Brown Bag Lunch Lecture – May 18, 2017

The benefits and costs of cooperation in societies:

perspectives from a social insect specialist.

presented by Dr. Jessica Purcell, UCR

Social insects have successfully spread into most environments on earth, and exhibit a tremendous variety of lifestyles and social structures.  It is fascinating what diversity of strategies have evolved in these tiny societies, that allow these insects to exploit resources and compete successfully from Arctic to tropical latitudes. In this talk, Dr. Purcell will focus on two components of her research.  First, the geographic patterns in the distribution of alternative social forms in spiders and ants, and what these patterns reveal about the environmental factors that shape insect societies.  Second, how insect societies cooperate to overcome major environmental hurdles.  Specifically, she will explain research on the formation of complex structures, such as ant rafts, that improve group survival during emergencies.  She will also describe new research directions that are focusing on the social life and ecology of our local desert ants.


Dr. Purcell was thrilled to learn that she could put her curiosity about the natural world to good use during her undergraduate studies in biology at Williams College in rural Massachusetts.  Upon the advice of her mentors, she spent the first couple of years after graduation living abroad and conducting research on declining Andean woodlands and migratory Arctic geese in Bolivia and Sweden, respectively.  She then returned to graduate school at the University of British Columbia, with the goal of understanding why a small number of spider species form highly cooperative social groups.  Dr. Purcell’s fascination with tiny societies continued with a postdoc on ant sociality at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and she now runs a lab at UC Riverside studying the causes and consequences of cooperation in social insects including native and invasive ants and wasps, and, occasionally, social spiders.


Bring your lunch, bring your friends, or just bring yourself to our Brown Bag Lunch Lecture Series once a month.  Speakers will present topics of special interest for high desert residents. The lectures start at 12:00 p.m. Admission is $ 5 – Free for Members/Sponsors – beverages will be served.