Keywords: Local adaptation, Niche evolution, Behavioral genetics, Gene expression, Life-history traits, Temperature adaptation/acclimation, Ants.
Our group is interested in the adaptive potential of organisms to their environment. One abiotic environmental factor of interest is temperature. For ectothermic organisms temperature is crucially important, because it determines the rate of metabolic processes and thus all processes from development to reproduction, which is particularly interesting in the current global warming context. One biotic environmental factors organisms have to deal with are competitors, which might be of inter- but also intraspecific origin. Within the genus Temnothorax, an interesting system of closely related ant species, where some are so called slave makers while the other species are the hosts. Slave makers and their hosts live in a constant co-evolutionary arms race with counter adaptations on both sides to either increase virulence or improve defense. We are interested in the genes that lead to the evolution of either types of species, as well as the genetic basis of behavioral phenotypes (castes) within the species.
Current research questions:
- Which genes underlie certain behavioral traits in ants (e.g. performance of certain castes, aggressiveness, foraging, …)?
- Which genes play a role in the (co-)evolution of slavemakers and their hosts (genes under selection)?
- Which genes mediate niche adaptation between closely related species?
- How do species adapt to certain environments? In a climate and more specifically temperature context:
- What are physiological differences between populations of one species from different climatic origins?
- What are the physiological differences between species of the same climatic origin?
- What is the genetic basis of adaptation to different/similar temperature regimes?