The Hughes Lab studies evolutionary biology and behavioural ecology. We are particularly interested in the evolutionary biology of sociality, symbiosis and sex. Understanding the evolution of sociality, symbiosis and sex may at first sight seem quite different problems, but in all of these extremely intimate relationships, individuals are faced with the same basic challenge of needing to utilise other individuals for their own ultimately selfish ends. Sociality, symbiosis and sex are therefore all characterised by a delicate balancing act of cooperation and conflict between the interacting individuals. Some interactions, such as ant colonies or sexual reproduction, may outwardly seem models of cooperation but are in reality ridden by conflict. Others that appear paradigms of conflict, such as parasite infections, may include elements of cooperation.

We are also interested in understanding animal behaviour in general, from the proximate mechanisms that produce the behaviour through to the ultimate reasons for its evolution. We are particularly interested in the evolution and implications of individual variation in behaviour, including genotypic variation and animal ‘personalities’.

While much of our work is fundamental in nature, we are also interested in using our science to produce applied impact, either in the conservation of species which are threatened such as bumblebees and white sharks, or in the management of pest species such as leaf-cutting ants and mealybugs.

Our research methods include lab and field experiments, a variety of molecular and microbiological techniques, and comparative analyses. Our study organisms include social insects, sharks, and a diversity of parasitic and mutualistic microbes.


William Hughes

Professor of Evolutionary Biology

University of Sussex
JMS Building 5B25


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