Columbia University in the City of New York

Mar 21, 20234:00 pm

Columbia Neuroscience Seminar - Joseph Parker

On the origin of species (interactions)

March 21st, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm at the Jerome L. Greene Science Center (9th floor lecture hall)


Joseph Parker, PHD
Assistant Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering

On the origin of species (interactions)


Organisms exist within communities of other interacting species, but knowledge of the mechanisms underlying these relationships, and the evolutionary forces that shape them, is fragmentary. My lab has pioneered the study of rove beetles (Staphylinidae) as a model clade to explore basic questions regarding how organisms interact across species boundaries, and how and why these interactions have emerged during evolution to create the biosphere around us. Rove beetles are tiny insects that are easily overlooked. Yet, they are virtuoso models for studying how species interact with each other and evolve new ways of doing so. Most of the >66,000 known rove beetle species are free-living predators, inhabiting leaf litter and soil habitats spanning the globe. From this ancestral lifestyle, however, hundreds of lineages have transformed into remarkable symbiotic organisms, specialized for life as impostors inside the complex societies of ants. The transition from free-living to symbiotic embodies evolution in the extreme, with dramatic changes in social behavior and chemical communication that enable the beetles to assimilate into the social fabric of host colonies. The widespread, convergent evolution of this form of symbiosis, combined with the experimental tractability of both free- living and symbiotic rove beetles, provides a unique system for understanding both how and why novel ecological relationships are forged by evolution. We are striving to understand all facets of rove beetles and their interactions with ants, from both mechanistic and evolutionary perspectives. We focus on the brains and behavior of these beetles to comprehend how their social interactions with ants are controlled and have evolved at the level of sensorimotor circuitry. In conjunction, we investigate the evolution of specialized biosynthetic pathways and cell types that these beetles possess, which have enabled them to chemically communicate with ants and integrate inside their colonies. In this talk, I will discuss how our work is moving towards an integrated picture of how animals have evolved to recognize and interact with each other as they navigate the living world.

Host Information: Tessa Montague ([email protected])


The Columbia Neuroscience Seminar series is a collaborative effort of Columbia's Zuckerman Institute, the Department of Neuroscience, the Doctoral Program in Neurobiology and Behavior and the Columbia Translational Neuroscience Initiative, and with support from the Kavli Institute for Brain Science.

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