Sensory adaptations to specialized lifestyles in snow flies and sloth moths

The project aims to provide insights into adaptations enabling insects to succeed in highly specialized niches. Using computational approaches, electrophysiology, behavioral studies, and in vivo experimentation, we will examine genetic factors underlying adaptations to an extreme way of life. The project will investigate the effects of the sensory system, specifically the thermo- and chemosensory systems. The project will study a) insects living under extremely cold conditions and b) insects utilizing extremely limited ecological niches. We will be examining the genetics and biology of the snow fly Chionea araneoides, and later, the enigmatic sloth-moths of the Neotropics. Snow flies are a specialized wingless form of crane flies with a remarkable cold tolerance that thrives at -5°C. At the same time, adult sloth-moths are adapted to a life solely centered around sloths. The larvae develop in sloth feces, whereas the adults spend their entire life in sloths' fur. The sloth-moths are also the topic of a parallel project in charge of the doctoral researcher Mirela Miric. Likewise, the "snow fly project" is part of a larger collaboration with researchers at Northwestern (Evanston, USA), the University of Washington (Seattle, USA), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, (Madison, USA). The two distinct tracks in the project complement each other and address the central issue of how extreme specialization affects the chemosensory system of an organism.

Doctoral researcher: Zaide Montes Ortiz

Supervision: Dr Marcus Stensmyr (LU), Dr Christer Löfstedt (LU), Dr Bill S Hansson (MPI), Dr Jadranka Rota (LU), and Dr Niklas Wahlberg (LU).

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