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I am interested in the mechanisms and evolution of animal social behavior. My work focuses on eusocial colonies of bees and wasps, whose highly integrated societies exhibit a bewildering complexity of individual and colony-level behaviors. I use an integrative research approach involving field studies of naturally occurring colonies, experimental manipulations in semi-natural or lab settings, and numerous lab techniques to measure physiological, chemical, and genetic characters of individual insects. I have applied next generation sequencing methods to develop sequence databases for social wasp species, in order to enable comparative transcriptomic studies across insect species. The overarching goals of my research are to 1) gain insight into how complex social behavior can evolve from simpler forms of solitary behavior, 2) understand the roles of conservation and convergence in the molecular basis of complex phenotypes, and 3) use new genomic tools to empirically test long-standing ideas about the evolution of sociality.
Examples of ongoing projects include: comparative transcriptomic analysis of honey bee and Polistes paper wasp behavior and caste differences, chemical and transcriptomic characterization of dominance hierarchies in Polistes paper wasps, and exploring the role of DNA methylation in caste differences across multiple social insect species at different levels of sociality.