About Santiago Ramirez's Work
Evolution by reciprocal natural selection (coevolution) has profoundly shaped life on Earth. I use mutualisms between bees and orchids to study the process of coadaptation and the origin of new species. Euglossine bees do not produce sex pheromones, but instead gather perfume compounds (terpenes) from the environment to expose during courtship display. Perfumes are species-specific and likely mediate reproductive isolation. In turn, diverse orchid lineages have evolved the production of terpene-rich floral scents that attract euglossine bees in exchange for pollination services. I study (1) the genetic and sensory (olfactory) mechanisms of perfume specificity and reproductive isolation in bees and (2) the molecular basis of scent production that mediates pollinator specificity and reproductive isolation in orchids. I integrate ecology, genetics, chemistry, and physiology to investigate how genetic toolkits are co-opted to generate the intricate associations we observe in nature.