Research

Research Overview

I am an evolutionary ecologist with broad interests.

imageI have always been fascinated with the natural world and with all branches of science. As an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois, I studied cell and molecular biology and learned wet lab skills as a research assistant. But a semester in Ecuador and a research experience working with Martin Wikleski on marine iguanas in the Galápagos Islands got me hooked on two things: organismal biology and tropical field work—two themes that have subsequently pervaded my life.

My dissertation research with Ulrich Mueller at the University of Texas at Austin examined how geography influences population genetic structure in leafcutting ants and their symbiotic fungi, a project that took me across much of Central and South America. I also worked on ant diversity projects on tropical islands, including Cocos Island and Fiji.

21EBADC0-9166-456F-BA1B-8A3B562C80BFAfter completing my dissertation, an IRFP postdoctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation permitted me to continue working on the evolutionary history of tropical ants, in particular the genus Trachymyrmex. I was based first in Mauricio Bacci, Jr.’s lab at Universidade Estadual Paulista in Rio Claro, Brazil. This served as a convenient base for field expeditions across all of the major biomes in Brazil, the world’s most biologically diverse nation.

After a year of fieldwork, I returned to the United States and was hosted by the Entomology Department of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC where I worked with Ted Schultz and others to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the higher attines, including Trachmyrmex and the leafcutters.

In October of 2009, I moved to Rice University as a teaching faculty member. Although my primary focus has been on undergraduate education, I continue to conduct research on the evolution of fungus-growing ants and their symbiotic partners through collaborations with colleagues in the USA and Brazil. I have also begun new projects that include developing a new model for the biogeographic basis of speciation in Amazonia and an examination of ant community dynamics in the Big Thicket region of east Texas. In addition, in several of my courses we have begun collecting data in a systematic, repeatable fashion that I hope will develop into long-term data sets that contribute knowledge in addition to teaching valuable skills.

Much of my research involves undergraduate students (for more information about getting involved in my lab, contact me at scott.solomon [at] rice.edu).