Dr Elva Robinson

Senior Lecturer in Ecology


Social structure in animal groups affects how robust a population is to stresses such as disease, disturbance by humans, or habitat fragmentation. Effects of environmental change on animal social structure are challenging to study but have wide reaching implications for conservation and management. I use ants as a model system which can be manipulated at both the individual and group levels, allowing thorough exploration of the rules governing social behaviour and interaction with the environment. Understanding social structure is essential to for the conservation of any social species, and is also essential for successful control of those social species which have become invasive pests. I use a range of ant species for my research, including the ecologically dominant Formica rufa group wood ants and the invasive garden ant, Lasius neglectus.

I combine controlled lab experiments, field experiments in a more natural context, and computational/analytical modelling, to investigate the organisation of social behaviours and how these relate to environmental conditions and change. I used radio-frequency identification technology to gain individual-level insights into the roles of certain ants within a colony. I collaborate on the analysis of complex patterns of behaviour with other members of the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA). This work will help explain the mechanisms of organisation and resilience to change in a highly successful group of insects, which will provide insights into the workings of other animal social systems, and even into man-made network systems.

Inside a Pharaoh’s ant nest. Thousands of workers care for the eggs, larvae and pupae. Pharaoh’s ants have multiple queens – three are visible in the picture, including one unmated queen with wings. The black-bodied winged insect in the centre is a male. Pharaoh’s ants do not rely on flight of the reproductives for dispersal – instead new colonies bud off from established ones, with workers carrying brood to new locations. This makes them a highly successful pest species.

Ant Nest

A multi-nest (polydomous) colony of the wood ant Formica lugubris. The colony is spread out across multiple socially connected nest mounds. I study the network structure of multi-nest colonies such as these to learn about social network dynamics and inter-group cooperation. (Figure credit Sam Ellis)

SAM Polydomy
Field study of the wood ant Formica rufa. I study the behavioural ecology of wood ants at many levels, from the interactions within a nest mound, to the landscape-level population processes. WoodAnts Fieldwork
A radio-tagged worker of the invasive garden ant Lasius neglectus. Invasive ants can be highly damaging to native invertebrate communities. I study the impact of invasive species, and investigate the mechanisms underlying their success. PBB Ants


Research Group

Phillip Buckham-Bonnett PhD student The impact and spread of Lasius neglectus:  an alien invasive species in the UK

Duncan Proctor

PhD student Functional connectivity in fragmented habitats:a wood ant case study 

Amy Leedale

PhD student Function and mechanism of kin recognition in long-tailed tits


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Contact details

Dr Elva Robinson
Senior Lecturer in Ecology
Department of Biology
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 328617