Matthews Lab

Comparative Respiratory Physiology

and Biomechanics

Welcome to the (Phil) Matthews Lab! Our lab is part of the Comparative Physiology group in the Department of Zoology at UBC, located in the Biological Sciences building. We have a broad interest in insect respiratory and biomechanical adaptations. Our goal is to understand how insects have adapted their tracheal gas exchange systems to function in different environments, and this work has led us to consider some unusual biomechanical systems in insects. Specifically we are currently exploring how aquatic chaoborid midge larvae have evolved the ability to control their buoyancy, as well as looking at the energetics and mechanics of bugs that generate megapascals of tension within their feeding pump (cibarium) to suck xylem sap from plants.


We use many experimental techniques to understand how both terrestrial and aquatic insects obtain sufficient O2 from their environment and how they regulate CO2 excretion and internal pH. This involves looking at the morphology of their gas exchange system, how the nervous system regulates gas exchange, and how this influences the acid-base balance of their haemolymph. Details of our current research projects, publications, and the people working in the lab, can be found on this website.


Dec. 2023: The lab is currently looking to recruit two PhD students

1. Studying the mechanics of xylem feeding in cicadas

2. Elucidate the evolution and biomolecular adaptations of the pH-powered hydrostatic organs of Chaoborus midges.


Please go to the prospective students page. Happy browsing!

Lab News

September 2023 Back from a successful month-long research trip with Evan McKenzie and Tahnee Ames to Lake Malawi to study the aquatic larvae of Chaoborus edulis, the deepest free-diving insects in the world. With Malawian Department of Fisheries collaborators Dr Maxon Ngochera and Joseph Chombo, and support from The Company of Biologists, SICB and ASL Environmental, we conducted experiments to discover how these larvae regulate their buoyancy at extreme depths and used a multi-frequency sonar system to record the extent of their daily vertical migration. Pics available here. Stay tuned for our findings!


July 2023 Congratulations to Evan McKenzie for winning the YSAS Competition (Animal Section) at the Annual Society for Experimental Biology Meeting in Edinburgh!
























January 2022 Evan McKenzie's research, in collaboration with Martin Tresguerres and Garfield Kwan at Scripps, on the hydrostatic organ of Chaoborus has been published in Current Biology! You can read the full paper here. A Dispatch article in the same issue putting these findings in context can be seen here


December 2021 Tormod Rowe's paper incorporating the first combined in vivo measurements of hemolymph PCO2 and PO2 in an insect breathing discontinuously has been accepted for publication in the Journal for Experimental Biology


July 2021 Elisabeth Bergman's paper "The cibarial pump of the xylem-feeding froghopper Philaenus spumarius produces negative pressures exceeding 1 MPa" has been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and featured in the New York Times' Trilobites section. Link here


February 2020 Congrats to Kephra Beckett and Anna Robertson, who were awarded the Journal of Experimental Biology's Outstanding Paper of 2019 for their paper "Studies on gas exchange in the meadow spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius: the metabolic cost of feeding on, and living in, xylem sap". Well done! Announcement here


November 2019 - Summer Scholar Student Auguste de Pennart had his paper "The bimodal gas exchange strategies of dragonfly nymphs across development" accepted for publication in the Journal of Insect Physiology


October 2019 - Daniel Lee had his paper "Quantifying the acid-base status of dragonflies across their transition from breathing water to breathing air" accepted by the Journal of Experimental Biology


Febuary 2019 Kephra Beckett's USRA work featured in the New York Times' 'Sciencetake' section: "Inside the Spittlebug's Bubble Home". Link here



© 2023 Phil Matthews | All Rights Reserved