William Kirk of CAEP becomes Professor of Applied Entomology at Keele University

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Posted on 06 December 2019

Congratulations to William Kirk on his promotion to Professor of Applied Entomology and the delivery of his intriguing inaugural lecture ‘The Secret Life of Thrips’ at Keele University on 11th November 2019.

Prof. Kirk has worked on the biology of thrips for 38 years, during which time his research has focused on the management of thrips as a crop pest. He has produced 120 publications, been awarded over 60 research grants and is involved with outreach projects such as his book publication ‘Plants for Bees’ (co-authored with F N Howes).  He currently works with international partners in Kenya and Brazil.

In his inaugural lecture, Prof. Kirk explained that the start of his life-long interest in entomology began as child with a fascination for butterflies.  After completing a first degree at Cambridge University he stayed on to begin PhD research into thrips and the development of novel methods to study these tiny insects.  After completing post-doctoral research in Australia he settled at Keele University to continue building his specialised knowledge.

Carcinothrips Interesting facts about thrips:

  • ‘Thrips’ is both a plural and singular term (never refer to ‘a thrip’).
  • Of the 6,000 species worldwide about 100 are crop pests.
  • Some species are beneficial pollinators or predators of other crop pests.
  • Many are resistant to insecticides.
  • Thrips can transmit plant viruses.
  • Usually about 1mm in length, a microscope is needed to see them clearly.
  • Some species possess a specialised mandible to suck out the protein soup inside pollen grains, this behaviour can result in reduced pollination levels.
  • Males can fight each other at mating time and have been filmed during prolonged fighting activity.
  • Thrips produce and respond to pheromones – some pheromones cause them to aggregate together, others act as anti-aphrodisiacs.
  • They wag their antennae and ‘taste’ each other.
  • Some species set up social care for their young.

Watch The Secret Life of Thrips by clicking the link.

Professor Kirk’s current research is funded by the BBSRC and AHDB and is linked with icipe in Kenya.