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Institut für Systematische und Evolutionäre Botanik

Tobias Züst

Tobias Züst, Prof. Dr.

  • Professor

Research Interests

Chemical ecology of plant-insect interactions, mechanisms of resistance evolution in insects, co-evolutionary adaptations, chemical and metabolomic diversity, functional trait evolution.

My research attempts to understand the mechanisms that underlie the complex ecological and evolutionary processes of plant-insect interactions. To this end, my main focus is on plant chemical compounds with defensive properties, as these are important traits at the interface between plants and their herbivorous insect enemies. My research combines plant and insect model systems with approaches from ecology, molecular biology, and analytical chemistry, and spans the full range from controlled laboratory studies to large field experiments. The key goals of my research are to understand the role of coevolutionary dynamics in shaping patterns of chemical and genetic diversity as a potential driver of speciation.


2021 SNSF Eccellenza Professor, Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, University of Zürich, Switzerland.

2019 – 2020 Project leader metabolomics, Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern, Switzerland.

2018 Associate editor at Journal of Ecology.

2015 – 2018 SNSF Ambizione fellow at the Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern, Switzerland.

2012 – 2015 Postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, USA.

2008 –2012 PhD in Ecology, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zürich, Switzerland.

2008 –2009 M. Sc. in Environmental Sciences, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zürich, Switzerland

Selected Publications

Full list of publications (CV) (PDF, 105 KB)

Züst T., Strickler S.R., Powell A.F., Mabry ME., An H., Mirzaei M., York T., Holland C.K., Kumar P., Erb M., Petschenka G., Goméz J.M., Perfectti F., Müller C., Pires J.C., Mueller L.A. and Jander G. (2020) Independent evolution of ancestral and novel defenses in a genus of toxic plants (Erysimum, Brassicaceae). eLife 9: e5172. doi: 10.7554/eLife.51712

Züst T., Petschenka G., Hastings A. and Agrawal A.A. (2019) Toxicity of milkweed leaves and latex: chromatographic quantification versus biological activity of cardenolides in 16 Asclepias species. Journal of Chemical Ecology 45: 50-60. doi: 10.1007/s10886-020-01225-y

Züst T., Mou S. and Agrawal A.A. (2018) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: the burdens and benefits of toxin sequestration in a milkweed aphid. Functional Ecology 32: 1972-1981. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.13144

Züst T. and Agrawal A.A. (2017) Trade-offs between plant growth and defense against insect herbivory: an emerging mechanistic synthesis. Annual Reviews of Plant Biology 68: 513-534. doi: 10.1146/annurev-arplant-042916-040856

Züst T. and Agrawal A.A. (2017) Plant chemical defense indirectly mediates aphid performance via interactions with tending ants. Ecology 98: 601-607. doi: 10.1002/ecy.1707

Züst T. and Agrawal A.A. (2016) Mechanisms and evolution of plant resistance to aphids. Nature Plants 2: 15206. doi: 10.1038/nplants.2015.206

Züst T. and Agrawal A.A. (2016) Population growth and sequestration of plant toxins along a gradient of specialization in four aphid species on the common milkweed Asclepias syriaca. Functional ecology 30: 547-556. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12523

Züst T., Heichinger C., Grossniklaus U., Harrington R., Kliebenstein D.J. and L.A. Turnbull. (2012) Natural enemies drive geographic variation in plant defences. Science 338: 116-119. doi: 10.1126/science.1226397