The physiology, ecology, and evolution of animal life are inextricably tied to microbial symbionts.
Our lab studies the forces that structure these host-associated microbiota, and, in turn, the functional effects these microbes have on their host. We focus on interactions between insects and their bacterial symbionts. Insects are instrumental to ecosystems as primary consumers, pollinators and disease vectors; Ravenscraft Lab's ultimate goal is to understand how symbionts impact these ecosystem-level processes.
ENVIRONMENTAL SYMBIONT ACQUISITION
Hosts acquire much of their symbiotic microbiota directly from the environment. We are using the stinkbug-Burkholderia symbiosis to explore the unique functional implications of this phenomenon. In particular, we ask whether - and when - a host can take advantage of microbial adaptation to local conditions, effectively "short-cutting" evolution.
ROLE OF THE GUT MICROBIOTA IN INSECT HERBIVORY
Much of Earth’s biological diversity is the result of a coevolutionary chemical arms race between plants and their natural enemies. A small but growing body of work suggests that gut symbionts can help herbivorous insects detoxify plant poisons. We seek to quantify how important symbiont-mediated detoxification is to insect herbivory.