Department of Entomology
University of California, Riverside
Social behaviors have evolved in a wide range of taxa, from bacteria to slime molds and from insects to mammals. This repeated and parallel evolutionary transition raises key questions about how sociality evolves. Natural variation in social traits within or among species provides an ideal opportunity to understand factors that contribute to the emergence of different social systems. In the Purcell lab, we investigate the proximate and ultimate drivers of transitions in social organization. Dr. Purcell has pursued these interests by integrating population genomics, field ecology, manipulative experiments in the lab and in the field, and individual-based modeling approaches. Her primary study organisms have been social spiders from the genus Anelosimus and socially polymorphic ants from the genus Formica. More recently, she has been working on yellowjacket wasps (Vespula pensylvanica) in collaboration with Erin Rankin (UCR Entomology). Students in the Purcell lab are answering related questions about social insects, including how ant workers partition tasks, how ants manipulate the soil in and around their nests, and how social insect genome structure has evolved in lineages with numerous transitions in social organization.