Social Insect Research Group

Arizona State University’s social insect research group (SIRG) studies the evolution and organization of insect societies from the level of the gene up to their ecology and evolution. Our research includes mechanistic studies of the neural and biochemical foundations of behavior and physiology, examined through questions aimed at understanding the evolution of social behavior.

The fundamental questions we ask include:

  • Why and how does sociality evolve?
  • What genes and mechanisms explain diversity in social animals, within and across species?
  • How does self-organization contribute to social evolution?
  • How does the central nervous system develop and change with experience?

Our research group combines classical behavioral and ecological approaches with a wide range of cutting-edge techniques at all levels of biological organization, including:

  • bio-imaging
  • computer simulations
  • electrophysiology
  • epigenetics
  • gas chromatography/mass spectrometry
  • genomics
  • metabolomics
  • transcriptomics​

We have a vibrant research environment, with ten core faculty and several affiliated faculty, as well as postdocs, graduate students and undergraduates all conducting research. SIRG faculty and students meet weekly to discuss ongoing projects and hear presentations from leading scientists from around the world.

Our diverse field projects occur internationally from the tropics of central and South America, to the rangelands of Asia and throughout the western U.S. These projects focus on the incredible diversity of social insect species in the desert Southwest.

Graduate students with the social insect research group regularly receive National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships, doctoral improvement grants, and major research honors such as the Eickwort award. Our graduate students are enrolled in PhD programs in animal behavior, biology, evolutionary biology and neuroscience. 

You will see publications from SIRG members regularly appear in journals such as SCIENCE, NATURE, PNAS, PLOS Biology, Current Biology and Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Research topics (social insects as a model)

  • Aging
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Bioimaging
  • Electrophysiology
  • Biomimicry
  • Caste determination
  • Climate change
  • Complexity and self-organization
  • Communication
  • Cooperation and conflict
  • Decision-making
  • Division of labor
  • Ecology of desert ants
  • Environmental contaminants/toxicology
  • Epigenetics
  • Evolutionary ecology
  • Learning & memory
  • Metabolism/metabolomics
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Scaling
  • Social evolution
  • Social physiology
  • Sociogenomics
  • Toxicology and stress (pesticides, fungicides, heavy metals, temperature)


  • Agent-based models (and mean field modeling)
  • Automated video analysis
  • Behavioral experimentation
  • Cell visualization techniques
  • Computational neuroscience
  • Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry
  • Genotyping for paternity
  • Histology and tomography
  • Linkage mapping
  • Locomotion kinematics/high speed video
  • Metabolic rate/metabolomics
  • QTL analyses
  • RNAi
  • RNAseq
  • Single sensillum recording
  • Standard molecular genetic tools

Research animals

Social insects

  • Acromyrmex
  • Apis mellifera, cerana, florea, dorsata
  • Aphaenogaster (=Novomessor)
  • Azteka
  • Camponotus
  • Harpegnathos
  • Messor
  • Pogonomyrmex
  • Stingless bees
  • Temnothorax
  • Veromessor
  • Zootermopsis
  • Plus others

Solitary insects

  • Beetles
  • Nasonia
  • Drosophila
  • Locust