Research

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Biomechanics of insect herbivory

Plant-eating insects are of paramount importance for our ecosystems, and frequently wreak havoc in both urban and agricultural environments. However, we currently have little rigorous understanding of the mechanical processes involved, yet these are pivotal for herbivore success: if the insects cannot cut or pierce into their food source, they cannot feed, and there is no herbivory. We study the prime consumer of plant material throughout the Neotropics, the leaf-cutter ants, to learn more about the biomechanical determinants of herbivore success.

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The physics of surface attachment in climbing animals

The sticky devices on the feet of small climbing animals exceed the performance of commercial adhesives in several aspects: their stickiness can be switched on and off within milliseconds, they survive thousands of usage cycles without a decline in performance, function on smooth, rough, dry and wet surfaces, and recover performance after contamination. However, the principles underlying the outstanding performance of the biological “role models” remain poorly understood. We investigate the fundamental physical principles leading to this performance, yielding insights of relevance both for bio-inspired adhesives and the ecology of climbing animals.

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