Insects and their pathogens and parasites are excellent model systems in which to test fundamental theory and concepts in host-parasite ecology and evolution.
Indian Meal Moth (Plodia interpunctella) and its granulosis virus
Our main laboratory model is the Indian meal moth Plodia interpunctella and its granulosis virus (PiGV). The system is easy to maintain in the laboratory allowing large scale experiments to be carried out on insects from a large outbred stock population. We can maintain populations of the host with the virus over the long time periods allowing experimental evolution to occur and the effects on population dynamics of the parasite to be determined. This has been used principally to examine the role of spatial structure to host-parasite interactions and the evolution of host defence.
We have showed that the virus had lower infectivity in more viscose populations (as predicted by theory).
Boots, M. and M. Mealor (2007). Local interactions select for lower infectivity. Science, 315, 1184-1186
The virus had a more significant effect on host population dynamics in the more viscose populations.
Boots M, D. Childs, D. C. Reuman & M. Mealor (2009). Local Interactions Lead to Pathogen Driven Change to Host Population Dynamics. Current Biology, 19, 1660-1664.
The Honeybee (Apis mellifera) and deformed wing virus
The honeybee is parasitized by the varroa mite that acts as a vector for a large number of viruses. We are using this system as a model to understand the evolution of parasite virulence in vectorborne disease. As well as the general importance of this work, there is now real concern that honeybee declines may result from infection with viruses.
We have recently shown that the spread of DWV is manmade.
Wilfert L., G. Long, H. C. Leggett, P. Schmid-Hempel, R. Butlin, S.J.M. Martin. M. Boots (2016). Deformed Wing Virus is a Recent Global Epidemic in Honeybees driven by Varroa Mites. Science, 351(6273), 594-597.