Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Virginia Settepani

Photo of Virginia Settepani
Virginia Settepani
Photo of a spider
Photo of a spider

Comparative studies of inbreeding effects on genetic variation and gene expression in non-model animal populations.

Understanding the social organization of group living organisms is crucial for the comprehension of
the underlying selective mechanisms involved in the evolution of cooperation. Similarly
investigating the factors influencing the genetic diversity and genetic differentiation in social animal
groups contributes to the understanding of the ongoing processes in the evolution of sociality.
Through a variety of field- and laboratory-based approaches, I investigated the behavioural and
genomic consequences of sociality in the unique non-model system provided by the social spiders.
Socials spiders form highly related groups, where females live together their all life, cooperate in all
colony tasks and reproduction is highly skewed. Additionally, while social spider species are
characterized by inbreeding, lack of gene flow and female biased sex ratio their subsocial congeners
(closely related species where individuals live together their juvenile stages and then disperse to live
solitarily) are characterized by an outcrossed mating system, gene flow and even sex ratio.

My research questions cover different topics:

(I) Social organization and task differentiation; I am interested in exploring the social organization and behavioural structure present within colonies of social spider species, especially in relation to task differentiation amongst individuals, personality traits and the link between task differentiation and personality traits.

(II) Population genomic consequences of sociality; I am interested in investigating the signature of sociality at the genomic level, by investigating genetic diversity and population structure of
inbreeding social spider species and through comparative studies of social and non-social spider
species with inbreeding and outcrossing mating systems.

(III) Non-genetic inheritance; Social spiders have among the lowest genetic diversity estimated to date. However they occupy wide geographical areas with changing environmental parameters. I am interested in how they can adapt to such different environments despite the lack of standing genetic variation. I am interested in investigating plasticity and potential non-genetic processes that could contribute in adaptation.

Contact: Virginia Settepani