Insect societies are a unique model system for investigating the genetic and evolutionary mechanisms at the basis of animal sociality. Relative to vertebrates, insect social behavior is more mechanistic so it is easier to find its genetic basis. We study social evolution in ants using genomic tools: next generation sequencing technologies and computational analysis of molecular evolution. A decade ago, we knew close to nothing about the genes of ants and then suddenly full genomes were being published. Since, high quality genomic sequences were obtained from hundreds of species across the ant phylogeny. We can now compare different species and look for the genes responsible for the evolution of sociality in ants. Furthermore, dramatic advances in sequencing technologies allow genomic sequencing of hundreds of individuals from specific ant populations for focused studies on the recent evolution of social traits in systems such as “social chromosomes” in Solenopsis fire ants, Formica wood ants, and our local Cataglyphis desert ants. We use these genomic metholologies to investigate the evolutionary basis of fundamental phenomena in sociobiology, such as social organization and pheromone signaling responsible for nestmate recognition in Cataglyphis niger.
Over the years, our lab implemented multiple variaitons on protocols for population genomic sequencing (especially of RAD-seq) and various compulational analyses of such data. This led us to conduct several comparative methodologcial studies to investigate how alternative variations perform and optimize the use of such approaches. We published several methodological papers and even developped a webtool for designing RAD-seq studies – read about ddgRADer under “Infrastructure->Software”.