Photographer: onbekend

dr. M. (Merijn) Kant

  • Faculty of Science
  • Visiting address
    Science Park A
    Science Park 904  Amsterdam
    Room number: C3.215
  • Postal address:
    Postbus  94240
    1090 GE  Amsterdam
    T: 0205257793

My general research interest concerns the persistence of antagonistic interactions. My first research line revolves around induced direct and indirect plant defences and how these shape the plant-herbivore interaction through time and space. In principle, the word 'defence' suggests a general property i.e. a plant trait favoured by natural selection when put under pressure by plant eaters. However, diverse plant eaters impose equally diverse selective pressure.Hence I approach plant-defences from the perspective of herbivore diversity and I am especially interested in the impact of diversity within herbivore species on the diversity of the induced plant defences and the subsequent changes in the herbivore's population structure resulting from the interaction with these variable defences. My second research line revolves around the question if plants can be made more suitable for biological control agents. The defenses of plants can interfere with natural enemies as they do with herbivores. For crops, altering or removing defense traits in order to make them more suitable for biological control agents may contribute to more efficient pest control. I am investigating which defenses interfere with biological control and how they can be adjusted.

My central model organism is the spider mite Tetranychus urticae , a small polyphagous plant-eating stylet-feeding arthropod. T. urticae adult females produce around 10 up to sometimes 20 juveniles per day which, in combination with the mite's short generation cycle of ~ 2 weeks, causes exponential population growth resulting in severe damage to numerous plant species including many commercial crops such as tomatoes. I discovered that the species T. urticae is composed of distinct individuals that deal with tomato defences in markedly different ways. I found that different spider mite individuals can be resistant or suscpetible to tomato defenses. On top of this I found that some spider mite individuals can suppress defenses normally induced. Now we are investigating the extent to which natural selection is acting upon such intraspecific variability and thereby causes herbivore populations to adapt to plant defences. The genetic components of this intraspecific variation may persist as polymorphisms within populations and may explain the extraordinary ability of this herbivore species to adapt in stead of having to migrate or going extinct.

In summary, we are using the tomato-mite model system to study: (1) the diversity of mechanisms by which herbivores adapt to induced plant defences; (2) the extent to which plant defences can be manipulated by herbivores and (3) the interaction between the diversity of induced plant responses and the diversity in mite traits that establish induction/suppression and resistance/susceptibility, in view of the co-evolutionary process of adaptation and counter-adaptation.

Tetranychus urticae 's intraspecific variation can be experimentally conserved in the form of near isogenic lines obtained by back-crossing virgin female mites (who are diploid and will produce only haploid male offspring) with their sons. In our research we make use of numerous techniques available for assessing a plant's response to feeding mites - i.e. gene expression analysis using qRT-PCR, microarray and RNAseq - and for manipulating these responses via stable and transient gene silencing in both mites and plants and over-expression in plants. Moreover, we are specialized in high throughput metabolite screening by means of GC-ToFMS and LC-MS. Currently we are also moving more and more into proteomics and protein interaction assays. One of the aims is to develop mite-line specific genetic markers to track the faith of the mite traits over several generation cycles in mixed populations facing mixed plant defences or competitors such as the tomato russet mite Aculops lycopersici (the photo below in the "teaching" header) and the novel pest species Tetranychus evansi which invaded Southern Europe from Africa during the last decade.

I am a BKO-certified teacher and coordinate the first year Bachelor course Ecophysiology (code: 1006) and I teach in the third year Bachelor course Ecogenomics (code: B303K) while in the masters program I teach Green Life Sciences (code: 021BS). Besides these three larger courses I give regular guest lectures throughout the Bachelors and Masters programs of our faculty such as Communication in Biology (bachelor track) and in Ecology and Evolution (master track).

Rogier Arents from the Design Academy at Eindhoven (the Netherlands) has visualized our research on the tritrophic interaction between plants, spider mites and predatory mites using a self-invented animation technique and has called this short movie "Secret Signals".

Join our Master programme Green Life Sciences!

I am associate professor at the department of Population Biology. I hold a VIDI grant (NWO) since 2014. I work in close collaboration with the population biology group of Maus Sabelis (†) with dr. Martijn Egas (Evolutionary Dynamics), dr. Arne Janssen (Community Ecology) and Isabel Smallegange (Eco-ecolutionary dynamics). Within the faculty I have a close collaboration with dr. Robert Schuurink (Plant Volatile Group) - who is associate professor in the group of prof. dr. Michel Haring (Plant Physiology) - on defense suppression by insects and, together with dr. Thomas van Leeuwen (Univ of Ghent), on the mechanism of defense suppression by mites.


dr. Juan Manuel "Juanma" Alba Cano.

PD researcher (2008 - present)


Dr. Imna Torres

PD researcher (2017 - present)


Bart Schimmel MSc.

PhD student (2010 - 2016)

PD researcher (2016 - present)


Liu Jie MSc.

PhD student (2012 - present)


Rachid Chafi

PhD student (2015 - present)


Dr. Alessandra Scala

PD researcher (2015 - present)


Lívia Silva Ataíde

Guest researcher 2013

PD researcher (2015 - present)


Dr. Saioa Legarrea

PD researcher (2015 - present)


Josephine Blaazer

MSc student (Internship with Juan Alba) (2016)

PhD student (2016 - present)


Nicole Nieuwendijk

MSc student (Internship 2017)


Stijn Ludwig

MSc student (Internship 2017)


Carlos Alberto Villarroel Figueroa

PhD student (2010 - 2016)


Raquel Morales Aguilera

BSc student (Internship with Saioa Legarrea/ Erasmus program) (2016 - present)

Thijs van Erp

Thijs van Erp

BSc student (Internship with Livia Ataide (via Vilentum University of Applied Sciences, 2016)


Astra Ooms

MSc student (internship with Joris Glas) (2012)


Sebastiaan Koppelle

BSc student (internship with Bart Schimmel) (2013)


Dr. Petra Bleeker

PD researcher (2010)


Rose Babu

MSc student (With Juan Alba) (2012)


Dr. Rocío Escobar-Bravo

PhD student (defended her thesis in 2013)


dr. Maria Pappas

Guest researcher (2011)


Marije Stoops

MSc student (internship with Joris Glas) (2012)


Antonio Orenes

Guest reseacher (Erasmus student) (2011)


Dr. Rossana Mirabella

PD researcher (2010)


Dr. Daniela Hoffmann

PD researcher (2009)


Marco van Weij, BSc

MSc student (Internship Juan Alba) (2014)


Demelza Gudde

MSc student (Internship with Bart Schimmel) (2014)


Dr. Joris J. Glas

PhD student (defended his thesis in 2014)


Yoram van Kraalingen, BSc.

MSc student (internship Juan Alba) (2014)


Miguel Gonzalez Ximenez de Embun, MSc

Guest researcher (2014)


Steff van Blokland

Internship student (via Avans University of Applied Sciences, 2015)


Ernesto Villacis Perez

MSc student (Internship with Juan Alba) (2015)


 Pappas ML, Broekgaarden C, Broufas GD, Kant MR, Messelink GJ, Steppuhn A, Wäckers F, van Dam NM (2017). Induced plant defences in biological control of arthropod pests: a double-edged sword. Pest Management Science. in press

Schimmel BCJ, Ataide LMS, Chafi R., Villarroel CA, Alba JM, Schuurink RC, Kant MR. (2017). Overcompensation of herbivore reproduction through hyper-suppression of plant defenses in response to competition. New Phytologist. In press

Staudacher H, Schimmel BCJ. Lamers MM, Wybouw N, Groot AT, Kant MR (2017). Independent Effects of a Herbivore’s Bacterial Symbionts on Its Performance and Induced Plant Defences. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 18: 182.

Escobar-Bravo, R., Alba, JM., Pons, C., Granell A., Kant, MR, Moriones, E., Fernández-Muñoz, R (2016). A jasmonate JA-inducible defense trait transferred from wild into cultivated tomato establishes increased whitefly resistance and reduced viral disease incidence. Frontiers in Plant Science. Volume 7; Article 1732

Jonckheere, W., Dermauw, W., Zhurov, V., Wybouw, N, Van den Bulcke, J.Villaroel, C.A., Greenhalgh, R., Grbić, M., Schuurinck, R.C., Tirry, L., Baggerman, G., Clark, R.M., Kant, M.R., Vanholme, B., Menschaert, G., Van Leeuwen, T. (2016). The salivary protein repertoire of the polyphagous spider mite Tetranychus urticae: a quest for effectors. Molecular and Cellular Proteomics. mcp.M116.058081

Ataide LMS, Pappas ML, Schimmel, BCJ, Alba JM, Orenes A, Janssen A, Pallini A, Schuurink RC, & Kant MR (2016). Induced plant-defenses suppress herbivore reproduction but also constrain predation of their offspring. Plant Science 252: 300-310

Villarroel CA, Jonckheere W, Alba JM, Glas JJ, Haring MA, Van Leeuwen T, Schuurink, RC, Kant MR. (2016). Salivary proteins of spider mites suppress defenses in Nicotiana benthamiana and promote mite reproduction. The Plant Journal  86: 119–131.

Kant MR, Jonckheere W, Knegt B, Lemos F, Liu J, Schimmel BCJ, Villarroel VA, Ataide LMS, Dermauw W, Glas JJ,Egas M, Janssen A, Van Leeuwen T, Schuurink RC, Sabelis MW, Alba JM. (2015). Mechanisms and ecological consequences of plant defence induction and suppression in herbivore communities. Annals of Botany 115 (7): 1015-1051

Alba JM, Schimmel, BCJ, Glas JJ, Ataide LMS, Pappas ML, Villarroel CA, Schuurink RC, Sabelis MW, Kant MR. (2015). Spider mites suppress tomato defenses downstream of jasmonate and salicylate independently from hormonal crosstalk. New Phytol. 205(2):828-840

vanDoorn A, Kant MR, Schuurink RC (2015). Whiteflies glycosylate salicylic acid and secrete the conjugate via their honeydew. J. Chem. Ecol. 41: 52-58

Glas JJ, Alba JM, Villarroel CA, Stoops M, Simoni, S, Schimmel BCJ, Sabelis MW, Schuurink RC Kant MR. (2014) Defense suppression benefits herbivores that have a monopoly on their feeding site but can backfire within natural communities. BMC Biology 12:98

Falara V, Alba JM, Kant MR, Schuurink RC, Pichersky E. (2014) Geranyllinalool synthases in Solanaceae and other angiosperms constitute an ancient branch of diterpene synthases that are involved in the synthesis of defensive compounds. Plant Physiol. 166(1):428-441

Tahmasebi, Z., Mohammadi, H., Arimura, G-I., Muroi, A., Kant, MR (2014). Herbivore-induced indirect defense across bean cultivars is independent of their degree of direct resistance. Exp. Appl. Acarol. 63(2): 217-239

van Houten, Y.M., Glas, J.J., Hoogerbrugge, H.,  Rothe, J., Bolckmans, K.J.F., Simoni, S., van Arkel, J., Alba, J.M., Kant, M.R ., Sabelis, M.W. (2013). Herbivory-associated degradation of tomato trichomes and its impact on biological control of Aculops lycopersici. Exp. Appl. Acarol. 60(2):127-138.

abstract and pdf page

Glas, J.J., Schimmel, B.C.J., Alba, J.M., Escobar-Bravo,R., Schuurink, R.C., Kant, M.R. (2012). Plant glandular trichomes as targets for breeding and engineering resistance to herbivores. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 13: 17077-17103


abstract and pdf page

Bleeker, P.M., Mirabella, R., Diergaarde, P.J., vanDoorn, A., Tissier, A., Kant, M.R ., Prins, M., de Vos, M., Haring, M.A., Schuurink, R. C. (2012). Improved herbivore resistance in cultivated tomato with the sesquiterpene biosynthetic pathway from a wild relative. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109: 20124-20129

Alba, JM., Glas, JJ., Schimmel BCJ., Kant, MR. (2011). Avoidance and suppression of plant defenses by herbivores and pathogens. J. Plant Int. 6(4):221-227

Kant M.R . & Williams M. (2011). Plants and Arthropods: Friends or Foes. The Plant Cell 23(8): tpc.111.tt0811

Sarmento, RA., Lemos, F., Bleeker, PM., Schuurink, RC., Pallini, A., Oliveira, MGA., Lima E., Kant, M., Sabelis, MW., Janssen, A. (2011). A herbivore that manipulates plant defence. Ecol. Lett. 14: 229-236

Ladygina, N., Henry, F., Kant, MR ., Koller, R.,Reidinger, S., Rodriguez, A., Saj, S.,Sonnemann, I., Witt, C., Wurst, S.(2010). Additive and interactive effects of functionally dissimilar soil organisms on a grassland plant community. Soil Biol. & Biochem. 42(12): 2266-2275.

Kant, M.R. , Bleeker, P.M., Van Wijk, M., Schuurink., R.C., Haring, M.A. (2009). Plant volatiles in defence. Adv. Bot. Res. 51, 613-666.

Paschold, A., Bonaventure, G., Kant M.R. & Baldwin I.T. (2008).   Jasmonate perception regulatesjasmonate biosynthesis and JA-Ile metabolism: the case of COI1 in Nicotiana attenuata. Plant & Cell Physiology 49(8): 1165-1175

Kant, M. R. , Sabelis, M. W., Haring, M. A.,Schuurink, R. C. (2008). Intraspecific variation in a generalist herbivore accounts for induction and impact of host-plant defenses. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: BiologicalSciences 275: 443-452.

Kant M. R. & Baldwin I. T. (2007).The ecogenetics and ecogenomics of plant-herbivore interactions: rapid progress on a slippery road. Current Opinion in Genetics and Development 17(6): 519-524.

Schweighofer, A., Kazanaviciute,V., Scheikl, E., Teige, M., Doczi, R., Hirt, H., Schwanninger, Kant, M ., Schuurink, R., Mauch, F., Buchala, A., Cardinale, F., Meskiene I.(2007). AP2C1, a PP2C phosphatase, is a novel component of MAPK-mediated stress signalling that regulates disease resistance and ethylene/jasmonate production in Arabidopsis. Plant Cell 19: 2213-2224.

Ament K., Kant, M. R ., Sabelis, M.W.,Haring M. A., Schuurink, R. C. (2004).Jasmonic acid is a keyregulator of spider mite-induced volatile terpenoid andmethyl salicylate emission in tomato. Plant Physiology 135(4): 2025-2037.

Kant, M. R. , Ament K., Sabelis, M. W., Haring M. A.,Schuurink, R. C. (2004). Differential Timing of Spider Mite-Induced Direct and Indirect Defensesin Tomato Plants. Plant Physiology 135(1): 483-495.

Sabelis, MW., Janssen, A., Kant, M. R . (2001). The Enemy of my Enemy is my Ally. Science 291 (5511): 2104-2105.

Alba, JM., Bleeker, PM., Glas, JJ., van Wijk, M., Sabelis, MW., Schuurink, RC., Kant, MR . (2012). The impact of plant volatiles on plant-arthropod interactions In: Arthropod-Plant Interactions-Novel Insights and Approaches for IPM (Springer). SmaggheG.& Diaz I. (Eds), pp 15-73

Alba JM, Allmann S, Glas JJ, Schimmel BCJ, Spyropoulou EA, StoopsM, Villarroel C& Kant MR (2012). Induction and Suppression of Herbivore-Induced Indirect Defenses. In: Biocommunication of Plants, Signaling and Communication in Plants Vol 14, Springer, Witzany, Günther; Baluška,František (Eds.), pp 197-213.

Schmidt,D., Kant, M.R ., Baldwin , I.T. (2009). Molecular ecology of plant competition. In:  Weedy and Invasive Plant Genomics, Wiley-Blackwell Scientific Publishing, Neal Stewart (ed.), pp. 197-220.

Sabelis,M.W., J.Takabayashi, A. Janssen, M.R. Kant , M. van Wijk, B.Sznajder, N.S.Aratchige, I. Lesna,B. Belliure, & R.C.Schuurink (2007). Ecology meets plant physiology:Herbivore-induced plant responses and their indirect effects on arthropod communities. In:Ecological Communities: Plant Mediation in Indirect Interaction Webs (T. Ohgushi, T.P. Craig, P.W. Price, Eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 188-217.

Plant Cell Teaching Tools

Kant M.R. & Williams M. (2011). Plant Cell teaching tool 18: Plants and Arthropods: Friends or Foes. The Plant Cell 23(8): tpc.111.tt0811. doi:

I am an editor with eLife and with Oecologia.


eLife is an open access journal for the most promising advances in science.


Oecologia publishes original research in a range of topics related to plant and animal ecology.

We have three kinds of projects available for Master students:
(1) Behavioral Ecology & Community Ecology . These are projects in which we study tritrophic interactions i.e. the interactions between plants, plant eating organisms and their natural enemies, without making use of molecular or chemical techniques;
(2) Molecular Biology . These are projects in which we characterize "ecogenes", i.e. genes that play a central role in ecological interactions, like resistance genes, and manipulate their expression in mites and plants;
(3) Chemical and Molecular Ecology. These are projects in whichwe combine techniques and approaches from ecology, molecular biology and chemistry to learn more of the behavioral, molecular and chemical changes that occur when organisms start interacting and how these changes influence these interactions.
Experimental work will conducted at Science Park 904. For some projects, field work can be included (but only in the summer) since most of the organisms we work with occur naturally in the Netherlands e.g. in the dunes near Santpoort and Castricum. Also students from other universities than the UvA are welcome of course.

Below you can find examples of each of these project types.

Plant consuming organisms, like insects, mites and pathogens, will often have to deal with each other; with plant defenses and with natural enemies like predatory bugs, mites and parasitoids. These interactions often influence the organisms performance, for example reproductive performance, which can lead to changes in population composition and habitat structure. Many different factors mediate these interactions such as the efficiency of plant defenses and the ability of herbivores to resist or suppress these; inter- and intraspecific competition for food and space and the abundance and foraging efficiency of natural enemies. Plasticity and adaptation determine how the abundance of each changes over time. Plasticity is the ability of individual genotypes to alter their behavior or physiology in response to changes in the environment. In addition, adaption via natural selection takes place over consecutive generations and is a statethat evolvedbecause it improved reproductive performance (i.e. the genotypes with the highest fitness will increase in frequency the most).

Within this context the ability of some herbivore genotypes to suppress plant defenses is a puzzling phenomenon since a herbivore that turns its host plant into better food will make it very tempting for competing herbivores to join in. Hence, theoretically, it would be much more beneficial for herbivores to become resistant to induced plant defenses. This implies that defense suppressing herbivores may be only successful on the short run or need to pull additional tricks to keep the monopoly on the feeding site. For example, the defense suppressing spider mite Tetranychus evansi produces impressive amounts of webbing and these webs are very hard to penetrate for other species. Therefore we need to figure out under which conditions resistance to plant defenses is favored by selection over the ability to suppress and vice versa; what the costs are of each and how defense suppressors manage to protect their feeding sites. We have many different herbivore (or pathogen) genotypes available for short term experiments on their plasticity and longer term experiments on adaptation via selection (e.g. spider mites and russet mites have very short generations time and hence are very suitable for students projects).

Ecogenes are genes that play a central role in interactions between organisms. For example, plant resistance genes (to produce toxins); herbivore resistance genes (for detoxification); plant-genes for induced volatiles (which can be used by foraging natural enemies to find their prey) and herbivore elicitor and effector genes (elicitors are substances from the herbivore- often from their saliva - that trigger plant defenses; effectors are are substances from the herbivore that manipulate the plant metabolism e.g. suppress defenses). We have several "candidate" ecogenes i.e. genes we identified from plants and from herbivores and of which we think they could be really important in modifying interactions. We are analyzing the functions of these genes via in vitro expression; via gene silencing and over expression and by investigating the sequence variations and the dynamics in their frequency of occurrence in natural or artificial populations.

Using ecological-behavioral and molecular-chemical tools we can manipulate interactions between organisms to identify and quantify the traits that drive these interactions and to assess the variation in these traits to make predictions on the evolution of interactions. Moreover, getting a grip on such traits may also help us to improve crop protection.
We have identified several spider mite genes that respond specifically to particular plant defenses and plant defenses that respond specifically to mite-feeding. Given the highly specific nature of some of the predicted gene productsit is well possible that in the plant-mite system - in analogy to the plant-pathogen system -  gene-for-a-gene relationships play a decisive role. In addition, plants also undergo all sorts of general changes whenmites feed from them i.e. they alter their rate of respiration and photosynthesis; the re-allocate resources; they accumulate all sorts of general toxins and they can undergo senescence possiblyas a form of necrosis. Another such changes is a strongly increased emission of plant volatiles and the reason for this phenomenon is still largely unknown. However, a consequence is that foraging natural enemies of herbivores, such as spider mites, can use these odors to more efficiently forage on their prey. In that sense the plant 'betrays' the herbivores to their natural enemies (referered to as "indirect plant defense"). The sum of these interactions is tremendously complex and can differ strongly under different circumstances. We investigate how different environmental conditions determine the outcome of these interactions and how flexible the physiology of plants, herbivores and natural enemies is to cope with such variation.

For more information contact Merijn Kant and the coordinator of your Master track:

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