Professor Mark J F Brown

Mark J F Brown

Professor Mark J F Brown

Professor in Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation

Phone: +44 1784 276443

Personal profile

Overview of current research

Research in my group has three main strands, all of which are linked by the study system. We are interested in (i) the evolutionary ecology of host-parasite interactions, (ii) the conservation biology of insects, and (iii) the general biology of social insects. My googlescholar page is here and my Orcid page is here.

The evolutionary ecology of host-parasite interactions

Host-parasite interactions are a main driver of ecology and evolution. Over 50% of all animal species are parasites, and every free-living animal has at least one parasite species, and usually many more. Parasites control population cycles, mediate species interactions and structure communities. They have led to the evolution of immune systems and many other behavioural, chemical and structural defences. A key component of any host-parasite interaction is the virulence expressed by the parasite, that is, the damage it does to its host.

Two Sphaerularia bombi parasites of bumble bees. The white one is normal but the dark one has been melanised by the immune system of its host. Photo by Mike Kelly

We use bees (mainly bumble bees, but also honey bees) as a model host system because they have many parasite species, suffer high parasite loads, and can be studied in the field and the lab. We are particularly interested in what happens when a parasite can use multiple host species, and the impact of parasite community structure on individual host-parasite relationships. Because bumble bees live in multi-species assemblages and share parasites, they provide an excellent model system for these questions. We work on a variety of parasite species, depending upon the question we want to ask, but our main focus is on three main parasite systems: the trypanosome Crithidia bombi, the microsporidian Nosema bombi and the nematode worm Sphaerularia bombi, where we are using transcriptomics to examine the host-parasite interaction.

The conservation biology of insects

Insects are arguably the dominant terrestrial animals and provide numerous ecosystem services. Many species are undergoing rapid decline due to human impacts on the environment, but they receive remarkably little attention from policy makers, conservation biologists, or conservation organizations. Bees provide the essential ecosystem service of pollination – without them we would lose many of our food products as well as many flowering plants – but are in rapid decline across the world. We examine the decline of bees, the factors that may cause it, and what can be done to reverse this decline. We are exploring the application of DNA barcoding to provide an identification tool for solitary bees.

A Bombus lapidarius foraging on a dandelion. Photo by Mark Brown

The general biology of social insects

I have an enduring fascination with social insects, the ecologically dominant form of insect life. I have worked on their foraging behaviour, mating biology, colony-founding behaviour, and division of labour, as well as their impacts on the ecosystems of which they are a part.

A worker of the seed-harvesting ant Messor andrei on her way back to the nest after a successful foraging trip. Photo by Diane Wagner

Research interests (continued)

Research group
 Current:
  • Dr Fabio Manfredini (Leverhulme Research Fellow)
  • Dr Matthias Fuerst (IPI Research Fellow)
  • Ms Gemma Baron (BBSRC PhD Student)
  • Ms Catherine Jones (BBSRC PhD Student)
  • Mr Thomas “Joe” Colgan (SFI PhD Student)
Alumni:
  • Dr Inti Pedroso Rovira (now at Kings College London)
  • Mr Chris Pull (MSc, now at the Institute for Science and Technology, Austria)
  • Mr Heng-Yi Lin (MSc, now a project manager, Taiwan)
  • Dr Mike Kelly (PhD, now at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, UK)
  • Dr Mario Ruiz-González (PhD, now at Universitat Polytècnica Valencia, Spain)
  • Dr John McMullan (PhD, independent researcher)
  • Dr Samina Rutrecht (PhD, now at St George's University, Grenada)

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