A more perfect union: Lessons in cooperative behavior from social insects

Monday, January 11, 2016 - 12:00pm
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Amy Toth, Assistant Professor, Departments of Ecology, Evolution, & Organismal Biology and Entomology, ISU

Hach Hall, Atrium, ISU Campus

The most cooperative animals on Earth are insects. Colonies of ants, bees, and wasps can be viewed as superorganisms, each individual animal contributing to the functioning of the colony as a whole. How did such cooperative behavior arise and how is it organized? These are the driving questions of my research. Among the immense diversity of thousands of species of social insects and their closest non-social relatives, we can track and trace many, incremental evolutionary steps between solitary living and the formation of superorganismal colonies. My research uses a comparative approach, mainly focused on bees and wasps, to delve into the evolution of sociality. The goal of my work is to pair the rich natural history of these amazing organisms with the power of the latest in genetic and genomic technology in order to test ideas about how and why cooperation evolves. I will present some highlights of our work that is beginning to provide insights into the genetic and environmental factors that drive the formation, stability, and functioning of social groups.

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