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Fungus-growing ant, photo by Jeremy Harrison

Natasha Mehdiabadi, Research Associate
(Smithsonian Institution & University of Maryland at College Park)

  • Phone:
    202-633-1002 (office)
    301-238-1078 (lab)
  • Fax:
  • E-mail Address:
  • USPS Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    PO Box 37012, MRC 188
    Washington, DC 20013-7012
  • Shipping Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    National Museum of Natural History
    10th & Constitution NW
    Washington, DC 20560-0188
  • Education:
    BS Texas Tech University
    MS Stanford University
    PhD University of Texas, Austin
Natasha Mehdiabadi

Research Interests:

  • Evolution of cooperation in social insects and microbes
  • Social insect evolution, ecology, and behavior
  • Phylogenetics and molecular evolution of ants and microbes

I study the evolution and ecology of social interactions. In particular, my work focuses on (i) the evolution of cooperation and conflict in group-living organisms and (ii) symbiosis. Cooperation is central to many of the major transitions in evolution, from the emergence of chromosomes via the assembly of independent genes to the origin of multicellular organisms from single cells. Understanding cooperation is therefore fundamental to understanding the history of life. With a foundation in manipulative field and laboratory experiments, I have recently gained extensive experience in molecular techniques that will help me understand the genetic mechanisms underlying social processes. Empirical tests of social evolution theory have traditionally treated the genes underlying social traits as a black box. However, I now use advances in molecular biology, phylogenetics, and genomics to investigate the functional significance of genes behind social traits. My research program on the evolution of cooperation spans multiple levels of analysis (field work to molecular work), a range of symbiotic interactions (from parasitism to mutualism), and a diversity of systems (social insects and microbes).


Mehdiabadi, N.J., Mueller, U.G., Brady, S.G., Himler, A.G., Schultz, T.R. 2012. Symbiont fidelity and the origin of species in fungus-growing ants. Nature Communications, 3

Mehdiabadi, N. J.  2010. Invertebrate social behavior: Queen-worker conflict. In: Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior. Breed, M. D. and Moore, J., Eds. Academic Press, Oxford. (Invited Book Chapter)

pdf icon Mehdiabadi, N. J. and Schultz, T. R. 2010. Natural history and phylogeny of the fungus-farming ants (Formicidae: Myrmicinae: Attini). Myrmecological News. (Invited Review)

pdf icon Mehdiabadi, N. J., Kronforst, M. K., Queller, D. C., and Strassmann, J. E. 2010. Phylogeography and sexual macrocyst formation in the social amoeba Dictyostelium giganteum. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 10: 17.

Mehdiabadi, N.J., M.R. Kronforst, D.C. Queller and J.E. Strassmann. 2009. Phylogeny, reproductive isolation and kin recognition in the social amoeba Dictyostelium purpureum. Evolution 63(2): 542-548.

Henne, W., Henne, R., McMahon, K. W., Harrell Yee, S. M., Brasel, T., Mehdiabadi, N. J. 2008. Alumni perspectives on undergraduate research. In: R. Taraban and R. L. Blanton (Eds.), Creating effective undergraduate research programs in science: The transformation from student to scientist. New York: Teachers College Press.

pdf icon Jack, C.N., J.G. Ridgeway, N.J. Mehdiabadi, E.I. Jones, T.A. Edwards, D.C. Queller and J.E. Strassmann. 2008. Segregate or cooperate: a study of the interaction between two species of Dictyostelium. BMC Evolutionary Biology 8: 293.

pdf icon Gilbert, O.M., K.R. Foster, N. J. Mehdiabadi, J.E. Strassmann, and D.C. Queller. 2007. High relatedness maintains multicellular cooperation in a social amoeba by controlling cheater mutants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 8913-8917.

pdf icon Mehdiabadi, N.J., C. N. Jack, T. Talley Farnham, T.G. Platt, S. E. Kalla, G. Shaulsky, D.C. Queller, and J.E. Strassmann. 2006. Kin preference in a social microbe. Nature 442: 881-882.

pdf icon Mehdiabadi, N.J., B. Hughes, and U.G. Mueller. 2006. Cooperation, conflict, and coevolution in the attine ant-fungus symbiosis. Behavioral Ecology 17: 291-296.

pdf icon Mehdiabadi, N.J., E.K. Kawazoe, and L.E. Gilbert. 2004. Parasitoids and competitors influence colony-level responses in the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Naturwissenschaften 91: 539-543.

pdf icon Mehdiabadi, N.J., E.K. Kawazoe, and L.E. Gilbert. 2004. Phorid fly parasitoids of invasive fire ants indirectly improve the competitive ability of a native ant. Ecological Entomology 29: 621-627.

pdf icon Mehdiabadi, N.J., H.K. Reeve, and U.G. Mueller. 2003. Queens versus workers: Sex-ratio conflict in eusocial Hymenoptera. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 18: 88-93.

pdf icon Mehdiabadi, N.J. and L.E. Gilbert. 2002. Colony-level impacts of parasitoid flies on fire ants. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 269: 1695-1699.

pdf icon Gordon, D.M. and N.J. Mehdiabadi. 1999. Encounter rate and task allocation in harvester ants. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 45: 370-377.

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