I am a PhD student in the Department of Animal Ecology. My research focus is the Australian Amitermes Group (Blattodea: Termitidae), which currently consists of five genera and about 100 described species. These termites are considered to be ecosystem engineers. They provide food and habitat for many other species and have evolved traits that are highly unusual in the termite world, including unique foraging behaviours and nest parasitism. However, almost nothing is known about the relationships between the species or their ecological niches. I am interested in the evolutionary history of Australian Amitermes comprising anything from colony life cycle over reproductive strategies to phylogenetic relationships. For disentangling the fascinating evolutionary history of these little creatures, I am deploying Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) methods such as whole genome shot-gun sequencing or RAD-seq allowing to erect phylogenies and understand character evolution.
Evolutionary history of the Australian Amitermes Group (AAG)
I will use molecular techniques to elucidate genetic patterns of past introduction and diversification events likely coinciding with dramatic times of landscape change and desertification in Australia. Under scenarios of current/future global warming, results can help to predict potential patterns of extinction, speciation, and diversification in termites.
Non-monogamous mating in social insects enhances colony growth and division of labour, which can be advantageous in the face of environmental stress; it is therefore hypothesized that recently diverged lineages of the AAG and/or populations on the edges of suitable habitats show non-monogamous mating strategies. The presence of large number of replacement queens within colonies of some AAG taxa suggests that I may also uncover a new example of asexual queen succession, a recently identified phenomenon in which workers are produced sexually but replacement daughter queens asexually.
Infections by Wolbachia are widespread throughout termites. However, it is not much known about the patterns of molecular (co-)evolution of this important bacterial endosymbiont and its hosts. As a first step, we use MLST markers to investigate whether species of the AAG are infected by Wolbachia or not. There are many open research questions, which can be addressed in the course of a bachelor/master’s thesis. If you are interested get in contact with Tamara Hartke (firstname.lastname@example.org) or me (email@example.com).
Bastian Heimburger, MSc.
JF Blumenbach Institute of Zoology and Anthropology
University of Göttingen
Untere Karspüle 2, 37073 Göttingen, Germany