Research Technician

Composition & diversity of the microbiome across fungus-growing ant species. Symbiotic networks, microbial ecology, entomology, bioinformatics Analysis of the functionality of animal-associated bacterial communities is a vital component to understanding of the ecology and evolution of host organisms. My goal is to investigate fungus-growing ant species networks by describing associated bacteria and their function in an evolutionary context. I am employing a combination of microbiological (culture-dependent) and genomic (culture-independent) techniques.

Graduate Students

Co-evolutionary dynamics in the mercenary-ant symbiosis. Eco-evolutionary dynamics, species networks, population genomics, biological modeling Coevolutionary biology tests evolutionary principles in reference to strong and persistent ecological interactions, potentially providing insight into how contextual variation influences a species’ evolutionary trajectory. To explore these eco-evolutionary issues, I am using a combination of population genomics, ecology, modeling, and evolutionary game theory. My goal is to understand how ecological context creates the conditions under which diversity is generated and maintained at a micro-evolutionary scale. I study how geographic variation and frequency-dependent selection influence adaptive dynamics between the fungus-growing ant Sericomyrmex amabilis and its two ant associates Megalomyrmex symmetochus and Gnamptogenys hartmani. Unearthing the overlooked fungus-growing ant parasitoid relationship. Taxonomy, myrmecology, tropical entomology, myrmecophiles, evolution Every species on earth has a mutualistic or antagonistic symbiotic relationship shaping its natural history through coevolutionary processes. I explore the coevolution of an antagonistic symbiotic relationship by gathering natural history data and examining it in the context of landscape genetics. My goal is to identify factors that drive distribution and abundance of Trachymyrmex hosts and their wasp parasitoids. I study two fungus-growing ant Trachymyrmex species and their horde of undescribed Diapriidae parasitoid wasps.

Undergraduate Researchers/Assistants

Behavioral traits in Trachymyrmex species. Behavioral ecology, social behavior, bioacoustics, ornithology I am broadly interested in social behavior and bioacoustics. My research is focused on behavior in fungus-growing ants. I am currently working on the behavior of Trachymyrmex zeteki and its cryptic sibling species, with the goal of delimiting cryptic species. I plan to use the skills I develop in future social and bioacoustics research in ornithology. Evolution of alarm behavior across the fungus-growing ants. Chemical ecology, behavioral ecology, neurobiology, animal behavior 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. Alkaloidal venom function in a new Panamanian ant species M. milenae. Chemical ecology, molecular ecology, entomology, amphibian biology Whether looking at the microscopic or ecosystem level, organisms employ a variety of strategies in order to maximize their fitness. I am interested in the physiological and behavioral mechanisms utilized by tropical organisms that help maximize their survival. My project focuses on the antibacterial properties of the venom alkaloids in Megalomyrmex milenae ants, a recently discovered and understudied species from the Panamanian rainforest. Antimicrobial properties of ant-derived semiochemicals. Antibiotics, traditional chinese medicine, pharmaceutical biology 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.

Research Interns

Context-dependent mutualist warns its host of its lethal potential. Behavioral ecology, communication, conservation 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. Sensory ecology in symbioses. Behavioral ecology, social structure, bioacoustics, bat biology 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.

Lab Alumni

Medicine, immunology, toxicology, PCR, chemical ecology 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.