My research activity is ultimately aimed at improving the eco-sustainable control of insect pests (in particular invasive pests), mostly using insect natural enemies in classical, augmentative, and conservative biological control. I believe that the first step for achieving this goal is to properly characterize both pests and their parasitoids and predators. Therefore, over the years I have tackled this issue by exploring different strategies. My early studies were focused on insect characterization based on morphological traits. However, I soon realized the inadequacy of an exclusively morphological approach to identify and describe insects. By that time, I had demonstrated the strong influence of the environment on several different diagnostic traits (phenotypic plasticity) and the importance of this phenomenon for insect systematics. Consequently, my approach evolved to include the simultaneous use of several different methodologies that allow a deeper characterization of insects and their bacterial endosymbionts (Holobiont), whose importance not only for systematics but also, potentially, for pest control, I acknowledged several years ago. Currently, I routinely characterize them by using an integrative approach that includes morphometric, biological, behavioural, molecular, and karyological data.
Recently, I have investigated the role of Rickettsia endosymbionts that manipulate their hosts’ reproduction, and their role in the speciation process. My activities in this field continued by studying the Rickettsia-infected invasive thelytokous species. At present I am also working on several phytophagous species, the Asian chestnut gall wasp (Dryocosmus kuriphilus), the walnut fly (Rhagoletis complete), the sap-beetle (Carpophilus sp. near dimidiatus), the tephritids (Bactrocera oleae, Ceratitis capitata, Bactrocera dorsalis, and Bactrocera latifrons); the red-necked Cerambicide (Aromia bungii), the carob moth (Apomyelois ceratoniae), the bark beetle Pityophthorus juglandis and on the complex of parasitoids that control them (in particular the Eulophid Hymenoptera).
Project leader for: URCoFi