Lab management; Microbial ecology of social insect symbioses; Population genetics of a host-parasite system. Symbioses, Microbial ecology, Chemical ecology, Social immunity, Equitable fieldwork Stephanie received her Master's degree from Ohio State University in 2019 studying antimicrobial benefits of bee propolis and beeswax combs against honey bee larval disease, European Foulbrood. She currently manages the Adams lab and assists in several research projects, including microbial ecology of fungus-growing ant systems, population genetics and flight morphology of host-parasite system (Sericomyrmex amabilis & Megalomyrmex symmetochus), and behavioral functions/chemical cues in a termite-fungus symbiosis (in collaboration with OSU's Slot lab). Stephanie mentors/co-mentors several undergraduates in the lab, and aims to continue her academic career in tropical field ecology and entomology.

Graduate Students

Universidade Federal do Pará and Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi (Brazil)
PhD advisor: Dr. Rogerio R. Silva
PhD co-advisors: Dr. Rachelle M. M. Adams and Dr. Carlos Roberto Ferreira Brandão
Megalomyrmex Forel taxonomic revision and phylogenomic relationships. Morphology, polymorphism, species concepts, Neotropical ants, curation Species descriptions are needed to fully appreciate the remarkable biodiversity of ants. Using state-of-the art taxonomic and systematic methods, I aim to address the relationships and species boundaries among Megalomyrmex species by combining morphological, behavioral, and molecular data. I'm broadly interested in integrative taxonomic studies of Neotropical ant genera, curation and conservation. Personal website
Chemical alarm system evolution in fungus-growing ants. Communication is vital for all social beings and is especially necessitated whenever threats (i.e. predators) are presented. These alarm cues are currently perceived by most evolutionary biologists as an ‘evolutionary puzzle’ owing to their random and unique demonstration spanning vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants alike. Within the vast chemical language used by eusocial insects, alarm responses exist on a behavioral continuum between aggressive resistance to passive tolerance. I investigate the evolution of chemical communication by interpreting alarm compounds in fungus-growing ants, and apply this data to what is known for each species’ natural histories and phylogenetic relationships. Megalomyrmex venom function & evolution. Evolution, phylogeny, functional traits, venomics, entomology Venom is an important functional trait that has gone understudied in ants. Megalomyrmex ants in particular have unique venom, along with an interesting evolutionary history of social parasitism (where one social species parasitizes another). My goal is to elucidate the changes in venom function and how those changes enable diversification. Ant-ant symbiosis shapes bacterial community in shared fungal garden. Symbiotic networks, microbial ecology, bioinformatics Analysis of the functionality of bacterial microbiomes is a vital component to the understanding of the ecology and evolution of host organisms. Assembly of these symbiotic microbial communities is shaped by many factors, including the host’s selective filtering. Employing a combination of microbiological (culture-dependent) and genomic (culture-independent) techniques, I aim to evaluate how ants—social parasites and host foundress queens—influence the structuring of microbial symbioses within a shared fungal garden (i.e., external digestor).

Undergraduate Researchers/Assistants

Effectiveness of M. mondaboroides as a thief parasite and its place in the larger phylogeny of Megalomyrmex. Medicine, Phylogenetics, Ecology, Genetics Though all Megalomyrmex possess a species-specific venom cocktail, M. mondaboroides is novel in that its venom is composed solely of a piperidine, which is used by the thief parasite to steal from its fungus-growing ant host, Cyphomyrmex costatus. We know that Megalomyrmex thief ants use their venom to infiltrate host colonies and subdue host ants. However, in previous studies on these raids it has been found that host colonies react more aggressively to M. mondaboroides as compared to other thief ant species. The goal of this study is to determine the effectiveness of this unique species of ants as a parasite, how its venom has evolved to specifically parasitize one host, and how this venom affects its place in the larger phylogeny. Ant-fungus recognition in fungus-growing ants. Chemical communication, chemical ecology, behavioral ecology, evolutionary ecology Fungus-growing ants have an intimate mutualism with their co-evolved fungal cultivar. I will examine if Cyphomyrmex costatus workers can differentiate between closely related fungi, including strains that are found associated with distantly related C. muelleri ants. I will also examine if chemical differences between strains influence worker preference. I hypothesize that the maintenance of C. costatus’ symbiotic relationship with its garden is dependent on the ants’ recognition of garden volatiles (i.e., chemical profile). Scientific communication and outreach using "Bug Badges." Ian graduated in December of 2022 and is volunteering to help the Adams lab develop and pilot their newest outreach program, which will use a badge system. Population genetics using microsatellites of host ants Sericomyrmex amabilis. Samantha graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Biology in May of 2021. She is spending her gap year before applying to medical school assisting in population genetics research of host ants, exploring her interests of evolution, genetics, and entomology before entering the medical field. The natural history and unexplored behaviors of Cyphomyrmex costatus. Evolution, behavioral ecology, chemical communication In particular, the collection and display of dismembered insects around the colony fungus garden chamber. My goal is to determine the physical and chemical factors that facilitate this behavior in order to understand what purpose the insect body parts serve in the nest. Megalomyrmex thief ant infiltration. Plant ecology, conservation Currently assisting with ant colony care and lab collection organization. Beginning research on thief ant behaviors associated with parasitism establishing infiltration. Other research interests include plant ecology and conservation. I hope to graduate with research distinction in Spring 2024.

Lab Alumni

Currently working on an experimental study of a host-parasite relationship between Sericomyrmex amabilis and Megolomyrmex symmetochus. This study focuses on the behavioral reaction of the host species to differing levels of parasite venom concentration. Was awarded OSU's URAP award summer of 2020 which is being used to fund the current research project. Elaine previously spent two years working in the lab caring for the ants and managing various organizational aspects of the lab. Worker-queen dimorphism and queen winglessness in Megalomyrmex Forel. Investigating the morphological relationships between different reproductive strategies within the genus Megalomyrmex. This includes the relationships between queens of the same species, different species, and their workers. These relationships can inform us about the evolutionary pressures and relationships affecting this genus. I plan to graduate with Honors Research Distinction in May 2021. Trail pheromone evolution in fungus-growing ants. My goal is to learn more about scientific research and ant species. I currently work on a team project where we explore the diversity of trail pheromones and behavior among the fungus-growing ants. I will create a poster about ant communication for an Honors program conference in April 2019.
Master's Student (2017-2020)

Thesis: The taxonomy and population genetics of the Panamanian fungus-growing ant Mycetomoellerius sp. n. (Formicidae: Attini)

Undergraduate Researcher (2016-2017)

Research Distinction thesis: Using an Integrative Taxonomic Approach to Delimit a Sibling Species, Trachymyrmex sp. n. (Formicidae: Attini)
Co-evolutionary dynamics in ant symbiosis. Coevolutionary systems allow us to test evolutionary principles in reference to strong and persistent ecological interactions—providing insight into how variation influences the evolutionary trajectory of a species. To explore this eco-evolutionary interplay, I combine various approaches in order to model the dynamics of symbiotic organisms with the goal of understanding how complexity influences our expectations of biological outcomes.

*transferred to Ian Hamilton's lab
Trail pheromone evolution in fungus-growing ants.

Research Distinction thesis: Tyramides found in male fungus-growing ants in an evolutionary context

Research Distinction thesis: Antimicrobial properties of a venom alkaloid in a new species of Panamanian ant

Context-dependent mutualist warns its host of its lethal potential. In long-term symbiotic interactions, interspecific communication can arise in order to enhance the fitness of both species. I am studying the signaling system between guest ant parasite Megalomyrmex symmetochus and their fungus-growing ant host, Sericomyrmex amabilis. My goal is to determine the signaling properties of gaster flagging behavior in M. symmetochus parasites. It is unclear whether this behavior is a multimodal threat signal or simply an act of aggression towards host ants. Evolution of alarm behavior across the fungus-growing ants. Eusocial organisms use chemical communication for successful social interactions within groups. The function of ant semiochemicals can be understood through behavioral assays, as behavior is a measurable phenotypic trait. My goal is to understand the evolution of alarm communication in ants. I study the behavioral reaction of 13 fungus-growing ant species to their mandibular gland secretions. Antimicrobial properties of ant-derived semiochemicals. I am interested in how flora or fauna can benefit humans from a medical perspective. My project focuses on interactions between organisms in the fungus-growing ant species network. I study how antimicrobial compounds influence the growth of the fungus garden, entomopathogens, and bacteria in culture. My goal is to determine which microbes are helped or harmed by ant- and garden-derived natural products. Sensory ecology in symbioses. My aim is to understand species interactions and sensory ecology. I study the bioacoustic facets of mutualistic relationships between tropical ants and their symbionts. In the future I intend to apply these experiences to study social organization and communication patterns of bats. My research interests are in toxicology, immunology, and biochemical pathways and how this can provide a basis for medicine. I assist in research that highlights chemical ecology and the evolution of novel species. I am currently developing skills in molecular techniques that can be broadly applied towards medical research, especially in current cancer studies.
My main objective is focusing on care of the live colonies and gaining experience in techniques such as PCR to bridge the gap between evolutionary biology and medicine.