Faculty Profiles

James Traniello

James F. A. Traniello

Professor of Biology

PhD, Harvard University, 1980
Areas of interest: behavior, ecology and evolution of social insects; neuroethology; social brain evolution; behavioral development and senescence; evolution of division of labor
(617) 353-2832

Current Research

Social insects are exemplars of biological complexity and are among the most evolutionarily successful and ecologically dominant animals on earth. We study the behavioral mechanisms and neural basis of social organization and the ecology and genetics of colonies and populations of social insects, with an emphasis on caste, division of labor and brain evolution. Darwin’s sense of wonder was excited by the ant brain’s capability of “extraordinary mental activity with an extremely small absolute mass of nervous matter.” We feel the same way. By exploring the neuroanatomy and neurochemistry of social behavior using immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy, high-performance liquid chromatography and pharmacological interventions to examine the regulation of task performance and behavioral development, we seek to understand the neural basis of social structure in light of ecology and evolution. Our integrative studies connect sociobiology, neurobiology and ecology to understand the selective forces associated with social brain evolution in ants, and how the brain meets the demands of processing complex information at the level of the individual and society as a whole. Current research centers on the hyperdiverse ant genus Pheidole, leaf-cutter ants and Australian weaver ants. We are also interested in social mechanisms of disease resistance and tropical ant diversity, behavior and ecology.

Courses Taught

  • BI 119 Sociobiology
  • BI 225 Introduction to Behavioral Biology

Selected Publications

  • Ilies, I., Muscedere, M.L., and Traniello, J.F.A. (2015) Neuroanatomical and morphological trait clusters in the ant genus Pheidole: evidence for modularity and integration in brain structure. Brain Behav. Evol. 85:63–76.
  • Muscedere, ML, Gronenberg W, Moreau CM and Traniello JFA (2014)  Investment in higher-order central processing regions is not constrained by brain size in social insects.  Proc. Roy. Soc. B. 281 1784. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0217
  • Giraldo YM and Traniello JFA (2014) Worker senescence and the sociobiology of aging in ants.  Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 68: 1901-1919.
  • Giraldo Y, Patel E, Gronenberg W, Traniello JFA (2013) Worker subcaste division of labor and structural plasticity in an extrinsic serotonin-like immunoreactive mushroom body neuron in the ant Pheidole dentata. Neuroscience Letters 534: 107-111.
  • Kamhi JF, Traniello JFA (2013) Biogenic amines and collective organization in a superorganism: neuromodulation of social behavior in ants. Brain Behav. Evol. 82:220-236.
  • Muscedere ML, Traniello JFA (2012) Division of labor in the hyperdiverse ant genus Pheidole is associated with distinct patterns of worker brain organization. PLoS One 7: e31618.
  • Muscedere ML, Johnson N, Kamhi JF, Gillis BC, Traniello JFA (2012) Serotonin modulates worker responsiveness to trail pheromone in the ant Pheidole dentata. J. Comp. Physiol. A 198: 219-227.
  • Mertl AL, Traniello JFA (2009) Behavioral evolution in the major worker subcaste of twig-nesting Pheidole (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): does morphological specialization influence task plasticity? Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 63:1411-1426.

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