Carmody Lecture 2021 with Dr. Amy L. Toth

April 16, 2021 at 6:00 PM

Location:This event will be virtual, Zoom Link will be provided.


Building a Superorganism: Integrative Insights into the Evolution and Regulation of Insect Sociality
Dr. Amy L.Toth, Dept. of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology/Dept. of Entomology, Iowa State University

The evolution of superorganisms, such as eusocial insect colonies composed of highly cooperative individuals working together as a single whole, has been described as a major transition in the history of life.  The question of “why?” has this extreme form of cooperation evolved has been of intense interest to biologists since Darwin.  Now, armed with new tools and technologies, animal behaviorists have turned to ask “how” has this revolutionary change in life history evolved?  Wasps and bees are excellent comparative study systems for addressing such questions, because they are extremely diverse taxonomically and socially; with multiple independent origins of sociality.  Using an integrative approach that blends behavior, physiology, and genomics, our studies on bees and wasps are providing new insights into the mechanisms and evolution of cooperative societies.  I will discuss some of these, including: 1) elements of maternal behavior and reproductive physiology becoming “retooled” by evolution for new social purposes, 2) the role of resource limitation and nutritional inequalities in the regulation of cooperative behaviors, 3) roles for both deeply conserved “toolkits” as well as newly evolved genes in the evolution of social traits, and 4) how “being social” may feed back on how genomes evolve.  These studies contribute to a developing picture of the molecular, organismal, and ecological processes that have enabled the evolution of biological complexity.

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