Marek Borowiec Drawn to Ants, Especially Army Ants

Oct 24, 2016

Marek Borowiec's world revolves around myrmecology, the scientific study of ants.

Borowiec, who received his doctorate in entomology in June from the University of California, Davis, studying with major professor Phil Ward, will speak on "Genomic Data and the Tree of Life: Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, and Unknown Unknowns of Army Ant Evolution" at his exit seminar.

Set from 4:10 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26 in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive, the seminar will be hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Plans call for video-recording the seminar for later posting on UCTV.

"I got interested in ants after reading E. O. Wilson's autobiography 'Naturalist' as a freshman in college," Borowiec related. "I'm fascinated by the diversity of form and function in ants, that is, by the various ways they make a living and the incredible variation of their morphologies."

Harvard University professor Wilson, one of the world's most distinguished scientists, is two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. (See his Ted talks.)

"Ants are the world's most successful eusocial organisms," said Borowiec, whose research interests include phylogeny, taxonomy, biogeography, and natural history of ants. "Long history, high species diversity, and extreme variety of life histories make them an excellent group in which many evolutionary questions can be addressed."

"My dissertation research at UC Davis focused on building a taxonomic and phylogenetic framework for the research on army ant evolution," said Borowiec, who received his master's degree in 2009 from the Department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Taxonomy, University of Wroclaw, Poland. "Although army ants include very charismatic species, they belong to a larger group, the subfamily Dorylinae. In addition to the army ants, dorylines comprise many cryptic ants whose biology and even taxonomy have been neglected. Partly as a result of this, even phylogenetic relationships of the army ants are not well-understood. The first step to advancing evolutionary research in the group was thus to examine the morphological diversity within this lineage. This resulted in a generic revision of the subfamily, published open-access in ZooKeys. Expertise gained during this work allowed me to design robust taxon sampling for a phylogeny of the dorylines based on next-generation sequencing data (ultraconserved elements or UCEs), currently in preparation."

Borowiec is now a postdoc in the lab of evolutionary biologist Christian Rabeling of Rochester, N.Y. who works on ants. In January the lab will be moving to Tempe, Ariz. 

Myrmecologist Marek Borowiec would certainly agree with E.O. Wilson's noted quotes about ants:

  • "Ants have the most complicated social organization on earth next to humans."
  • "Ants are the dominant insects of the world, and they've had a great impact on habitats almost all over the land surface of the world for more than 50 million years."
  • "When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all."