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Prof. Dr. Jacintha Ellers

  • Telephone:+31 20 59 87076
  • Room nr:h-141
  • E-mail:j.ellers@vu.nl
  • Unit:faculteit der aard- en levenswetenschappen ( subafdeling dierecologie )
  • Position:Deputy Head of the Department

Research interests

I am interested in how an individual’s phenotype is shaped by the joint interplay between genes, genome and environment. Particularly for complex traits, environmental activation of genetic networks or co-evolution with symbiotic species may produced completely dissimilar genotype-phenotype associations for similar traits. I study how the genotype-phenotype relationship affects the performance of the resulting phenotypes in natural relevant environments and their potential to adapt to future challenges. In collaboration with community ecologists I use the evolutionary concepts of trait variation and trait plasticity to understand the impact of climate change on species diversity and community composition.

My research emphasizes the combination of mechanistic and evolutionary approaches, linking the underlying genetic and physiological mechanisms to adaptive explanations. I use a variety of study systems, including Anolis, Collembola, Drosophila, and parasitoids.


Selected Publications

Morretti, M., Dias, A.T.C., de Bello, F., Altermatt, F., Chown, S., Azcárate, F.M., Bell, J.R., Fournier, B., Hedde, M., Hortal1, J., Ibanez, S., Öckinger, E., Sousa, JP., Ellers, J. & Berg, M.P. A handbook of protocols for standardized measurement of terrestrial invertebrate functional traits. Functional Ecology, in press

Ellers, J., Kiers, E.T., Currie C.R., McDonald, B.R. & Visser B. (2012). Ecological interactions drive evolutionary loss of traits. Ecology Letters, 15: 1071-1082.

Berg, M.P., E.T. Kiers, G. Driessen, M. van der Heijden, B.W. Kooi, F. Kuenen, M. Liefting, H.A. Verhoef and J. Ellers (2010). Adapt or disperse: understanding species persistence in a changing world. Global Change Biology, 16: 587-598.

Visser, B., C. Le Lann, F.J. den Blanken, J.A. Harvey, J.J.M. van Alphen and J. Ellers (2010). Loss of lipid synthesis as an evolutionary consequence of a parasitic lifestyle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107: 8677-8682.

Bahrndorff, S., J. Mariën, V. Loeschcke and J. Ellers (2009). Dynamics of heat-induced thermal stress resistance and Hsp70 expression in the springtail, Orchesella cincta. Functional Ecology, 23: 233-239
Link to Jacintha Ellers' publication list at VU University

Research projects

1. Evolutionary loss of traits

Leptopilina heterotoma, a parasitoid wasp-Image by Peter Koomen
Leptopilina heterotoma, a parasitoid wasp.©Peter Koomen
I investigate evolutionary loss of traits, particularly in species interactions. Ecological outsourcing of functions to symbiotic partners relaxes selection, and may lead to loss of the function in the receiving partner, thereby increasing dependency in the symbiosis.
One project focuses on loss of de novo lipogenesis in parasitoids due to exploitation of host resources. Lipogenic ability has been lost multiple times concurrent with the evolution of the parasitoid life style. This work addresses how changes in the genomic network of lipogenesis have led to the loss of this essential metabolic trait, using transcriptome analysis, forward genetics, and comparative genomics.

Participants:    Ken Kraaijeveld, Mark Lammers, Peter Neleman, Janine Marien, Jeff Harvey

Another project studies how dietary resources may promote trait loss and regain in consumers. Continuous surpluses of specific nutritional compounds may render their biosynthesis redundant in consumers. Poly-unsaturated fatty acids may provide an example of this as most animals appear to lack biosynthetic ability and depend on dietary acquisition. However, several Collembola species are able to biosynthesize PUFAs. This project investigates the phylogenetic distribution of PUFA synthesis, its associated ecological factors, and the molecular evolution of desaturases associated with loss and gain of this trait in Collembola.

Participants:    Mima Malcicka, Janine Marien, Joachim Ruther, Matty Berg

A third project investigates loss of sexual reproduction resulting from the bacterial endosymbiont Wolbachia and its genomic consequences. The transition to asexuality may lead to degradation of redundant sexual traits, and result in dependency between endosymbiont and host. The collembolan Folsomia candida is an asexual species in obligate symbiosis with Wolbachia. This project studies associated genomic and phenotypic changes in host, Wolbachia and its bacteriophage WO.

Participants:    Ken Kraaijeveld, Dré Kampfraath, Peter Neleman, Janine Marien, Lisa Klassen, Sarah Bordenstein, Seth Bordenstein

Spermatophore of a sexual line of the springtail Folsomia candida-Image by Dré Kampfraath
Spermatophore of a sexual line of the springtail Folsomia candida.©Dré Kampfraath


2. Ecology and evolution in human-altered environments

Humans are changing natural systems across the globe through a multitude of processes, including pollution, anthropogenic climate change, and the introduction of species. I study the importance of trait diversity and plasticity for population performance and ecological communities under anthropogenic change.

One of my projects uses a trait approach to predict the response of invertebrate communities to extreme weather events. Also, with collaborators I developed a handbook of protocols for standardized trait measurement in terrestrial invertebrates, which allows traits to become effective predictors of community assembly and ecosystem processes.

Participants:    Matty Berg, Oscar Franken, Marco Moretti, Andre Dias

Another project, Caribbean Island Biogeography Meets the Anthropocene, contrasts the relative contributions of anthropogenic and natural processes in determining patterns of invasive species across the Caribbean. The project aims to provide a predictive framework of island invasibility through field surveys, trait database assembly, invasion-route reconstruction and probabilistic modeling of species distributions.

Participants:    Matty Berg, Oscar Franken, Matt Helmus, Jocelyn Behm, Wendy Jesse

Anolis gingivinus, a native species in anthropogenic habitat on the Caribbean island of St Martin-Image by Wendy Jesse
Anolis gingivinus, a native species in anthropogenic habitat on the Caribbean island of St Martin ©Wendy Jesse


Involvement in Additional Research Projects

Correlated evolution of learning in parasitoids
This project addresses correlated evolution of plasticity using learning rate in parasitoid foraging behaviour as a model system. Behavioural learning is a special form of plasticity that occurs in many different contexts. Questions of interest are: Do parasitoids show the same propensity to learn when faced with different cues and rewards? Are the genes involved in learning the same in different contexts?
Participants:    Maartje Liefting, Hans Smid, Bregje Wertheim, Ken Kraaijeveld, Vicencio Oostra

Evolution of eusociality: a phylogenetic analysis
     Gijsbert Werner

Bugs in bugs: Causes and consequences of obligate bacterial endosymbionts
    Anouk van’t Padje, Lee Henry, Toby Kiers, Gijsbert Werner, Charlie Cornwallis


Ancillary activities

No ancillary activities
Last changes Ancillary activities: Amsterdam 27 januari 2017
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