The CORE group addresses proximate mechanisms and ultimate causes of social traits.

Evolution produces a great diversity of forms and functions. We study ants to understand evolution.

In particular, Cardiocondyla obscurior research (CORE) addresses a broad suite of questions pertaining to the proximate mechanisms and ultimate causes of social evolution from a hologenomic perspective.

In Cardiocondyla ants, wingless males stay in their maternal nest for life, mate with related young gynes and compete with other wingless or winged males over access to virgin queens. This mode of reproduction not only results in some remarkable biological implications but also allows for easy culturing, selective breeding and selection of phenotypic traits in the lab. In addition, individuals and colonies are small and generation time is short, making them a feasible model for laboratory-based research.

Current projects:

Speciation and genome evolution under extreme inbreeding

We study the generation of genetic variation in founder populations of this invasive ant.

Symbiotic/parasitic relationships
Exposure to novel habitats can lead to different biotic interactions, such as endosymbionts/parasites.

Genetic basis of behavioral traits
Intra-specific aggression in C. obscurior populationsis partly context-dependent and partly triggered by an intrinsic prevalence.

Phenotypic plasticity of four castes
C. obscurior exhibits plasticity in males as well, providing a unique system for studying phenotypic plasticity and caste-biased gene evolution.

Sex determination/differentiation in this inbred ant

is a complete puzzle at the moment.

Neurobiology of four castes

Together with the Simon Sprecher group a comprehensive neuroatlas for future studies on brain plasticity and behavioral traits is established. 

Fitness of ant queens
We study the molecular aspects of various factors affecting queen lifespan and fecundity.

Current staff:

Jan Oettler

Helena Lowak (Technical Assistent)

Dr. Eva Schultner

Tobias Weichselgartner (PhD cand.)

Cigdem Ün (PhD cand.)

Luisa Jaimes (PhD cand.)

Jennifer Wallner (MSc cand.)

Partners in science:

Simon Sprecher (sprecherlab.com)
Jürgen Gadau (gadau.lab.asu.edu)
John Wang (biodiv.sinica.edu.tw/en2007/index.php?pi=157)
Yannick Wurm (yannick.poulet.org)
Ehab Abouheif (biology.mcgill.ca/faculty/abouheif/‎)
Andrés Moya (http://www.uv.es/cavanilles/genevol/)


Interested students and scholars should get in touch with us



25) Oettler J, Platschek T, Schmidt C, Rajakumar R, Favé M-J, Khila A, Heinze J, Abouheif E (2018) The gene network underlying the male wing polyphenism evolved independently from the pre-existing female wing polyphenism in Cardiocondyla ants. J Exp Zool B accepted

24) Schultner E, Oettler J, Helanterä H (accepted) The role of brood in eusocial Hymenoptera. Quart Rev Biol

23) Schrader L, Helanterä H, Oettler J (2016) Accelerated evolution of developmentally biased genes in a tetraphenic ant. Mol Biol Evol doi:10.1093/molbev/msw240

22) Oettler J, Schrempf A (in press) Fitness and aging in Cardiocondyla obscurior ant queens. Curr Opin Insect Sci

21) Klein A, Schultner E, Lowak H, Schrader L, Heinze J, Holman L, Oettler J (2016) Evolution of social insect polyphenism facilitated by the sex differentiation cascade. PLOS Genetics doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005952

20) Seifert B, Buschinger A, Aldawood A, Antonova V, Bharti H, Borowiec L, Dekoninck W, Dubovikoff D, Espadaler X, Flegr J, Georgiadis C, Heinze J, Neumeyer R, Ødegaard F, Oettler J, Radchenko A, Schultz R, Sharaf M, Trager J, Vesnić A, Wiezik M, Zettel H (in press) Banning paraphylies and executing Linnaean taxonomy is discordant and reduces the evolutionary and semantic information content of biological nomenclature. Ins Soc

19) Oettler J, Nachtigal AL, Schrader L (2015) Expression of the foraging gene is associated with age polyethism, not task preference, in the ant Cardiocondyla obscurior. PLOS One doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144699

18) Wyschetzki K, Rueppell O, Oettler J, Heinze J (2015) Transcriptomic signatures mirror the lack of the fecundity/longevity trade-off in ant queens. Mol Biol Evol doi: 10.1093/molbev/msv186

17) Klein A, Schrader L, Gil R, Manzano-Marín, Flórez L, Wheeler D, Werren JH, Latorre A, Heinze J, Kaltenpoth M, Moya A, Oettler J (2015) A novel intracellular mutualistic bacterium in the invasive ant Cardiocondyla obscurior. The ISME Journal 1-13 doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.119

16) Schrempf A, Wyschetzki K, Klein A, Schrader L, Oettler J, Heinze J (2015) Mating with an allopatric male triggers immune response and decreases longevity of ant queens. Mol Ecol doi: 10.1111/mec.13267

15) Schrader L, Simola DF, Heinze J, Oettler J (2015) Sphingolipids, transcription factors, and conserved toolkit genes: developmental plasticity in the ant Cardiocondyla obscurior. Mol Biol Evol doi: 10.1093/molbev/msv039

14) Bressan J, Benz M, Oettler J, Heinze J, Hartenstein V, Sprecher SG (2015) A map of brain neuropils and fiber systems in the nat Cardiocondyla obscurior Front Neuroanat doi: 10.3389/fnana.2014.00166

13) Schrader L, Kim JW, Ence D, Zimin A, Klein K, Wyschetzki K, Weichselgartner T, Kemena C, Stökl J, Schultner E, Wurm Y, Smith CD, Yandell M, Heinze J, Gadau J, Oettler J (2014) Transposable element islands facilitate adaptation to novel environments in an invasive species. Nat. Commun. 5:5495 doi: 10.1038/ncomms6495

12) Oettler J, Dijkstra MB, Heinze J (2013) Egg-laying “intermorphs” in the ant Crematogaster smithi neither affect sexual production nor male parentage. PLoS One 8 p. e75278 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075278

11) Oettler J, Schmid VS, Zankl N, Rey O, Dress A, Heinze J. (2013) Fermat's principle of least time predicts refraction of ant trails at substrate borders PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e59739 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059739

10) Will S, Delabie JH, Heinze J, Ruther J, Oettler J (2012) Cuticular lipid profiles of fertile and non-fertile Cardiocondyla ant queens. J. Insect Physiol 58: 1245-1249 doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2012.06.009

9) Wurm Y, Wang J, Riba-Grognuz O, Corona M, Nygaard S, Hunt BG, Ingram KK, Falquet L, Nipitwattanaphon M, Gotzek D, Dijkstra MB, Oettler J, Comtesse F, Shih CJ, Wu WJ, Yang CC, Thomas J, Beaudoing E, Pradervand S, Flegel V, Cook ED, Fabbretti R, Stockinger H, Long L, Farmerie WG, Oakey J, Boomsma JJ, Pamilo P, Yi SV, Heinze J, Goodisman MA, Farinelli L, Harshman K, Hulo N, Cerutti L, Xenarios I, Shoemaker D, Keller L (2011) The genome of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108(14):5679-84 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1009690108

8) Oettler J, Suefuji M, Heinze J (2010) The evolution of alternative reproductive tactics in male Cardiocondyla ants.Evolution 64: 3310–3317 doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.01090.x

7) Foucaud J, Orivel J, Loiseau A, Delabie JHC, Jourdan H, Konghouleux D, Vonshak M, Tindo M, Mercier JL, Fresneau D, Mikissa JB, McGlynn T, Mikheyev AS, Oettler J, Estoup A (2010) Worldwide invasion by the little fire ant: routes of introduction and eco-evolutionary pathways. Evolutionary Applications 3:363–374 doi: 10.1111/j.1752-4571.2010.00119.x.

6) Oettler J, Heinze J (2009) Polymorphism of female reproductives in the tramp ant Technomyrmex vitiensis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Dolichoderinae). Myrm News 12: 133-137

5) Oettler J, Johnson RA. (2009) The Old Ladies of the Seed Harvester ant Pogonomyrmex rugosus: Foraging Performed by Two Groups of Workers. J Insect Behav 22:217-226.

4) Suefuji M, Cremer, S, Oettler J, Heinze J (2008) Queen number influences the timing of the sexual production in colonies of Cardiocondyla ants.Biol Lett 4: 670–673 doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0355.

3) Oettler J, Schmitt T, Herzner G, Heinze J. (2008) Chemical profiles of mated and virgin queens, egg-laying intermorphs and workers of the ant Crematogaster smithi. J Insect Physiol. 2008 Apr;54(4):672-9 doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2008.01.004

2) Smith CR, Oettler J, Kay A, Deans C (2007) First recorded mating flight of the hypogaic ant, Acropyga epedana, with its obligate mutualist mealybug, Rhizoecus colombiensis. J Ins Sci 7:11 doi: 10.1673/031.007.1101.

1) Gadau J, Strehl CP, Oettler J, Hölldobler B. (2003) Determinants of intracolonial relatedness in Pogonomyrmex rugosus (Hymenoptera; Formicidae): mating frequency and brood raids. Mol Ecol 2003 12:1931-1938.