The blood of vertebrate animals is a rich source of nutrients and despite of the presence of parasites, is sterile. Many arthropods have evolved the ability to exploit this resource by developing an hematophagous lifestyle. However, this mode of feeding is not without constraints. Indeed, this involves taking food that travels through vessels hidden under the skin of animals that not only could move and are likely to defend themselves, but are even able to become predators. Hematophagous lifestyle requires a large number of morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations, selected during the evolutionary history of the different groups. These adaptations also have important implications for the evolution of parasites and the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases.
Our research group focuses on strategies and mechanisms that allow blood-sucking insects to live together with their vertebrate hosts, detect their presence, to get the blood flowing through blood vessels and manage a large blood meal efficiently. A major problem that the bloodsucking animals have to deal with, when they are living in close association with their hosts, is to find a new habitat if the vertebrate hosts have migrated or abandoned their nests. This is the case of bugs responsible for the transmission ofChagas disease in Central and South America. Some species migrate seasonallybetween wild and domestic environments (Barbu et al., 2009, Beard et al., 2010; Gourbière et al., 2008). These migrations are not only influenced by the population dynamics of hosts, but also by changes in environmental conditions during the year. Besides, the triatomins have mechanisms modulating their development to cope with stochastic variations in their environment (Menu et al., 2010).
The proposed project comprises the analysis of 1) the environmental impact on the dispersal dynamics of vectors of Chagas disease, 2) the mechanisms of the kissing bugs orientation during their displacements by walking or flight and 3) the energy cost of these displacements.
The experimental analysis is based on measurements of orientation behavior and activityand quantification of energy metabolism under conditions simulating climate change. The theoretical framework will be provided by adaptive dynamics and evolutionary ecology. These latter aspects will be developed in collaboration with Professor Frederic Menu from the Claude Bernard University of Lyon.