Collective vs. individual interest in social insects

Truncorum workerLotta Sundström, Heikki Helanterä, Martina Ozan, Eva Schultner, Claire Morandin and Jenni Paviala study the evolution of social traits governed by selection regimes that promote cooperation on the one hand, and create conflicts among group members on the other.

Lotta Sundström’s group collaborates with Patrizia D’Ettorre, Paris 13, and uses behavioural assays combined with chemical and genetic analyses to investigate the role of information, power and opportunity for selfish behaviours of group members. The main study species is the ant Formica fusca, but also other Formica species are used in comparative approaches.

Heikki Helanterä’s group uses gene expression and sequence studies (with the Centre for Social Evolution, University of Copenhagen), behavioural and population genetic data, and inclusive fitness modelling (with Andy Gardner, University of Oxford) to investigate the negative effects of low relatedness on insect societies, especially Formica ants and invasive supercolonial ants such as the argentine ant Linepithema humile and the invasive garden ant Lasius neglectus.

The key questions are:

  • to what extent can worker ants realise their personal fitness incentives, given the limitations that incomplete information and lack of opportunity impose?
  • what and who determines the outcome of reproductive competition among queens in multi-queen societies?
  • whether low relatedness societies are disproportionately exposed to mutation accumulation, and what role does caste specific gene expression play in this
  • whether low relatedness exposes societies to costly conflict behaviour and tragedies of the commons in contexts such as larval cannibalism or queen dispersal

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