Why do herbivorous insects choose to lay their eggs on certain plant species and not others? Why do they show preferences among their host plants? What are the mechanisms guiding these behaviours?
I spend most of my time wracking my brains over questions such as these, and my attempts to find answers have led me into the following research areas:
Insect olfaction. Herbivorous insects use the odours of fruits, flowers and leaves to find suitable plants on which to feed or lay eggs. I am interested in how insects perceive plant odours, and on the role of volatiles within an odour in determining whether or not a particular insect will be attracted. Much of my work has focussed on the agricultural pest moth, Helicoverpa armigera. My current research focuses on the Queensland fruit fly, Bactrocera tryoni. The aim of this project is to synthesize an attractant odour that can be used to lure and kill female flies in the field.
Insect learning. I use a combination of behavioural and theoretical research to study the importance of learning in the ecology and evolution of herbivorous insects.
Insect pest management. My interest in the application of insect behaviour to pest control includes: (a) using ecological and behavioural theory to predict why current pest management practices might be failing; (b) the use of plant odours to develop new “lure and kill” strategies; and (c) the potential for developing new transgenic plant varieties with decreased attractiveness to insect pests.