Alison Ravenscraft

Phone: 520-621-4844
Office: Marley 641H
Department of Entomology
University of Arizona
410 Forbes Building
Tucson AZ 85721

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Research Interests

The overarching goal of my research is to better understand the ecological and evolutionary relationships between insects and their symbiotic microbial communities. My past research took a nutritional perspective on the gut flora, using adult butterflies as a novel study system to ask how the host’s feeding guild affects gut community composition and function and, in turn, what effect gut microbes might have on their host’s reproductive fitness.

The gut microbial community is fantastically complex and largely uncultivable, which makes it fascinating but difficult to manipulate. My postdoctoral research employs a simplified system: a stilt bug, Jalysus wickhami, and the Burkholderia bacteria housed in its gut crypts. Although Jalysus depends on Burkholderia for normal development, the insect must acquire Burkholderia from the environment every generation. My research addresses the unique potential for such environmental symbiont acquisition to provide instantaneous “adaptations” to the specific conditions of a host’s local environment, such as climate, host plant, and local pathogens. Many members of the human gut and skin flora are also free-living microbes that are environmentally acquired. The Jalysus-Burkholderia system thus affords an opportunity to elucidate the principles that govern the symbiotic communities on which our health depends.