Evolution of sociality and associated behaviors in bees
We are interested in exploring various aspects of the ecology and evolution of social behavior in bees. Bees not only exhibit some of the most sophisticated social behaviors (eusociality) among animals, but also exhibit an enormous amount of variation and plasticity. Among bees, the highly eusocial corbiculate bees (e.g. Apis and Melipona) are unique for their remarkable ability to use referential encoding to spatially inform nest mates the location of food sources. In collaboration with James Nieh (UCSD) and others, we implemented comparative phylogenetic methods to investigate the origin, evolution and antiquity of referential communication in eusocial corbiculate Apidae.
Additional ongoing projects involve the characterization and manipulation of the social interactions and cooperative breeding of female orchid bees. For a long time, orchid bees have been regarded as solitary insects, but recent observations indicate that conspecific females of certain species engage in communal nesting, and often exhibit what appears to be eusocial behavior--defined by the overlap of generations, reproductive division of labor, and cooperative brood care. We are currently using the orchid bee E. dilemma to conduct laboratory experiments where the social organization (communal v. solitary nesting) among female bees is manipulated and controlled. Ongoing projects aim to apply functional genomic tools to characterize potential transcriptional regulation mechanisms that mediate directed cooperative behaviors, reproductive status, and pheromone communication.