Our research is focused on understanding the evolution of cooperation and the selective pressures that favor cooperative group living. To this end, we explore the evolution of cooperation and conflict in animals by studying insect colonies that vary in their extent of sociality. We are particularly interested in answering fundamental questions that provide critical bases to understand the relationship between brain development and sociality in animals. How do social animals process information from their physical and social environment to make decisions that enhance their survival and reproductive success? In animal societies where group members are constantly interacting, how do these interactions shape brain architecture and function?
We use an integrative approach that employs field and lab behavioral experiments, along with molecular and neural mechanisms to elucidate the role of relatedness, social interactions, environmental factors in group formation and cooperation. Our focus is in the Tropics, where biotic interactions that influence group-living is especially prominent.
Group formation in Social Insects
The benefits of cooperation are essential in driving group formation. However, an individual can gain significant fitness benefits by acting selfishly at a substantial cost to others in the group. Therefore, in species where most females are capable of direct reproduction, nestmates must find a balance between cooperation and conflict. We use the wasp Mischocyttarus mexicanus, a species with an intermediate level of sociality and local to South Florida, to understand the effect of the environment and social context on individual decisions of reproductive tactics by group members, group formation and dominance hierarchies.
Parasite manipulation of Social Insects
Throughout the animal kingdom, host and parasite species are in a coevolutionary arms race in which parasites exploit the host for fitness benefits, while the host evolves defense mechanisms. While behavioral responses in the host that are induced by parasites have been widely studied, less is known about the effect of parasites in the brain of social hosts. To this end, we are exploring the relationship between 1) host and social parasites in Polistes wasps, and 2) the role of a parasitoid in the brain architecture of its host, Polistes dominula. Both of these projects are in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Florence. We are also exploring manipulation of an Ophiocordyceps fungus in an invasive Polistes in Galapagos in collaboration with colleagues at University of Central Florida and University of Tokyo.
*Undergraduate coauthor **Under maiden name
- Miller, S.E., Reeve, K.E., Bessler, K., Henshaw, M., Legan, A.W., Ostevik, K.L., Samuk, K., Uy, F.M.K., & Sheehan, M.J. 2018. Evolutionary dynamics of recent selection for enhanced social cognition. bioRxiv 425215; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/425215.
- Uy, F.M.K., S.F. Jeffries*, J. Adcock* & E. Pepere. 2018. Intercolony distance predicts the decision to rescue or attack conspecifics in weaver ants. Insectes Sociaux 66: 185.
- Uy, F.M.K. & A.M. Espinoza. 2018. Decision-making and differential handling behavior in feeding and oviposition attacks in a hymenopteran parasitoid. Journal of Insect Behavior 31: 569.
- Miller, S. E., S.E. Bluher, E. Bell, E. , A. Cini, R. C. Silva, A.R. Souza, K.M.Gandia, J. Jandt, K. Loope, A. Prato, J.N. Pruitt, D. Rankin, E. Rankin, R.J. Southon, F.M.K. Uy, S. Weiner, C.M. Wright, H. Downing, R. Gadagkar, R., M. Cristina Lorenzi, L. Rusina, S. Sumner, E.A. Tibbetts, A. Toth, A. and M.J. Sheehan. 2018. WASPnest: a worldwide assessment of social Polistine nesting behavior. Ecology, 99: 2405-2405. DOI:10.1002/ecy.2448
- Mora-Kepfer**, F. 2014. Context-dependent acceptance of non-nestmates in a primitively eusocial insect. Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology 68(3): 363-371.
- Mora-Kepfer**, F. & A.M Espinoza. 2009. Parasitism and predation of Tagosodes orizicolus Muir (Homoptera: Delphacidae) by a dryinid parasitoid. International Journal of Tropical Biology and Conservation. 57(1): 203-211.