Timothy Linksvayer

Assistant Professor of Biology
Neurobiology, Behavior, and Physiology
Genetics, Epigenetics, Genomics

Ph.D., Indiana University, 2005

Research Interests: 


evolutionary genetics, evolutionary ecology, social evolution


My research integrates empirical approaches with theory to study the evolution and genetic basis of complex social systems. I use social insects as a study system because they are exemplar social systems and are also well-established models for themes of social evolution research, such as the evolution of cooperation and conflict.




A major goal of biology is to understand the genetic and molecular basis and evolution of complex phenotypes at all levels of biological organization. To achieve this goal, the genetic and molecular basis and fitness consequences of phenotypic variation must be fully characterized, and evolutionary genetic models must be developed to study how evolution shapes phenotypic variation within and between populations. However, ubiquitous interactions between genes, social partners, and ecological community members complicate each of these steps. For example, with social interactions, the genotype-phenotype map is complicated because the environment is provided in part by social partners, and hence the environment has a genetic component and can itself evolve.

The evolution of complex social systems: developing an ant model system


Unlike most ants, the pharaoh ant Monomorium pharaonis readily mates in the lab, has a relatively short generation time, and inbred lineages can be maintained indefinitely. Thus, this species presents a unique model to study the genetic basis and evolution of complex social systems. It further provides a unique opportunity to experimentally study the evolutionary process in a social insect, and test longstanding assumptions and predictions of social evolution theory. I am using emerging ant genomic, functional genomic, and quantitative genetic tools, together with M. pharaonis stocks developed in collaboration with AM Schmidt, JJ Boomsma, and JS Pedersen (U. Copenhagen), to study the full genetic and molecular basis of complex social systems.



The evolution of complex ecological systems


Organisms exist in an ecological community context as well as a social context, and interspecific interactions can strongly influence trait expression and coevolutionary dynamics. In collaboration with Ulrich Mueller (U. Texas Austin) I am extending interacting phenotypes models to study the evolution of complex coevolving ecological systems. We use the fungus growing ant-fungus-microbe-pathogen community, which has become a model system for studying coevolution.





Evolutionary genetic and evolutionary ecology theory


I am also broadly interested in evolutionary theory, including the evolution of genetic architecture of complex traits, the evolution of cooperation and conflict, and the evolutionary importance of all forms of interactions in complex systems.


Selected Publications: 


Rueppell, O, JD Metheny, TA Linksvayer, MK Fondrk, RE Page Jr. The genetic architecture of ovary size and asymmetry in European honey bee (Apis mellifera, L.) workers. Heredity, in press.


Van Dyken, JD, TA Linksvayer, MJ Wade. Kin selection-mutation balance: A model for the origin, maintenance, and consequences of social cheating. American Naturalist, in press.


van Zweden, JS, JF Brask, JH Christensen, JJ Boomsma, TA Linksvayer, P d’Ettore. 2010. Blending of heritable recognition cues among ant nestmates creates distinct colony gestalt odors but prevents within-colony nepotism. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 23: 1498-1508.


Johnson, BR, TA Linksvayer. 2010. Deconstructing the superorganism: social physiology, reproductive groundplans, and sociogenomics. The Quarterly Review of Biology 85: 57-79.


Linksvayer, TA, O Rueppell, O Kaftanoglu, GV Amdam, RE Page Jr. 2009. The genetic basis of transgressive ovary size in honey bee workers. Genetics 183: 693-707.


Anderson, KE, CR Smith, TA Linksvayer, BM Mott, J Gadau, JH Fewell. 2009. Modeling the maintenance of a dependent lineage system: the influence of positive frequency dependent selection on sex ratio. Evolution 63: 2142-2152.


Linksvayer, TA, MJ Wade. 2009. Genes with social effects are expected to harbor more sequence variation within and between species. Evolution 63: 1685-1696.


Linksvayer, TA, MK Fondrk, RE Page Jr. 2009. Colony-level selection in honey bees produces coevolved socially-interacting gene complexes. American Naturalist 173: E99-E107.


Moorad, JA, TA Linksvayer. 2008. Levels of selection on threshold traits. Genetics 179: 899-905.


Linksvayer, TA. 2008. Queen-worker-brood coadaptation rather than conflict may drive resource allocation in the ant Temnothorax curvispinosus. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 62: 647-657.


Linksvayer, TA. 2007. Ant species size differences are determined by epistasis between brood and worker genomes. PLoS ONE 2: e994.


Linksvayer, TA. 2006. Direct, maternal, and sibsocial genetic effects on individual and colony traits in an ant. Evolution 60: 2552-2561.


Linksvayer, TA, MJ Wade, DM Gordon. 2006. Genetic caste determination in harvester ants: possible origin and maintenance by cyto-nuclear epistasis. Ecology 87: 87: 2185-2193.


Neiman, M, TA Linksvayer. 2006. The conversion of variance and the evolutionary potential of restricted recombination. Heredity 96: 111-121.


Linksvayer, TA, MJ Wade. 2005. The evolutionary origin and elaboration of sociality in the aculeate Hymenoptera: maternal effects, sib-social effects, and heterochrony. The Quarterly Review of Biology 80: 317-336.