Life Sciences

Social Insects

Module code: C1139
Level 6
15 credits in autumn teaching
Teaching method: Lecture
Assessment modes: Unseen examination, Coursework

The eusocial insects comprise approximately 20,000 species of ants, termites, bees and wasps. Eusociality in these groups has evolved 20­-100 million years ago on approximately 10 occasions and has given rise to highly ­organized societies with up to 20 million individuals. Eusocial insects are of great economic and ecological importance. They are also key model systems in many important areas of biology.

The module is divided into several parts:

1) general background material on social insects, focusing in greater detail on four contrasting areas in which research on social insects is particularly active

2) inclusive fitness theory and relatedness

3) how insect societies are organised

4) another special topic relevant to social insect biology, such as mutualisms and symbioses involving social insects; the ecological importance of social insects; the evolution of eusociality in insects; or using social insects to investigate sensory physiology (topics will vary each year)

There will also be two laboratory sessions from a range including: the honey bee waggle dance, nestmate recognition and guarding in honey bees, organisation of ant trail systems, and reproductive queueing in Polistes wasps.

Module learning outcomes

  • Have a broad general knowledge of social insects and be able to understand, conceptually and with examples how reproductive conflicts among individuals and groups within insect societies arise and are resolved and how insect societies are organised.
  • Be able to apply inclusive fitness theory in the context of conflict and conflict resolution within insect societies and to calculate levels of relatedness.
  • Produce written information on scientific subjects in formats appropriate for non-scientific and scientific audiences
  • Understand and use methods for collecting behavioural data from social insects, such as in honey bee dancing, ant foraging trails, and wasp behaviour.