Social insects are important model systems for studying social evolution and complex systems.
There are thousands of species with colonies of different size, kinship structure and nesting environment, that have each evolved evolutionary stable strategies to cope with challenges of social conflict, disease pressure and demands for efficient communication. Social insect communication is mostly chemical and is preferentially directed towards kin and nestmates. Efficient communication is critically important to protect colonies from robbing and parasitism and for the regulation of potential reproductive conflicts between members of the same colony.
The proposed project aims to achieve an interdisciplinary understanding of the chemical, neurophysiological and evolutionary principals that have shaped chemical communication across insect societies of different sizes, kin structures and disease pressures. The research will use social Hymenoptera as model systems and will address generally important questions about the honesty and reliability of communication signals as a function of cost efficiency and risk of abuse by non-cooperative individuals. The objectives will be achieved by a combination of behavioural experiments, genetic, chemical and neurophysiological studies. The work is inspired by general principles of kin-selection and economic optimality, allowing predictions both on proximate and ultimate aspects of communication systems. This will allow an explicitly hypothesis-testing approach and an extent of rigour that has not been attempted before in social insect chemical ecology.
The objectives and methodologies match the already interdisciplinary research profile of the team leader, and the association with the host group and other international collaborators make this ambitious project highly feasible. The proposed research therefore has a high potential to help maintain and expand the leading European position in the field of fundamental chemical ecology.
Fields of science
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