Associate Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto
Panel: Open Systems
Megan Frederickson’s observations of plants and ants in the field has shown that mutualism might afford “niche breadth” while driving diversification in the phylogenetic tree. Her experimental and computational results, in addition, suggest that the science of symbiosis may generate models of mutualism that challenge the assumption that nature selects for selfishness and punishment—traits that often fail to be selected in social systems. Anchoring the scientific thought of “Open Systems,” Frederickson exemplifies how field work alongside experimental and computational biology are all shaping the concept of symbiosis while influencing the logical and conceptual models that guide computational thinking.
Megan Frederickson. Credit: G. Miller.
2016, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B
Why should an animal cooperate when it could cheat? By definition, cooperation benefits others, often at some cost to the cooperator. Thus, selection should favour ‘cheaters’ that benefit from the social contributions of others while offering little or nothing in return. But nature tells a different story: cooperative behaviour is taxonomically widespread, and it has persisted and even flourished over long periods of evolutionary time.
2020, Science Magazine
Frederickson and colleagues explore how nitrogen-fixing bacteria (rhizobia) adapt to legumes, showing that cooperation depends on the match between partner genotypes and increases as bacteria adapt to their local host.
“Using text-mined trait data to test for cooperate-and-radiate co-evolution between ants and plants”
2019, PLOS Computational Biology
How have species interactions contributed to the diversification of life on Earth? Ehrlich and Raven famously proposed escape-and-radiate co-evolution as an engine of plant and insect diversification. Here, Frederickson and her colleagues assess whether “cooperate-and-radiate” co-evolution is also an important diversifying force. Building on previous research showing that partnering with ants enhances plant diversification, this work asks if interacting mutualistically with plants enhances ant diversification.