Simons Foundation Presidential Lectures

SF Presidential Lecture: Retracing the Evolutionary Steps Toward Symbiosis

Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium/2-GDFA (160 5th Avenue)

Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium/2-GDFA

160 5th Avenue


The biosphere is a network of interacting species that connects organisms across all scales, from microbes to mammals. Knowledge of the mechanisms underlying these relationships, and the evolutionary forces that shape them, is fragmentary.

In this lecture, Joe Parker will describe how his lab pioneered the study of rove beetles as a model clade to break open basic problems in organismal interactions. While most of the 66,000 rove beetle species are free-living predators, hundreds of lineages have transformed into symbiotic organisms specialized for life as imposters within the complex societies of ants. The widespread, convergent evolution of this form of symbiosis, combined with the experimental tractability of both free-living and symbiotic rove beetles, provides a virtuoso system for understanding both how and why novel ecological relationships are forged by evolution. Parker will discuss how his lab’s work on rove beetles is creating an integrated picture of how species recognize and interact with each other, illuminating the conditions that predispose such interactions to emerge, and pinpointing forces that shape the evolutionary path towards obligate and highly intimate relationships between species.

Speaker Bio:
Originally from Wales in the United Kingdom, Parker is a lifelong entomologist who transformed a childhood interest in beetles into his laboratory’s research program. He obtained a B.Sc. in zoology from Imperial College London, a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University before joining Caltech in 2017. His lab is pioneering the study of rove beetles and their interactions with social insects to understand how relationships between species emerge during evolution.

Doors open: 5:30 p.m. (No entrance before 5:30 p.m.)
Lecture: 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. (Admittance closes at 6:20 p.m.)