6708 PB Wageningen
Dr. ir. Jetske de Boer PhD
Insects play vital roles in all of our ecosystems. They are crucial in nature and agriculture by pollinating plants and as natural enemies of pest insects amongst their many other functions. I am particularly fascinated by the intriguing behaviours of insects and their intricate relationships with other organisms.
I did my PhD at Wageningen University on prey search behaviour of predatory mites (2004). The following years I studied genetics and behaviour of Cotesia parasitoids in relation to their sex determination mechanism (at the University of Minnesota and then at Groningen University ). In 2012, I returned to Wageningen to work on the interactions between malaria parasites, humans and mosquitoes. Together with two PhD students, we found that body odours of malaria-infected humans change in such a way that more mosquitoes are attracted.
In 2017, I joined the NIOO-KNAW. I first worked with Louise Vet on chemical ecology and behaviour of hyperparasitoids. These small insects are in the fourth trophic level and can disrupt biological control of aphids in sweet pepper greenhouses by killing the natural enemies that growers release (aphid parasitoids). Since 2020, I have a joint position as researcher at the NIOO and lector (professor of applied sciences) at the Aeres University of Applied Sciences, situated next to NIOO (https://www.aereshogeschool.nl/onderzoek/lectoren-en-onderzoekers/jetsk…). My research focuses on ecological solutions for pest insect control (see project Smart parasitoids) and restoration of insect populations in various landscapes (in cities as well as in agriculture).
Hyperparasitoids are some of the most diverse members of insect food webs. True hyperparasitoids parasitize the larvae of other parasitoids, reaching these larvae with their ovipositor through the herbivore that hosts the parasitoid larva. During pupation, primary parasitoids also may be attacked by pseudohyperparasitoids that lay their eggs on the parasitoid (pre)pupae. By attacking primary parasitoids, hyperparasitoids may affect herbivore population dynamics, and they have been identified as a major challenge in biological control. Over the past decades, research, especially on aphid- and caterpillar-associated hyperparasitoids, has revealed that hyperparasitoids challenge rules on nutrient use efficiency in trophic chains, account for herbivore outbreaks, or stabilize competitive interactions in lower trophic levels, and they may use cues derived from complex interaction networks to locate their hosts. This review focuses on the fascinating ecology of hyperparasitoids related to how they exploit and locate their often inconspicuous hosts and the insect community processes in which hyperparasitoids are prominent players.
Parasitoids lay their eggs in or on a host, usually another insect. During foraging, parasitoids can encounter insects that differ in terms of host suitability and quality. At one extreme end of this spectrum are non-hosts that are unsuitable for offspring development. Non-hosts are generally ignored but parasitization does occur and occasionally also results in egg deposition. Here, the authors investigate how oviposition in a non-host influences subsequent foraging behaviour of a parasitoid and whether this is mediated by learning. The study system consists of the endoparasitoid Cotesia glomerata and the presumed non-host caterpillar Mamestra brassicae. In the presence of Pieris brassicae hosts and/or their traces (frass), C. glomerata inserted its ovipositor into M. brassicae caterpillars. Eggs were deposited, but all eggs disappeared within 96 h, confirming the non-host status of M. brassicae. In contrast to the expectation, there was no memory retention after oviposition in a non-host and parasitoids did not alter their behaviour with respect to non-host contacts and ovipositions. Instead, C. glomerata became more motivated to forage on a non-host infested leaf. The authors propose that egg deposition in non-hosts by C. glomerata might be due to their high egg load, which is thought to make parasitoids less selective on host quality, especially when they have few reproductive opportunities. In such cases, fitness costs to individual females are low. Egg deposition in non-hosts might ultimately lead to host range expansion if parasitoids overcome the defence response of non-hosts over evolutionary time.
Adults of many mosquito species feed on plants to obtain metabolic energy and to enhance reproduction. Mosquitoes primarily rely on olfaction to locate plants and are known to respond to a range of plant volatiles. We studied the olfactory response of the yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti to methyl jasmonate (MeJA) and cis-jasmone (CiJA), volatile compounds originating from the octadecanoid signaling pathway that plays a key role in plant defense against herbivores. Specifically, we investigated how Ae. aegypti of different ages responded to elevated levels of CiJA in two attractive odor contexts, either derived from Lima bean plants or human skin. Aedes aegypti females landed significantly less often on a surface with CiJA and MeJA compared to the solvent control, CiJA exerting a stronger reduction in landing than MeJA. Odor context (plant or human) had no significant main effect on the olfactory responses of Ae. aegypti females to CiJA. Mosquito age significantly affected the olfactory response, older females (7–9 d) responding more strongly to elevated levels of CiJA than young females (1–3 d) in either odor context. Our results show that avoidance of CiJA by Ae. aegypti is independent of odor background, suggesting that jasmonates are inherently aversive cues to these mosquitoes. We propose that avoidance of plants with elevated levels of jasmonates is adaptive to mosquitoes to reduce the risk of encountering predators that is higher on these plants, i.e. by avoiding ‘enemy-dense-space’.
Endogenous viruses form an important proportion of eukaryote genomes and a source of novel functions. How large DNA viruses integrated into a genome evolve when they confer a benefit to their host, however, remains unknown. Bracoviruses are essential for the parasitism success of parasitoid wasps, into whose genomes they integrated ~103 million years ago. Here we show, from the assembly of a parasitoid wasp genome at a chromosomal scale, that bracovirus genes colonized all ten chromosomes of Cotesia congregata. Most form clusters of genes involved in particle production or parasitism success. Genomic comparison with another wasp, Microplitis demolitor, revealed that these clusters were already established ~53 mya and thus belong to remarkably stable genomic structures, the architectures of which are evolutionary constrained. Transcriptomic analyses highlight temporal synchronization of viral gene expression without resulting in immune gene induction, suggesting that no conflicts remain between ancient symbiotic partners when benefits to them converge.
Animals can alter their foraging behavior through associative learning, where an encounter with an essential resource (e.g., food or a reproductive opportunity) is associated with nearby environmental cues (e.g., volatiles). This can subsequently improve the animal's foraging efficiency. However, when these associated cues are encountered again, the anticipated resource is not always present. Such an unrewarding experience, also called a memory-extinction experience, can change an animal's response to the associated cues. Although some studies are available on the mechanisms of this process, they rarely focus on cues and rewards that are relevant in an animal's natural habitat. In this study, we tested the effect of different types of ecologically relevant memory-extinction experiences on the conditioned plant volatile preferences of the parasitic wasp Cotesia glomerata that uses these cues to locate its caterpillar hosts. These extinction experiences consisted of contact with only host traces (frass and silk), contact with nonhost traces, or oviposition in a nonhost near host traces, on the conditioned plant species. Our results show that the lack of oviposition, after contacting host traces, led to the temporary alteration of the conditioned plant volatile preference in C. glomerata, but this effect was plant species-specific. These results provide novel insights into how ecologically relevant memory-extinction experiences can fine-tune an animal's foraging behavior. This fine-tuning of learned behavior can be beneficial when the lack of finding a resource accurately predicts current, but not future foraging opportunities. Such continuous reevaluation of obtained information helps animals to prevent maladaptive foraging behavior.
Malaria parasites (Plasmodium) can change the attractiveness of their vertebrate hosts to Anopheles vectors, leading to a greater number of vector-host contacts and increased transmission. Indeed, naturally Plasmodium-infected children have been shown to attract more mosquitoes than parasite-free children. Here, we demonstrate Plasmodium-induced increases in the attractiveness of skin odor in Kenyan children and reveal quantitative differences in the production of specific odor components in infected vs. parasite-free individuals. We found the aldehydes heptanal, octanal, and nonanal to be produced in greater amounts by infected individuals and detected by mosquito antennae. In behavioral experiments, we demonstrated that these, and other, Plasmodium-induced aldehydes enhanced the attractiveness of a synthetic odor blend mimicking "healthy" human odor. Heptanal alone increased the attractiveness of "parasite-free" natural human odor. Should the increased production of these aldehydes by Plasmodium-infected humans lead to increased mosquito biting in a natural setting, this would likely affect the transmission of malaria.