Ants, Plants, and Bacteria: Symbiosis as a Driver of Evolutionary Diversification


Friday, 8 September, 2017 - 15:00


Mathews Theatre C, Mathews Building, UNSW Kensington Campus


Evolution and Ecology Research Centre

Type of event: 


To fully understand the macroevolutionary factors that have promoted the diversification and persistence of biological diversity varied tools and disciplines must be integrated. By combining data from several fields including molecular phylogenetics/phylogenomics, comparative genomics, biogeographic range reconstruction, stable isotope analyses, and microbial community sequencing to study the evolutionary history of the insects, we are beginning to understand the drivers of speciation and the interconnectedness of life. Molecular phylogenetic analyses are providing a stable framework for the ant tree of life and divergence dating suggests that the ants originated ~140 million years ago and diversified after the rise of the angiosperms (Moreau et al. 2006; Moreau 2009; Moreau & Bell 2011; Moreau & Bell 2013; Blanchard & Moreau 2017).

Biogeographic range reconstruction suggests that the Neotropics were historically (museum) and continue (cradle) to be an important geographic region for the evolution of the ants (Moreau & Bell 2013). Comparative genomics has permitted the exploration of the role of symbiosis on genome evolution and behavioral gene evolution (Rubin & Moreau 2016) demonstrating that Red Queen dynamics are at play in obligate mutualisms. While studies combining stable isotope analysis to infer the trophic ecology of the ants and next-generation sequencing of gut-associated bacteria of ants highlight the importance of this microbiome association in the evolution of herbivory (Russell, Moreau et al. 2009; Kautz et al. 2013; Moreau & Rubin 2017).

These multiple lines of evidence are illuminating a more complete picture of ant evolution and providing novel insights into the role that symbiosis plays to promote biological diversity.


Dr Corrie Moreau earned her PhD in Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University and was a Miller Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. Before this she completed her undergraduate and Master's degrees in Biology at San Francisco State University. Currently Dr Moreau is a tenured Associate Curator/Professor at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. She is also a Faculty Member and Lecturer at the University of Chicago in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology. Moreau was elected a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in 2016. 

Dr Moreau's research on the evolution and diversification of ants and their endosymbiotic bacteria leverages molecular and genomic tools to address the origin of species and how co-evolved systems benefit both partners. In addition, she pursues questions on the role of biogeography and symbiosis in shaping macroevolutionary processes to better understand broad-scale evolutionary patterns of life. In addition to her passion for scientific research, Dr Moreau is also engaged with efforts to promote science communication and increase diversity in science.