Program overview

05/10: When, why and how does sociality re-shape life history trade-offs?

Organisers: Alice Séguret, Boris Kramer, Romain Libbrecht, Judith Korb

Contact: a.seguret@uni-muenster.de

Life history trade-offs, in which optimizing one trait comes with costs for other traits, characterize all organisms. The evolution of sociality has reshaped some of the most fundamental trade-offs in life history theory. One of the most striking examples is the extraordinary lifespan of social insect queens that, apparently, is not traded off against fecundity. This symposium aims to discuss when, why and how sociality reshaped life history trade-offs. To achieve this goal, we want to combine the knowledge of researchers that work on different taxa and systems across varying levels of social complexity, from group living through family life to eusociality. Especially welcome are functional studies that move from correlative to causative evidence on how trade-offs are modified as cooperation arises. We propose to use the last presentation slot of the symposium to synthesize and discuss the main findings as well as to identify common processes across studies, and identify gaps in our understanding of the consequences of social evolution on life history trade-offs.  This could also serve as basis for a follow-up scholarly debate at the meeting about the major themes and questions that emerged during the symposium. 

 

07/10: Not just cogs in the machine: functional morphology and biomechanics of social insects

Organisers : Vincent Fourcassié, Roberto A Keller

Contact: vincent.fourcassie@univ-tlse3.fr

Functional morphology investigates the relationships between the structural components of organisms and the function these components perform. It sheds light on the evolutionary forces that have shaped anatomical adaptations to the environment. Because of the variety of forms encountered in social insects, among as well as within species, social insects provide excellent biological material for research in functional morphology. For example, this approach allows to characterize the morphological specializations that relate to the division of labor between the worker caste and the reproductive caste or within the worker caste in size-polymorphic species. Together with traditional dissections, histology, and SEM images, new 3D imaging methods (X-ray and synchrotron microtomography), in tandem with comparative phylogenetics and geometric morphometrics, offer great opportunities to investigate both the drivers and consequences of evolutionary changes in morphology. At the same time, cheap high speed, high resolution video cameras coupled to automatic tracking software and miniaturized force measurement sensors allow to investigate the kinematics and dynamics of body and appendage movements with unprecedented precision. All these techniques constitute a major asset for the characterization of the functional properties of the external and internal body structures of the individual insects and, in the case of social insects, for the understanding of their role in the division of labor within colonies. In this symposium we will address some of the most recent advances in social insect functional morphology and biomechanics that have been made possible by the use of these tools and techniques.

 

12/10: Epigenetics and gene regulation in Social Insects

Organisers : Tali Reiner Brodetzki, Uli Ernst, Romain Libbrecht, Laurent Keller

Contact : talireiner@gmail.com

Developmental plasticity is central to the functioning of insect societies to allow the production of individuals with distinct phenotypes and behavior. This plasticity results in division of labor, and is mediated by diverging patterns of gene expression. Epigenetic signals (including DNA methylation, histone modifications, or noncoding RNAs) and transcription factors (TFs) regulate gene expression. In the past decade, multiple studies have proposed that epigenetic processes regulate various aspects of the social organization of insect colonies, including developmental and behavioral plasticity, but also learning, aging, foraging, brood care, etc. However, other studies failed to detect such effects, in particular the link between DNA methylation and caste, leading to an ongoing debate on the actual significance of epigenetic processes in insect societies. This symposium aims at bringing together researchers with different views on the matter, and stiring up a fair scientific debate by confronting studies of the epigenetic regulation of social life in insects. To promote intellectual diversity, we especially welcome contributions from researchers that investigate epigenetic processes that remain understudied, study the epigenetic regulation of plasticity in all types of insects, or integrate their findings in the framework of parental effects and genomic imprinting. This symposium will also provide a platform for scholars of social insects to discover latest trends and developments in technology, experimental design, data analysis and statistics around the topic of epigenetics.

 

14/10: Ecology of social insects

Organizers: Xim Cerdá, Ioan Tausan

Contact: xim@ebd.csic.es

The ecology of social insect communities is a very classical research subject, but one that keeps moving forward. As an example, competitive dominance hierarchies have been a paradigm in ant ecology for decades, but recently their utility, if not existence, has been questioned. What, if anything, is the importance of competition in social insect communities? How does the structure of social insect communities vary in space and time, at what scales, and what contributes to that variation? More studies, at both local and global scales, of social insect communities are needed to elucidate the complex interactions that modulate community structure in different biogeographic regions, with the ultimate goal being to understand processes and patterns, and thus build a solid theory of social insect community ecology. In this symposium we will include both classical (e.g. spatial and temporal structure), modern (e.g. functional or phylogenetic diversity), and applied approaches (e.g. effects of climate change, changes of land use, or land management) to study social insect communities.

 

19/10: Diversity, plasticity and evolution of communication in insect societies (part I)

Organisers: Luca Pietro Casacci, Alessandro Cini, Volker Nehring

Contact: volker.nehring@biologie.uni-freiburg.de

Communication plays an important role in organizing the cooperation within insect societies, and intuitively the complexity of communication increases with the complexity of the societies. Pheromones and other semiochemicals have always been assumed to be the major cues of communication because nests are typically dark and crowded environments. In recent years, however, new evidence has suggested that also visual and vibroacoustic communication is widely used by social insects, and the evidence supporting a correlation between communicative and social complexity is not unequivocal. This has generated many questions about the plasticity and evolution of communication in insect societies. To what extent are the different sensory channels used in different taxa, and under which circumstances do they integrate? What messages are conveyed, and how? To what degree are these complex communication landscapes variable between and within species, are they plastic under changing social and environmental conditions, and how far is the social form predicting or predicted by communication?  This symposium aims at discussing these aspects of social insect communication, spanning the different sensory channels and ranging from primitively social to eusocial species. The goal is to give room for all those interested in speaking, and listening, about the diversity, plasticity and evolution of social insect communication. 

 

21/10: Developmental plasticity of holometabolous social insects

Organisers : Eva Schultner, Jan Oettler

Contact: eva.schultner@gmail.com          

Superorganismality is characterized by distinct castes, which are obligately co-dependent and of which one is mated for life. Despite this fundamental importance of reproductive division of labor, not much is actually known about the underlying developmental biology. Khila and Abouheif have identified five different forms of reproductive constraints in workers, which renders workers effectively sterile, to different degrees. While some species show some flexibility in developmental outcomes (e.g. honey bees, Platythyrea, Myrmica), others seem to be hardwired in their developmental trajectories (e.g. Cardiocondyla, Pheidole). On the molecular side, recent studies have emphasized the importance of JH and insulin-like signalling, but how these mediators are integrated into the developmental program remains elusive. Furthermore, recent studies of imaginal disc development have highlighted the codependency of modular anlagen in the development of alternative castes. In this symposium we want to shine light on recent advances concerning the molecular and developmental mechanisms of caste determination and caste differentiation. We aim to bring together the fields of classic evo-devo and molecular evolution for a better understanding of the factors mediating the development of castes.

 

26/10: Nest architecture and collective building in social insects

Organisers : Andréa Perna, Christian Jost, Guy Theraulaz

Contact: guy.theraulaz@univ-tlse3.fr

The aim of this symposium is to address some of the fundamental issues related to the construction and evolution of nest architectures in social insects. Social insect colonies build some of the most complex and diverse forms of architecture of the natural world, only surpassed in size and complexity by human architecture. The nests built by ants, wasps, bees and termites play a crucial role in guiding the collective organisation and the survival of colonies. Throughout their evolution, social insects have put in place a whole set of innovations in terms of architectural design and construction techniques that proved to be efficient to solve problems such as controlling nest temperature, ensuring gas exchanges, or adapting nest structure to different colony sizes and compositions. This symposium will focus (1) on the characterisation and quantification of built structures, (2) on the impact of the architectural design of nests on ventilation and control of temperature as well and on the organization of collective behaviours and (3) on the construction mechanisms that social insects use to build their nests.

 

28/10: From genes to ecosystems: evolutionary biology of networks

Organisers : Claire Morandin, Pierre Nouhaud

Contact: claire.morandin@unil.ch

No gene works in isolation and no individual lives in solitary without any interaction with other individuals, species or their environment. This creates networks of interactions that operate at multiple biological levels and shape evolution, from gene network to food web architectures. Networks of interactions from any level could create opportunities for feedback both within a network or between networks at different levels. These feedbacks can in turn influence the dynamics of evolution and adaptation. However, evolution in biological networks is only beginning to be explored with empirical data. Network biology is a novel framework that brings life sciences, mathematics and systems science together to broaden our understanding of biological complexity and evolution across scales. Social insects are a great system to understand biological networks due to their social organization. Our symposium aims to link studies on biological networks at different levels as well as disciplines that use network biology for answering different questions pertaining to the evolution of networks such as gene regulation, colony structure, species interactions or phylogenetics.

 

02/11: Understanding social insect pollination: behavioural and genetic approaches

Organisers : Simon Tierney, Olivia Bernauer, Michael Garratt, Anders Nielsen

Contact: S.Tierney@westernsydney.edu.au

Understanding social bee pollination services requires in-depth knowledge of behavioural and evolutionary ecology. Phylogenetic assessment of bee functional traits provide insights on ecological interactions at the community-level, while population genetics and genomics have the potential to streamline assessment of pollen-flow across landscapes. This symposium canvases advances in methodologies and links researchers to promote shared progress.

 

04/11: Symbionts of social insects

Organisers : Amélie Cabirol, Philipp Engl

Contact: amelie.cabirol@gmail.com

The nests and bodies of social insects provide ideal conditions for specialized microbe-host relationships to evolve. Social interactions between individuals, and the existence overlapping generations, ensure reliable symbionts transmission from one generation to the next over evolutionary timescales. The division of labor is often linked to differences in dietary preferences or environmental exposure which modulates the association with microbes in different castes of the same species. Also, social insects have evolved complex strategies to preserve or convert dietary resources or to defend the colony against environmental threats, with microbes being often involved in these processes.  However, associations between symbionts and their hosts can have different costs and benefits for the symbiont, the individual host, or the entire host society. Depending on the outcome of this association, symbionts are referred to as parasites, commensals, mutualists or a combination of these. A great diversity of symbionts exists in insect societies. For millions of years, evolutionary forces have shaped the symbiotic relationship between these organisms and social insects. The nest environment and the host behavior both affect the composition and function of symbionts. Reciprocally, symbionts act on the host physiology and may even influence its behavior. Many intellectual challenges are inherent to the study of symbiosis in social insects. Among them are the consideration of both the symbionts and the hosts’ biology, and the combination of evolutionary, ecological and molecular biology approaches to understanding the existence of these relationships. Such challenges cannot be overcome without knowledge transfer between researchers in these fields and collective reasoning. The proposed symposium aims at offering a space for such discussions by gathering evolutionary biologists, microbiologists and behavioral ecologists studying the symbiosis occurring between various symbionts and social insect species.

 

11/11: Nutritional homeostasis in social insects (parallel session)

Organisers : Sara Arganda, Audrey Dussutour, Sara Leonhardt

Contact: sarijuela@gmail.com

Nutrition is the main factor defining the spatial distribution and temporal activity pattern for most organisms. A major challenge for any organism is maintaining homeostasis in nutritionally heterogeneous environments and changing demands of growth, development and reproduction. In social insects this challenge is especially complex as nutrition is a decentralized homeostatic process where food is collected by only a small number of workers and shared among all members of the colony. Our aim in this symposium is to better understand the role of nutrition in the life history of social insects, as an important extension to models of collective behaviour, sociality, and nutritional ecology of social insects. We therefore invite researchers to apply to our symposium to present their works focusing on 1) individual and collective mechanisms to adjust the nutrient supply in response to changes in colony size, demography and health, 2) the impact of nutrients on physiology, behaviour, and sociality and 3) the role of nutrition in ecological interactions among species.

 

11/11: Diversity, plasticity and evolution of communication in insect societies (part II) (parallel session)

Organisers: Luca Pietro Casacci, Alessandro Cini, Volker Nehring

Contact: volker.nehring@biologie.uni-freiburg.de

Communication plays an important role in organizing the cooperation within insect societies, and intuitively the complexity of communication increases with the complexity of the societies. Pheromones and other semiochemicals have always been assumed to be the major cues of communication because nests are typically dark and crowded environments. In recent years, however, new evidence has suggested that also visual and vibroacoustic communication is widely used by social insects, and the evidence supporting a correlation between communicative and social complexity is not unequivocal. This has generated many questions about the plasticity and evolution of communication in insect societies. To what extent are the different sensory channels used in different taxa, and under which circumstances do they integrate? What messages are conveyed, and how? To what degree are these complex communication landscapes variable between and within species, are they plastic under changing social and environmental conditions, and how far is the social form predicting or predicted by communication?  This symposium aims at discussing these aspects of social insect communication, spanning the different sensory channels and ranging from primitively social to eusocial species. The goal is to give room for all those interested in speaking, and listening, about the diversity, plasticity and evolution of social insect communication.

 

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