Scheme: Newton International Fellowships
Organisation: University of Oxford
Dates: Feb 2016-Feb 2018
Summary: Evolution is usually regarded as a brutal struggle for existence, yet everywhere we look in nature we see cooperation, both within and between species. In fact, without cooperation between species, or mutualisms, many species could never survive. However, their existence remains a puzzle. Why would an organism invest in a partnership rather than cheat and take its benefits without contributing? How did mutualisms evolve? Why do some remain stable, while others collapse? In my Newton International Fellowship, I will focus on addressing these questions. We can only know what drove the rise of mutualisms if we know their history: where and when did cooperation evolve? Therefore, I will study the ancient past of cooperation between species. I will use modern computer and mathematical methods to reconstruct the evolutionary history of mutualisms. I can then use these historical accounts to reveal what factors enabled stable cooperation between species. Additionally, I am interested in the evolution of eusocial (insect) societies, where workers forego reproduction to help a queen. During my Newton International Fellowship, I will study historical factors driving ancient transitions to eusociality in insects. This will help us to further understand how cooperation in nature can arise and endure.