Our lab started out working predominately on bees, including the commercial honey bee (Apis mellifera), Asian bees (Apis cerana, Apis florea, Apis andreniformis, Apis dorsata) and Australian stingless bees (Tetragonula, Austroplebeia). We have since incorporated other social insects, such as ants. We also study the acellular slime mould Physarum polycephalum (which is not an insect or social) and bee viruses.
Our equipment and resources include:
We keep honey bees at the following locations:
Honeybees are an ideal model system to study how societies suppress selfish behaviour by its workers. We study the European honeybee Apis mellifera, a selected 'anarchistic' line in which the majority of the workers lay eggs in the presence of a queen, and the Cape honeybee (A. m. capensis) whose workers can clone themselves via thelytokous parthenogenesis.
In Honeybees (Apis), we argue that their dance language has evolved not to convey directional information about food sources, but for the purpose of nest site selection. The dance language was then secondarily adapted as a means to recruit foragers. To provide empirical support for this hypothesis, we compare the use of the dance language in species of Apis that differ fundamentally in their nest site requirements.
We study ants and honeybees to understand the mechanisms the individual insects use to achieve collective behaviour. We then use our biological knowledge to design nature-inspired optimisation algorithms that take their inspiration from the ways individual insects adapt their behaviour depending on the required outcome at the level of the collective. We also use the acellular slime mould Physarum polycephalum as a model organism. The slime mould is brainless, yet capable of making decisions about where to forage, it can trade-off risks, construct near-optimal networks and sometimes even behaves in the same way as humans.
We study two types of genomic conflict – conflict between paternal and maternal genomes and intergenomic conflict between mitochondrial and nuclear genomes. We are investigating how queens and drones may make epigenetic modifications to their genomes to manipulate the behaviour of their worker offspring. We use the slime mould Physarum polycephalum to study the effect of mixing of mitochondria from more than one individual.
We are interested in understanding the relationship between honeybees, their viruses and parasitic Varroa mites, and how vector transmission has changed honeybee viral landscapes around the world. We are investigating the impact of viral diseases in bees, looking at virulence evolution, virus competition, replication and immune defences.
We use the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana), an invasive pest in tropical Australia, to investigate the effects of genetic bottlenecks on invasive species. In the past 50 years, Apis cerana has established invasive populations in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Far North Queensland, each arising from just one or very few founding colonies. These populations provide an excellent opportunity to understand the ways that social insect populations cope with the loss of genetic diversity, and how they adapt and change in new environments.
There is increasing concern that our pollinator populations are declining, which will likely have ramifications for our food production systems. We are assessing the number of honeybee colonies in Australia to quantify their role in pollination. We are also developing similar techniques for use in native Australian stingless bees.