The study of reproductive regulation and reproductive skew, the focus of my research, is integral to untangling the evolution of sociality in the animal kingdom and this reproductive division of labour is one of the most significant features of social organisation. The Hymenoptera are ideal tools in studying the proximate and ultimate mechanisms of sociality since there is a continuum from solitary all the way through to highly eusocial hymenopterans. My research focuses primarily on the highly eusocial honeybee but I also work on the more primitive ponerine ant which has lost it's queen caste providing a unique system to study dominance hierarchies and reproductive regulation.
A large part of my research focuses on the chemical communication system within honeybee societies. The study of pheromones within the social insects is not a new discipline yet the influences of honeybee/ant semiochemicals are not fully understood. The BCRG (Behavioural and Communication Research Group) is interested in analysing and identifying, through gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, the signalling systems used by social insects in maintaining colony co-ordination and functioning. The approaches of quantifying the responses of honeybees to a particular signal are multi-faceted with behavioural and physiological analysis, experimental as well as fieldwork.
Understanding the various aspects of reproductive regulation and how they may interact with each other remains an enigma, and forms the underlying theme of my research interests.