Dr. Jessica Purcell

I am fascinated by the evolution of many diverse and unique social systems in a wide range of organisms. In my research, I take advantage of natural variation in social behavior in order to try to understand the selective pressures that favor different social strategies. These differences may occur along altitudinal and latitudinal gradients, as in the social and subsocial Anelosimus spiders that I studied as a PhD student, or they may occur within a single habitat or even within a single population, as in the socially polymorphic Formica selysi ants that I am currently investigating during my postdoc. In particular, I have identified and manipulated ecological factors that may influence social structure in both organisms. These factors include rainfall and predator abundance in the tropical Anelosimus species, and the frequency of floods and susceptibility to pathogens in the temperate Formica ants.

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