generally cost-effective and environmentally friendly if potential risks are properly managed. We are interested in identifying novel pathogens in several key urban pest species using metatranscriptomic approach, and also in studying prevalence, distribution, pathogenicity, potential impacts and evolutionary history of the newly discovered pathogens. The generated data would serve as baseline information for future development of practical pathogen-based biocontrol program, as well as excellent materials for studies concerning host-pathogen dynamics and host immune responses.