Department of Entomology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824
My main research interest is to understand evolution and mechanisms of social behavior. I use the honey bees as the study organism because they are complex, economically important and easily manipulated. In a complex society that rivals our own and with as many as 40 to 80 thousand members, how does each individual "know" what to do? How did societies like these evolve? We combine behavioral, genetic and physiological analyses to solve this puzzle. We focus on the most profound behavioral transition of workers: the change from "nursing" the young inside the hive to foraging in the field. Many changes accompany the drastic behavioral transition, such as brain anatomy, hormone titers, glandular structures and gene expressions. However the proximate mechanism of how and when a worker would "decide" to become a forager remained unknown. We found that social interactions among workers slow down the aging process -- workers deprived of social interactions become foragers much sooner. Foragers appear to have some chemical signals that prevent young workers from becoming foragers. We also use computer simulations to understand the mechanisms of behavioral development of honey bee workers.
Selected recent publications:
SFI-Social Insect Page