Current Research Program:
The purpose of my research program is to use
integrated genetic, ecological and phylogenetic approaches to study
social evolution across all levels in the hierarchy of life, from
genes, to cells, to organisms, to social systems, and to the brain.
In my lab we currently focus on several of the
outstanding questions in evolutionary biology, including the evolution
of social behaviour, the evolution of human health and disease, the
evolution of placentation and maternal-fetal conflict, the evolution of
trophic interactions, and the roles of genetics, ecology and geography
in speciation and adaptive radiation.
To analyze the evolution of social behaviour, we use
a large clade of Australian insects, gall-forming Thysanoptera (thrips)
on Acacia, which exhibit a suite of traits making them ideal for
partitioning of the roles of genetic systems, female-biased sex ratios,
and ecology in the evolution of cooperation and eusociality. These
studies involve a combination of fieldwork in outback Australia,
systematic and taxonomic analyses, and laboratory studies using DNA
technologies. See my book on Acacia thrips (Crespi
et al. 2004) for details (paper 83 in selected publications list).
We are studying the evolutionary biology of human health and
disease by analyzing the evolutionary-genetic bases of the major human
diseases that are mediated in part by genomic conflicts: placental
disorders, cancer, autism, and schizophrenia. I am also writing a
book on the Evolutionary Biology of the Social Brain.
We are analyzing the genetics, ecology and geography
of speciation using species of walking-sticks in the genus Timema,
which exhibit a set of characteristics, including crypsis,
genetically-based color polymorphisms, variable degrees of host-plant
specificity, and obligate and facultative parthenogenesis, that make
them ideal for a combined phylogenetic and ecological attack on these
questions. These studies are being conducted in collaboration with Cris
Sandoval, Tanja Schwander, and Patrik Nosil.
We are studying the evolution of maternal-fetal
conflict over resources in mammals, via phylogenetic comparative
analyses of placental and maternal traits, and connecting placental
invasiveness with aspects of mammalian life history and
See the FAB-LAB website and my current publication list for additional topics of research in my lab.