Research in the Barden Lab is typically centered around understanding patterns of diversity, ecological impact, and the evolution of complex behavior in eusocial insects such as ants and termites. We also use social insects as a system for testing concepts related to the integration of paleontological and genetic data, as well as exploring how to incorporate novel technologies into evolutionary and ecological research.
Social Insect Evolution
Over the past 100 million years social insects — ants and termites in particular — have reshaped the planet. One goal in this area is to document patterns of diversification and extinction among social insects and better understand the factors that lead to differential success among eusocial lineages.
paleontology in the 21st century
The vast majority of species on Earth (about 99.9% of them) have gone extinct. While there are numerous well-supported methods for reconstructing or inferring the history of life, fossils remain the only direct window into ancient biodiversity. From discovery and description to contextualization and data collection, we work to better understand lost lineages.
biological imaging & Functional Morphology
In an effort to extract as much phenotypic data as possible from fossil and modern insect specimens, we increasingly turn to X-ray and confocal imaging as well as 3D reconstruction. In so doing, we can uncover internal features of living species, or recreate the behavior of those trapped in amber.
Most of our work is inherently specimen-based, and so we are often engaged in fieldwork to collect modern species and fossil material. Collection sites range from urban environments in the New York metro area to rainforests and strip mines.
To understand the genetic underpinnings of modern and fossil diversity, we turn to comparative genomics. By comparing molecular (DNA) data across multiple species, we hope to contribute to discoveries related to the complex relationship between genotype and phenotype.