Welcome to the Animal Evolutionary Ecology Group



We seek to understand the ecological and evolutionary consequences of host-parasite interactions from the individual to the ecosystem level. Host-parasite systems are ideal models for studying evolution in action, because hosts and parasites evolve very fast. So, host-parasite interactions provide us with great opportunities to study coevolution and eco-evolutionary feedbacks.

In our group, we use natural and experimental populations of the red flour beetle (Tribolium casaneum), three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), and Mexican cavefish (Astyanax mexicanus) to address three general questions relevant to ecological immunology, parasitology and even evolutionary medicine:

  • How does the immune system evolve?
  • How does the evolution of immunological and physiological traits shape co-evolution?
  • What are the eco-evolutionary consequences of host-parasite interactions?

We combine theoretical models, natural history, field, and laboratory experiments. The evolution of immunity to parasites has been a major but not exclusive focus of our group. Currently, we are investigating:

  1. The evolutionary ecology consequences of immune specificity and immune memory in the red flour beetle.
  2. The role of niche construction and evolutionary capacitance for evolvability in the red flour beetle.
  3. Genetic and phenotypic characterization of immunological niche conformance in cavefish
  4. Niche construction consequences of parasite virulence in evo-evolutionary dynamics.

Latest news

The DFG-funded CRC/Transregio SFB/TRR 212 (NC3) is being prolonged

The CRC/Transregio “A Novel Synthesis of Individualisation across Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution: Niche Choice, Niche Conformance, Niche Construction (NC3)” has been running since 2018 and has now been prolonged until 2025. It is a research alliance between the Universities of Bielefeld and Münster in the fields of Behavior, Ecology and Evolution. The aim of NC3 is to define and establish the concept of ‘niche’ at the level of the individual organism. NC3 is led by Prof. Oliver Krüger (Bielefeld) as the spokesperson and Prof. Joachim Kurtz (Münster, IEB) as the vice spokesperson. Five of the 20 research project funded within NC3 are in the IEB, and address niche choice, niche conformance and niche construction in diverse organisms. A number of PhD and postdoc position are now available within these projects.

Press release of the WWU: https://www.uni-muenster.de/news/view.php?cmdid=12203

Job offers:

A number of PhD and postdoc position are now available in the Kurtz lab within these projects 1 Post-doc and 2 PhD positions (see bellow):

This project focuses on individualised niches in the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum), an upcoming and genetically tractable insect model species. Flour beetles modify the microbial community of their environment (the flour), which is mediated by chemical secretions from the beetles. The successful candidate will be involved in an ongoing project that aims to experimentally study, if and how the processes of niche construction and evolutionary capacitance facilitate evolutionary adaptation. It involves testing the hypotheses that (1) chemical communication via CHC profiles provides the basis for the transfer of individual experience into a group of beetles; (2) epigenetic processes contribute to the rapid adaptation facilitated by niche construction and evolutionary capacitance; and (3) rapid adaptation to new temporal niches is facilitated by evolutionary capacitance. Supervisor: Prof. Joachim Kurtz

This PhD projects aims to identify genetic frameworks that mediate host conformance to shifting parasitological niches. Therefore, the successful candidate will investigate how local adaptation of the Mexican cavefish, Astyanax mexicanus, to different parasitological niches affects its niche conformance. This will be done using a field- and lab-based approach. During the field work in Northern Mexico, different cave and river populations of A. mexicanus will be sampled to describe the spectrum of realized individual niches in these populations. This will include sampling and dissecting the fish, recording and analysis of various physiological and ecological parameters, and sampling and identifying the parasites of individual fish. The lab-based approach will then measure the degree of individual conformance of lab-reared cave and river populations of A. mexicanus by exposing fish to different field-collected parasites under controlled experimental conditions. Here, the successful candidate will use single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) to identify the genetic mechanisms that control host conformance to varying parasitological niches. Together with our collaboration partners within the SFB, this project aims to give a detailed description of the different parasitological niches in populations of A. mexicanus and identify the genetic framework that enables a host immune system to conform to shifting parasitological niches. Supervisor: Dr. Robert Peuβ

This PhD project deals with the ecological and evolutionary effects of parasite virulence. In this project, you will investigate the niche construction effects of a trophically transmitted tapeworm parasite (Schistocephalus solidus) on individual three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) fish. The project aims to show how these effects cascade from the individual to the ecosystem level and alter eco-evolutionary dynamics. The successful candidate will be involved in mesocosm experiments to investigate how parasite virulence affects individual trophic specialisation of the hosts. We also aim to identify the physiological and metabolic traits associated with these individual differences. The successful candidate will further take advantage of transcriptomic datasets to identify the immuno-physiological traits associated with host niche individualisation, and contribute to the development of computational models that will bridge the gap between individual, population, and community processes.  Supervisors: Dr. Jaime Anaya-Rojas & Prof. Joachim Kurtz

Are you interested?

Then we look forward to receiving your application, written in English, in one single pdf file by 17 December 2021. Applications should be sent to Prof. Joachim Kurtz at joachim.kurtz@uni-muenster.de, Dr Robert Peuss at robertpeuss@uni-muenster.de, and Dr. Jaime Anaya-Rojas at jaime.anaya-rojas@uni-muenster.de, respectively.

Applications should include: 

  1. a cover letter with a statement of research interests and motivation (max. 1 page)
  2. a CV including details about university degrees, research experience and publications
  3.  contact details of at least two referees.

Research: We study the ecology and evolution consequences of host-parasite interactions using red flour beetles, three-spined sticklebacks, Mexican cavefish, and their parasites.

Teaching activities: Our teaching activities encompass courses for the Bachelor (e.g. Evolution & Biodiversity of Animals, Animal Evolutionary Ecology) and the Master curriculum (e.g. Host-Parasite-Coevolution, Evolutionary Medicine).

Prof. Dr. Joachim Kurtz is our group leader, also serving as spokesman of both the:

DFG Research Training Group EvoPAD

Münster Graduate School of Evolution (MGSE)