In any science, It can be argued that the most interesting questions are those that are the hardest to solve. For evolutionary biology, one of the hardest problems to solve was the puzzle of social evolution. What causes some species to form groups while others remain solitary? Stranger yet, social organisms often behave in ways that don't seem to benefit themselves, instead benefiting the "greater good" of their society. How could such behaviors evolve by natural selection? Perhaps these questions were most difficult to ask because as humans we were so familiar (and confused) with the struggles of social life, and explaining the complexities of social life as a product of natural selection was very difficult.
Honestly, this still is really difficult, but as our study of social evolution progressed, we now realize that social life (and its struggles) is arguably one of the most "pervasive" or common features of life on earth. Genes collect into genomes, cells into multicellular bodies, and animals into societies. Considering all of these collectives as "societies", we see that as some scale virtually all living things have to handle the struggles of social life, whether in their genomes or their animal socieites. This habit life has to form collectives is likely as old as life itself, and studying the evolution of societes at this abstract level helps us realize how to redefine our biological concepts of "individuality", how to think of societies as if they were organisms, and to understand the underlying evolutionary forces acting for billions of years that could explain how we humans live in a society that, as Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan put it, exists in the "shadow of it's ancestors".
At Berkeley, I study this branch of evolutionary biology and try to uncover the "rules" of social evolution by studying one of the most bizzare societies ever to exist: the supercolonies of Argentine ants that have invaded Californa. I study the stability of their extreme social behaviors using computational modeling, and I'm beginning to investigate the evolution of recognition systems in ants and other creatures, as a way to understand how societies forms by becoming aware of "friends" and "foes".
Mailing addressDepartment of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management
130 Mulford Hall #3114
Berkeley, CA 94720