Scott A Schneider
Joint OEB/Entomology PhD Candidate
B.S., Rowan University, 2007
M.S., Towson University, 2010
Scale insect systematics, mutualism, domestication, ant agricultural associations
My research interests center around the evolution of symbiosis, the dynamics of mutualism, and domestication in non-human agricultural systems using associations between ants and scale insects as model systems. Ant agricultural mutualisms are common, relatively well studied, and receive a great deal of attention from the public due to their similarity to human agriculture. Documented ant-agricultural practices include interactions comparable to crop farming (e.g. among the attine ants and their fungal cultivars) and dairy farming (between ants and various other insect groups) for honeydew. My work has helped to reveal that the repertoire of ant agriculture may also include farming animals for meat, a practice once thought to be an exclusively human phenomenon. These “meat farming” relationships exist between Melissotarsus ants and various species of armored scale insects (Hemiptera: Diaspididae) found across Africa and Madagascar.
I think that meat farming among ants makes for more than just an interesting case of natural history; these relationships are based upon antagonistic predator/prey interactions at the level of individuals but demonstrate properties of stable mutualism at the level of populations. Entire clades of armored scale insects have evolved that specialize on ant association. What are the properties of ant/diaspidid relationships that may be important for lending stability to their interactions? Why do diaspidids benefit more from associating with their predator than they would in their predator’s absence? How commonly might this type of mutualism be found in nature?
I have taken a multidisciplinary approach to addressing these questions. I combine traditional taxonomy and molecular phylogenetics with dietary studies involving stable isotopic analyses and molecular approaches. I would like to further expand upon these explorations by incorporating the use of genomic data into studies of selection on diaspidid populations in association with ants.