Group Foitzik


Evolution & Behavioral Ecology of Ants

Keywords: Host-parasite coevolution, Social parasites, Animal personality,
Division of labor, Inbreeding, Sexual selection, Sociobiology, Chemical ecology,
Population genetics, Genomic


Our group is interested in the evolution of social behaviour taking an integrative approach from behavioural ecology over genomics to epigenetics. We focus on ants and occasionally on bees as model organisms as behaviours of these social animals are selected on different levels, are highly complex and include cooperative as well as conflict behaviours. We investigate the role of plasticity to generate different phenotypes via differential gene expression. We study the evolution of life history strategies, aging and genomes of social insects. We are interested in how parasites affect and manipulate social insects and whether and how hosts can defend themselves against these attacks.

Currently, we focus on the following research questions:

  • How do insect societies defend themselves against parasites?
  • Which traits and genes are under selection in host-parasite coevolution?
  • How did slavemaking behaviour in ants evolve and coevolve with their hosts?
  • How do insect societies regulate division of labour and allow specialization?
  • What is the evolutionary importance of variance in behaviour and other traits?
  • Which fitness advantages have different behavioural strategies in social insects?
  • How is it possible that ant queens can live for several decades?
  • How is aging and fecundity regulated on a molecular level?
  • What are the molecular underpinnings of learning and memory?
  • How is the microbiome regulated and affects behaviour and fitness of social insects?
  • Which gene regulatory processes are involved in phenotypic plasticity in social insects?



Group leader


PhD students