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Accueil du site > Scientific Departments > Evolutionary ecology > Teams > Social species in their environments : adaptation and evolution (ESEAE)

Social species in their environments : adaptation and evolution (ESEAE)


Research themes

The aim of the ESEAE team is to understand how social life influences the mechanisms of evolution and adaptation of social species, their biodiversity, and their interactions with other species. Environmental changes are a central theme.
Our biological models are mainly termites and ants. We use an integrative approach that focuses on morphology, physiology, behavior, development, ecology, molecular biology and population genetics. We uses descriptive approaches, experiments and modeling.

PNG - 287.2 ko
De gauche à droite : Fourmis Temnothorax nylanderi©T.Colin. Termites Nasutitermes ephratae©D.Sillam-Dussès. Expression du gène engrailed (vert : hybridation in-situ) dans un disque imaginal d’aile de larve de la fourmi Mystrium rogeri©M.Molet. Thorax d’une fourmi ouvrière, muscles volumineux de la tête et de l’abdomen©A.Khalife.
  • Axis 1. Social life and the adaptation to habitats

    In social species, adaptation to the environment is achieved not only through individuals but also through the society. Recent changes in climate and in soil use (agriculture, forestry, pollution, urbanization) lead to the loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitats. This can affect biodiversity at every level. We study how these changes affect communities, reproductive strategies and dispersal of insect societies.
    We study how these changes affect communities, reproductive strategies and dispersal of insect societies.

    1) Species found in natural and anthropized habitats are identified using morphological and molecular approaches. We describe their diversity and features. The effect of ecosystem disruption on communities is assessed through the study of species composition and richness, and their structuration in terms of trophic regimes. We also quantify genetic and morphological differentiation between urban and forest populations. We expose colonies to stressful environments in the laboratory in order to test whether urban colonies are better adapted. This is done in collaboration with Claudie DOUMS (MNHN).

    2) We describe reproductive and dispersal strategies of colonies (number of mating, number and origin of reproductives, independent colony founding, fission, investment in growth and reproduction) in relation with environmental changes using molecular methods, landscape genetics, and agent-based modeling in spatially explicit environments.

    3) In contrast with solitary organisms, individuals of social species do not fully face the external environment, because the latter is buffered by the society. The social environment could thus play a major role in the adaptation of social species to environmental changes. We manipulate the external and social environments as well as genetic diversity within colonies in order to quantify the contribution of these factors to colony fitness.

  • Axis 2. Diversity of life history traits

    The diversity of colonial life cycles, adult phenotypes, and their production mechanisms are studied based on several examples :

    1) Colony founding by fission is studied using agent-based modeling and experiments in semi-natural conditions.

    2) We describe the biomecanics of weight transport and the evolutionary diversification of muscular and cuticular adaptations, using microtomography imaging in collaboration with Evan P. ECONOMO (Okinawa Institute of Science & Technology).
    We assess the effects of miniaturization. We are also interested in the differences between large-headed soldiers and smaller workers. We consider central place foraging and nest defense.

    3) A rearing method of and larvae with few or no workers is under development in order to quantify the role of the social environment in the phenotypic diversity produced by colonies, in collaboration with Brian L. FISHER (California Academy of Sciences.

  • Axe 3. Interactions within communities

    The diversity and ecological success of social insects result in part from their interactions with other species, especially micro-organisms.

    1) In termites, digestive endo- and exosymbionts are essential. The mechanisms that allow for the maintenance of such symbionts across generation based on horizontal transmission through the environment or vertical transmission through reproductives are characterized using pyrosequencing and behavioural ecology on our laboratory colonies.

    2) A preliminary study of the interaction between ants and aphids is being carried out, with special focus on its plasticity. We manipulate the benefits gained by ants when they monopolize an aphid group or when they exploit it, in order to assess whether the interactions is mutualist or predatory.

    3) We describe new examples of ecological interactions including predation, herbivory, parasitoidism and symbiosis among social insects and other species.

  • Axis 4. Applications

    In addition to fundamental research, some of our studies have direct applications.

    1)We develop biological pest control methods that are both sustainable and environment-friendly. They are directed against some termite and ant species that are harmful for agricultures. They rely on baits that directly target the development of colonies instead of foragers only. Workers are tricked towards baits using specific artificial trail pheromones.

    2)The termite gut microbiota is highly original and efficient at degrading lignin and cellulose, making it a key element to develop new biotechnologies with industrial partners.

    3) We develop a cell line from an ant species that will be used to study cell cycle. Better knowledge of cell division has applications to study cancer. This is done in collaboration with Alain DEBEC (Institut Jacques Monod).

These four axes rely on our rearing infrastructures. Our tropical and temperate rooms allow us to keep live colonies of various termite and ant species.

Mathieu MOLET, MC UPMC, ESEAE team leader