Graduate Students

Co-evolutionary dynamics in the mercenary-ant symbiosis. Eco-evolutionary dynamics, species networks, population genomics, biological modeling 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 approaches from functional ecology, population ecology, and population genetics in order to model the dynamics of symbiotic organisms with the goal of understanding how complexity influences our expectations of biological outcomes. In particular, I am studying how geographic variation and frequency-dependent selection influence adaptive dynamics in the mercenary-ant system. 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. 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. 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
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). 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.

Undergraduate Researchers/Assistants

Ant care. Behavioral ecology, evolution, animal behavior and psychology Making sure the ants are happy and healthy by feeding them, giving them water, cleaning out their waste, and making sure their fungus is healthy. As caring for the ants is my primary task, I am currently interested in finding the most efficient and effective ways to establish a healthy environment for the fungus in the aspects of quantities of food, moisture, and ridding the environment of bacterial and fungal parasites. Trail pheromone evolution in fungus-growing ants. Medicine, chemical communication 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.

Research Interns

Trail pheromone evolution in fungus-growing ants. Entomology, microbiology, chemical communication

Lab Alumni

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.