My research

I am an evolutionary biologist interested in behaviour.

Specifically, I have an interest for dynamics: when we go beyond starting conditions, can we still make effective predictions of the evolutionary trajectory? Behaviour is one of the products of evolution that most has the potential to generate new, additional dynamics as it evolves.

Project #1: Evolution of collective behaviour and self-organisation

At the moment, I am working on collective nest building in a European species of ant. This behaviour relies on self-organisation, a set of mechanisms that coordinate individual actions based on shared simple rules and on feedback loops. I am asking how well self-organisation deals with the complexity of inter-individual differences and of ecological noise. To do this, I need further information on the function of the nest and the mechanisms that enable creating it. I combine experimental observations of building behaviour with agent-based modelling (ABM).

# Question: how does self-organisation cope with noise?


Project #2: Early-career Social Learning Researchers (ESLR)

I am co-founder of the ESLR, an early-career society focused on social learning and cultural evolution (btw, cultural evolution is a relatively new – in history of biology terms – study field where you see the reciprocal influence of evolutionary dynamics and behaviour). We are also keen on providing training resources for early-career researchers, including workshops, and we want to start talking about issues in research careers, such as work-life balance, low PhD pay, poor training, double-body problem, etc. You know the drill. If one of these topics resonates with you, check us out.

Goals:

# Creating an interdisciplinary network of researchers in social learning

# Pushing the discussion on more balanced work models for academic researchers, particularly ECRs


Project #3: Using genetic algorithms to study fitness landscapes

Fitness landscapes are a core concept in adaptation. Finally, thanks to the developments in ‘omics technologies in the last two decades, the first empirical fitness landscapes are being described. However, the theoretical study of their properties has so far being restricted to mathematically heavy models that are not of easy access to biologically trained researchers. I have found an engineering modelling tool, designed for complex problem solution optimisation, that is based on the evolutionary process and I think we can usefully apply it to the study of evolutionary trajectories on virtually any landscape. Stay tuned for updates (ms almost ready for submission…). By the way, if I have taken anything home from this project, it’s that I don’t agree with the use of the term ‘landscape’ in this sense any more.

# Question: Can we make the study of fitness landscapes more accessible?


Project #4: Evolution of marital residence traditions

This is the project that has been closest to my heart, because it deals with culture. Unfortunately, it has been abandoned for lack of funding and consequent lack of dedicated time. Human populations historically have had different traditions regarding where a couple should reside after their wedding: neolocality, where they separate from both families of origin, is what we WEIRD do now and is a strategy that has become more and more common across the world in the past century. Before then, however, patrilocality – where couples resided with the husband’s original family – was the most common tradition in Europe and, for example, among Han Chinese. Other traditions were and sometimes still are typical of other cultures. What influences the emergence of different marital residence customs? Costs and cheaters might have to do with it.

# Question: Does biological fitness underlie marital residence traditions?