Research

Ants in flight

 

We tend to view ants as wingless workers, but most species rely on flying queens and males to reproduce.  Mating flights are the only time ants are truly solitary individuals, rather than group-living colonialists.  Flight is also the deadliest phase of the life cycle, with near total mortality of young queens.  The coupling of high mortality with reproduction leads to strong flight-related selection.  I focus on this critical window to gain insight into ant reproductive biology, the evolution of alternate life histories, and the ecology of the atmosphere.

Aeroecology

 

Most land animals fly.  They travel through the atmosphere to reproduce, forage, evade predators, and disperse.  The vast aerial habitat above our heads is mostly unexplored, yet increasingly impacted by human activities like air transportation, the construction of cell phone towers, and climate change.  I study how birds and insects use the atmosphere.  In particular, I use novel tracking technology to study high altitude predator-prey interactions between birds and insects.  Recently, for example, we discovered that Purple Martins eat billions of invasive fire ant queens every year.
 


Biodiversity & Conservation

 

The Guiana Shield of South America contains one of the most intact and understudied tropical rainforests on Earth.  In collaboration with several NGOs (Conservation International, WWF, and Global Wildlife Conservation), the Smithsonian Institution, and indigenous peoples, over the past several years I have worked to document the ant diversity of this important region.  Our efforts have contributed to the creation of protected areas in Suriname, while highlighting the role of biodiversity in human cultures.


Current projects 

Range expansion and dispersal evolution in invasive fire ants

Species around the world are shifting or expanding their ranges in response to anthropogenic species introductions and climate change.  Using computer simulations, we are examining the evolutionary implications of range expansions.  In particular, we test hypotheses relating range expansion to the evolution of alternate life history strategies in invasive ants.

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