Ants are among the most diverse and successful organisms in terrestrial ecosystems. In addition to having over 12,000 described species, this single family of insects can make up over 1/4 of the animal biomass in tropical systems. What factors contribute to such ecological success? Research in the Suarez lab capitalizes on two unique aspects of the biology of social insects: their social organization and developmental plasticity. The separation of “reproductive” and “somatic” lineages into castes (queens and males versus workers) has resulted in remarkable levels of morphological variation among worker castes. In addition, ants vary widely in their ecology, acting as top-predators, scavengers, and herbivores, and also engage in mutualisms with a wide variety of taxa. Our research capitalizes on this developmental and ecological flexibility of ants to address fundamental questions in ecology, evolution and behavior.
Some research themes in the lab include: