My lab studies the biological basis of insect social behaviour; how it evolves, how it is maintained and why some species are social while others are not. Much like human societies, eusocial ants, bees, wasps and termites show bewildering complexity in how their societies are structured. Yet for insects, this complexity is derived from an economically simple division of labour into reproductive and non-reproductive specialists. Studying reproductive division of labour in insects at the level of the gene can provide key insights into how complex social systems evolved from simpler, ancestral ones. Studies on social insects can also help understand how our own societies might naturally mediate conflict, cooperation, altruism and spite. My lab uses natural history information from insects, the theory of social evolution and state-of-the-art gene technology imported from the medical sciences to discover how molecules influence the evolution and expression of social traits. Conversely, we are interested in how sociality itself influences the transmission and expression of genes. Within this theme, my lab tackles four broad questions:
1) What is the genetic architecture of social populations?
2) What are the phylogenetic patterns of social evolution?
3) What role do pathogens play in shaping social systems?
4) What genes are important to the expression of social traits?