|since 2018||PhD Student, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
Working title: „Genetic components to division of labor in ant societies”
|2014 - 2016||M.Sc., Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
Thesis: „Manipulation of the symbiosis in the saw-toothed grain beetle Oryzaephilus surinamensis“
|2011 – 2014||B.Sc., Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg
Thesis translated title: “Radio telemetric screening of the habitat use of the Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus) in a forest north of Georgenborn, Schlangenbad”.
Animal behavior has genetic - thus heritable - components. This is true in societies such as ours, but also in the highly complex and very diverse insect societies. How genetics affect behavior in social insects is one of my main research interests.
Division of labor is the specialization of different individuals in performing different tasks. In a social context, division of labor increases the overall work performance and efficiency, as illustrated by production lines that split the workload into smaller working units performed by specialized workers. Similarly, insect societies are characterized by division of labor among individuals that specialize in reproduction, brood care, foraging, etc. Investigating the genetic components of such behavioral specialization has been the focus of recent research efforts. In that perspective, my aim is to provide a better understanding of the genetic mechanisms of division of labor in complex, self-organized insect societies.
My research project focuses on the consistency and proximate mechanisms of genetic effects on behavior in the Argentine ant Linepithema humile. We pose the question if the genetically influenced behaviors are maintained over time and across social contexts. Additionally, we are interested in the responsible genes expressed for division of labor behaviors.
The Argentine ant can be found as an invasive species on five continents, amongst them in many European countries. L. humile has the rare and useful feature of having males and new queens mating inside the nest. This gives us the opportunity to selectively cross and breed these ants under laboratory conditions to investigate the relative influences of the paternal and maternal genetic backgrounds on behavior. We will use the Argentine ant as a model system, and combine behavioral experiments, controlled crosses in the laboratory, and brain transcriptomics to investigate how the parental genetic backgrounds affect worker behavior and division of labor in insect societies.
Psalti, M.N., Gohlke, D. & Libbrecht, R. Experimental increase of worker diversity benefits brood production in ants. BMC Ecol Evo 21, 163 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12862-021-01890-x
Psalti M.N., Libbrecht R. (2020) Caste Differentiation. In: Starr C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Social Insects. Springer.