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Research


Fakultät für Biologie und Vorklinische Medizin
Institut für Zoologie
Lehrstuhl für Zoologie / Evolutionsbiologie
Dr. Eva Schultner
Research Publications Contact

 

Current Projects

 

The role of developing individuals in ant societies

 

Ants develop in complex social environments where they interact with both adult nest members and other developing individuals. However, developing ants are often perceived as powerless and their social role within societies remains poorly understood. In Formica wood ants, larvae actively influence their own survival by engaging in egg cannibalism (Schultner et al. 2013), a prime example of selfish offspring behavior. Whether a larva engages in cannibalism depends on its own sex as well as its genetic relatedness to the egg (Schultner et al. 2014), which suggests that larvae are able to assess variation in their social environment. Together with researchers at the University of Helsinki, we are currently exploring the ecological significance of egg cannibalism and investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying this fascinating behavior.

 

Ecological correlates of individual and colony-level fitness

 

Resource availability is one crucial ecological factor determining individual and colony-level fitness. Nutrition of individual ants is shaped both by the environment outside and within the colony, since ant workers forage collectively and food is then shared among all colony members, including queens and brood. The aim of this project is to investigate how resource quality and feeding interactions between colony members affect individual and colony development in both experimental and natural conditions. This work is conducted together with Pinar Güler and Helena Lowack at the University of Regensburg and Heike Feldhaar at the University of Bayreuth.

 

Caste determination and differentiation in ants

 

Individuals that share the same genes can follow different developmental pathways so that as adults, they are widely different in shape, size and behaviour. Much of this variation is due to phenotypic plasticity, which allows organisms to express a range of phenotypes in response to variation in their environment. However, we still lack basic understanding of how environmental variation is translated into morphological, physiological and behavioral differences. Using the unique genomic model ant Cardiocondyla obscurior, a species with two female and two male castes, this project aims to uncover the environmental factors and molecular mechanisms associated with differential caste development. This project is based on a recent study suggesting that sex differentiation pathways have been co-opted to regulate differential caste development (Klein et al. 2016) and is conducted together with Jan Oettler and Jürgen Heinze at the University of Regensburg.

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