Evolution seems to be constructive, over time leading from simple to complicated forms, from prokaryotic to eukaryotic cells, from single cellular to multicellular organisms, from solitary insects to colonies, from animal groupings to human society. Two fundamental operations employed by evolutionary construction can be distinguished -- ‘staying together’ (ST) and ‘coming together’ (CT). Staying together means that individuals form larger units by not separating after reproduction, while coming together means that independent individuals form aggregates. Staying together can lead to specialization and division of labor, but the developmental program must evolve in the basic unit. Coming together can be creative by combining units with different properties. Research interests: the role that each mechanism plays in construction, their interplay, their outcomes and their relationships to different types of cooperation. In particular, we are interested in CT in microbial communities both theoretically and experimentally.
In homogeneous environments, due to intraspecific competition, termite mounds self-organize into a regular, overdispersed and static pattern. Because termites also change the properties of the soil on their mounds, making it more nutrient rich and also more capable of retaining water, they become hotspots of vegetation and change the rain-vegetation dynamic. Research interests: the effect of such spatial pattern on the productivity and stability of the ecosystem. Watch an animation illustrating these ideas.
The interaction structure of a population of conspecific individuals is often described by a static network; however, this is rarely the case. We are interested in networks of interactions that change as a consequence of the evolutionary dynamics. Research interests: how to best capture the dynamics of networks in various systems from cells to fish to humans and how to analytically describe their effect on the stability and persistence of the system.
Interactions between species are often studied pairwise and qualified as mutualistic, antagonistic, commensal. However, in many systems hosts can have multiple partners (e.g. multiple coexisting mutualists, coinfection with multiple parasites, gut bacteria) and the state of the interaction network can not be predicted from studying every pairwise interaction. Research interest: the study of networks of interacting individuals of different species, with a focus on one host - multiple partner interactions.