How mutualism, cooperation between different species, evolves and remains stable over evolutionary time, are major outstanding questions in evolutionary biology. To address these questions, I have adopted subterranean ant-trophobiont-microbe interaction networks as study systems. My research is organized in the following four research lines, of which three are empirically and one is theoretically focused.
Ant-trophobiont ecological interaction networks
Using DNA barcoding and morphology, I map specificity in subterranean networks of ants, trophobionts (aphids and mealybugs), their gut bacteria and the trophobionts’ host trees.
Microbiomes in ant-trophobiont mutualisms
Both ants and their trophobionts have specialized bacteria in their gut that facilitate nutrient uptake and excretion. I study bacterial presence and diversity and what role the microbiome plays in ant-trophobiont mutualism.
Partner choice in ant-trophobiont mutualisms
This theme ties the previous two together. The prime commodity of ant-trophobiont mutualisms is ‘honeydew’, the sugary excrement of aphids. I study whether the ants’ preference for certain aphids can be influenced by the ants’ and trophobionts’ gut bacteria.
Universal patterns in mutualistic networks
Using computer simulations, I study whether some network architectures may favor mutualism evolutionary stability over others and whether networks can be modulated by organisms that are not directly involved in the mutualism.
Ivens ABF, von Beeren C, Bluethgen N, Kronauer DJC (2016) Studying the complex communities of ants and their symbionts using ecological network analysis. Annual Review of Entomology. 61: 353-371.
Ivens ABF (2015) Cooperation and conflict in ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) farming mutualisms – a review. Myrmecological News. 21: 19-36.
Werner GDA, Strassman JE, Ivens ABF, Engelmoer DJP, Verbruggen E, Queller DC, Noë R, Johnson NC, Hammerstein P, Kiers ET (2014) Evolution of microbial markets. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 111(4): 1237-1244.
Ivens ABF, Kronauer DJC, Pen I, Weissing FJ, Boomsma JJ (2012) Ants farm subterranean aphids mostly in single clone groups – an example of prudent husbandry for carbohydrates and proteins? BMC Evolutionary Biology. 12: 106.
Ivens ABF, Kronauer DJC, Pen I, Weissing FJ, Boomsma JJ (2012) Reproduction and dispersal in an ant-associated root aphid community. Molecular Ecology. 21(17): 4257-4269.
Personal website: www.aniek.nyc
Radiointerviews Met het Oog op Morgen
29 July 2017
‘De onstuitbare Rode vuurmier’
28 November 2016
‘Mieren zijn uitstekende boeren’
Say ‘yes, and’ to communication. Science Careers. June 2017
Improv for science communication with Aniek Ivens. Sociobiology Blog. June 2017
Mutualism: lessons from ants and aphids
Interview at Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, Stony Brook University, NY.