Field Studies

Neuroscientist Keating Godfrey shares an intimate glimpse into her research on the social lives of insects.

 

Research Statement: It’s difficult to corral the interests of a natural scientist into a description that is both concise and gratifying. An integral component of my interest in science derives from the process itself. In graduate school I have the opportunity to focus on a discrete set of questions that fascinate, challenge, and motivate me. Currently, I compare brain characteristicsneuromorphologyacross species of wasps, bees, and ants that vary in social structure. Bee and wasp species run the gamut from solitary individuals that forage and reproduce without cooperation from others, to those living in large colonies that cooperatively rear the young of just one reproductive member: the queen. Ants, a close relative of bees and wasps, all form colonies, but colonies vary greatly in size and social structure across ant species. Social insects can often solve complex problems that elude their solitary relatives, and the broader aim of this research is to answer whether particular nervous system characteristics are necessary, or alternately disposable, in creating cooperative behaviors and task coordination. I do this work as part of my Ph.D. research in neuroscience at the University of Arizona. I received a Bachelor’s of Science in biology from the University of Vermont and a Master’s of Science in biology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. This summer I was in the Northeast collecting ants and other Hymenoptera for a comparative brain project that will form part of my dissertationthe photos above were taken in Vermont, Pennsylvania, and New York.


About the Photographer: Keating Godfrey grew up in Northwestern Vermont, splitting her time between the mean suburban streets of Colchester village and the wilderness of West Fletcher. Her father gave her an old 35mm camera for her 16th birthday and she started documenting the patterns of light and leaf edges in the forest behind her home. Now, as a scientist, she spends her time in various ecosystems poking around for insects and observing astonishingly beautiful scenes on tiny landscapes. As a neuroscientist she often thinks about sensory systems; as a photographer she tries to recreate the sensory experience of her fieldwork. When identifying plants or insects, she narrows her visual attention to a particular set of details while holding the entire insect or plant in her hands, often surrounded by the forest or field from where she just plucked it; in photography she tries to imitate this. View more of Keating’s images on Instagram and The World Wide Web.

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