GEE welcomes Seirian Sumner, Reader in Behavioural Ecology, CBER, UCL
28 October 2016
We are delighted to announce that Seirian Sumner, formally a Senior Lecturer at Bristol, has joined CBER (the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research) as a Reader in Behavioural Ecology.
Some of the questions that her group are currently working on, and look forward to expanding in this field include: How does behaviour facilitate plastic responses to a changing environment? What are the mechanisms underpinning behavioural responses to the environment? How does behaviour contribute to biodiversity? When is behavioural plasticity limited, and how?
Why do animals live together in societies? How did this evolve, and what are the mechanisms by which sociality and social behaviour arise? Dr Sumner's research focuses on understanding the mechanisms, ultimate consequences and limits of behavioural (phenotypic) plasticity and how these relate to life in a changing environment. Her group use social insects and their castes as models for an experimental approach that exploits the most recent advances in molecular techniques and state-of-the-art field monitoring technology.
Why social insects? Sociality has evolved independently at least 11 times in the Hymenoptera, resulting in a diverse array of species with societies that range widely in their degree of complexity, phenotypic plasticity and biodiversity. Dr Sumner's research exploits this remarkable radiation in order to understand how phenotypic and behavioural diversity is produced, determine what facets of this biodiversity account for an individual's behaviour, and explore how this influences their ecology and resilience to environmental change. These are addressed at proximate (e.g. what genes underpin these behaviours?) and ultimate (e.g. what fitness benefits to these behaviours offer?) levels through integrating genetics, transcriptomics, proteomics and epigenetics with behavioural ecology on wild populations of non-model organisms. This approach therefore unites the rapidly expanding field of sociogenomics with field ecology: this cross-fertilisation of approaches has the potential to uncover facets of behaviour that are not discernable via classical behavioural ecology approaches.