Heikki Helanterä

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I am a PI at the Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions, with personal funding from the Kone foundation. My main interest is social evolution, especially evolutionary genetics and social behavior of ants. I started my career in social insects in 1998, studying worker reproduction and policing in Formica fusca as my MSc thesis. After finishing my PhD in 2004 I spent some years in the UK working together with Francis Ratnieks and Stephen J. Martin at the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects in Sheffield, and later Sussex, before returning to Helsinki.

I have three main lines of research. First, I study the causes and consequences of caste differences in gene expression. We use genomic and transcriptomic data to study evolution of caste specific gene expression, especially how caste biases affect the strength of natural selection on genes, and what are the common traits of genes that are expressed in a caste biased manner. To this end, we have carried out comparative transcriptomics in 16 ant species, with a special focus in the genus Formica. Collaborators: Dr. Claire Morandin in Helsinki, Dr. Lumi Viljakainen at the University of Oulu, Dr. Jes S. Pedersen at the Centre for Social Evolution, University of Copenhagen, and Dr. Alexander Mikheyev at Okinawa Institute for Science and Technology.

My second main interest is communication and conflict in ant societies. I study how queens, workers and brood communicate their presence to each other, and how kin competition and chemical signaling in nests affects reproductive allocation decisions, gene expression and competitive interactions such as cannibalism again mainly concentrating on Formica ants. Main collaborators: Dr. Martina Ozan, MSc. Unni Pulliainen and prof. Lotta Sundström in Helsinki, Dr. Eva Schultner, Univ. Regensburg and Dr. Luke Holman, Univ. Melbourne.

In addition to the above, I am interested in evolutionary theory in general. Here my main focus is on the major transitions in evolution, and the empirical value of the superorganism concept for understanding insect societies. I also carry out work on inclusive fitness theory and the evolution of eusociality (with MSc. Petri Rautiala and Dr. Mikael Puurtinen, University of Jyväskylä) and conceptual issues in evolutionary biology more generally (with Dr. Tobias Uller, University of Lund).