• Helms/Helms Cahan Lab at the IUSSI-NAS Meeting, NC 2012

  • Pogonomyrmex barbatus ready to fly

  • Messor pergandei cooperative queens

  • Joshua trees

The ant lab at UVM

Social living is an extremely successful life-history strategy that has evolved repeatedly in a diverse array of organisms, from bacteria to primates. Yet, at its heart, the cooperation that is required to form cohesive and long-lasting groups is an evolutionary paradox: why would behaviors evolve that help others rather than helping oneself?

In our lab, we investigate the origins, evolution, and mechanisms underlying social behaviors in the social Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps). This group displays a surprising array of social structures, from simple, temporary groups to large, perennial colonies with complex morphological and behavioral specialization.

Our research integrates field ecology with molecular tools, which allow us to reconstruct historical patterns and processes as well as to link individual and colony phenotypes to the genes and molecular pathways that underlie their expression. While we make extensive use of modern techniques from fields such as molecular genetics, genomics, phylogeography, and geographic information systems, our research is grounded in the importance of understanding the natural history of species in their environment.

We have an active, diverse lab of post-docs, graduate students and undergraduates. Our students have worked on a broad array of evolutionary and ecological projects, including chemical communication, host-pathogen coevolution, body size evolution, biogeography, systematics, and molecular evolution.