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Conflict and cooperation in insect societies

Grant number: 15/15976-9
Support Opportunities:Research Grants - Visiting Researcher Grant - International
Duration: October 09, 2015 - October 15, 2015
Field of knowledge:Biological Sciences - Zoology - Animal Behavior
Principal Investigator:Fábio Santos do Nascimento
Grantee:Fábio Santos do Nascimento
Visiting researcher: Tom Wenseleers
Visiting researcher institution: University of Leuven, Leuven (KU Leuven), Belgium
Host Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras de Ribeirão Preto (FFCLRP). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Ribeirão Preto , SP, Brazil


Cooperation is ubiquitous in the natural world: different genes and cells work together within multicellular organisms, many animals cooperate in societies, different species can engage in interspecific mutualisms and humans cooperate with each other in a myriad number of ways. Yet, cooperation represents a major evolutionary challenge, since uncooperative, selfish individuals would frequently be expected to be at an advantage relative to more cooperative group members. Solving the puzzle of cooperation is considered by some as among the most important outstanding questions in biology and the social sciences at this moment. In recent years, insect societies such as bees and wasps have emerged as a major model system to study the question of what sets the balance between cooperation and conflict in biological systems. In my our research, for example, we have found that cooperation in insect societies is to a large extent socially enforced and that some conflicts in insect societies resemble "tragedies of the commons", which previously were known mainly from human systems. The main aim of the proposed visit is to further build up and consolidate our very productive collaboration with Prof. Nascimento (Proc. 2010/10027-5 and 8 joint publications so far in major peer-review journals, cf. CV). During the proposed visit we will discuss the cooperative nature of insect societies, and more specifically on the way in which chemical signals emitted by the queen help to drive cooperation and suppress reproduction in the offspring workers. This builds on the first discovery of several queen pheromones in ants, wasps and bumblebees by Prof. Wenseleers in his lab in Belgium, and ties in with the very strong expertise that Prof. Nascimento has in the field of chemical ecology. The primary aim of this part of the project will be to test how queen pheromones in social insects evolved across different lineages of social insects with widely divergent phylogenetic placement (e.g. stingless bees and primitively eusocial wasps). This will enable us to test whether structurally related compounds are used to regulate reproduction in these various groups of social insects. (AU)

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