Studying how animals learn, use information strategically, and evaluate their options
Animal Comparative Economics lab
Lehrstuhl für Zoologie / Evolutionsbiologie
(+49) 941 943 3356
Until recently if you asked me what my favourite animal was, the answer would have likely been given by: sample((“Insert exotic mammal”), 1). Well, no one had taught me how cool and diverse insects, in particular ants, were! There are ants that blow themselves up (Camponotus saundersi), that can use their jaws to jump far away (Odontomachus spp.), that use larval silk to stick leaves together (Oecophylla spp.), that drink blood (Adetomyrma venatrix), whose sting is compared to a bullet (Paraponera clavata) and even ants that farm fungi (Attini spp.))! However, my love for ants, and later for all eusocial insects, came from the beautiful Camponotus fulvopilosus which I got to interact with in South Africa. I developed a fascination for how a colony is more than the sum of its individuals’ behaviours and by how, in building a cohesive society, ants increase their overall fitness. My main interests lie in energetic efficiency, nutrition, collective behaviour and decision making. I also particularly enjoy developing automated data collection methods and improve our efficiency as researchers.
My background includes a BSc in Biology (2019) and a MRes in Computational Methods in Ecology and Evolution (2020) from Imperial College London. I have a strong computational background and I love the power automation and statistics brings to ecology. I thrive in a multidisciplinary research environment and as a doctoral researcher in the ACElab I will focus on insect cognition and preference manipulation on Argentine ants (Linepithema humile). Invasive ants such as these are ecologically devastating, economically damaging, and almost impossible to control. I aim to gain fundamental insights into collective cognition and to manipulate preference by using neuroactives, such as caffeine, to improve learning. By tracing trophallactic networks, I aim to broaden our understanding of social immunity, which protects ant colonies from attack, and learn to disrupt it.
Previous research projects
BSc African Biology Field Course
Termites are ecosystem engineers and their mounds are nutrient hotspots that increase spatial heterogeneity by changing physical and chemical characteristics of the soil surrounding them. In this way, they allow for pioneer vegetation to settle and prosper enabling the development of a strong invertebrate community. During this field project I used invertebrate abundance to infer a resource distribution patterns. It was clear that around a termite mound, invertebrates are more abundant and more speciose. This suggests that areas close to mounds are high on nutrients, with a rich permeable clay soil, and support higher levels of biodiversity acting as an ecosystem hotspot.
The speciation of Howea palm trees on Lord Howe Island is one of the most compelling cases of sympatric speciation. However, the genes involved in this divergence remain unknown. Here, I used Arabidopsis thaliana, as a model organism, to test whether any of the six candidate genes used was responsible for a pleiotropic link between soil-induced adaptations and differences in flowering time. I used mean rosette leaf area and mean height at flowering time as measures of plant stress and identified a gene which could be responsible for this species divergence whilst automating some of the methods used for collecting this data.
Eusocial insects are extremely abundant, widely spread and dominant across almost all habitats. However, their disproportionate abundance, relative to their low species diversity, implies that the benefits of eusociality must outweigh its costs. In this project, I studied the energetic benefits associated with colonial living by exploring the allometric scaling of energy acquisition across social contexts - where the level to which individuals interact with each other varies. I purposed a model which explains colony-level energetic efficiency by means of behavioural plasticity at both the individual and colony level.