Social evolution, insect-microbe interactions, molecular evolutionary genetics
Since my days in graduate school I have been interested in questions about the origins of social and symbiotic/parasitic interactions within and between species. I have always been interested in non-model insects such as beetles, aphids and gall midges, and I use tools and techniques spanning ecology to genomics.
Understanding how cooperative interactions evolve is a central theme in evolutionary biology, having famously intrigued and at times vexed Darwin.Yet, as highlighted by some recent controversies in the field of social evolution, we are remarkably short on answers to many fundamental questions. My research program uses novel study systems to address the following broad aim in social evolution: what are the common themes across diverse taxa, and how have the often idiosyncratic traits of social species been remodeled in the context of group success? My lab also has a number of ongoing projects on symbiotic interactions involving insects, plants, and microbes. Symbiotic interactions between species are the counterpart to social behaviors within, by virtue of the manner in which they blend issues of cooperation and conflict. Here, too, general themes and consensus have not fully converged, and there is a need for careful experimental work in novel organisms. We use a combination of tools and techniques from evolutionary biology, molecular genetics, and ecology. We emphasize the value of appreciation for natural history, and of integration across fields.