Helms/ Helms Cahan Lab Website

Social living is an extremely successful life-history strategy that has evolved repeatedly in a diverse array of organisms, from bacteria to primates. Yet, at its heart, the cooperation that is required to form cohesive and long-lasting groups is an evolutionary paradox: why would behaviors evolve that help others rather than helping oneself?

In our lab, we investigate the origins, evolution, and mechanisms underlying social behaviors in the social Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps). This group displays a surprising array of social structures, from simple, temporary groups to large, perennial colonies with complex morphological and behavioral specialization. Our research integrates field ecology with molecular tools, which allow us to reconstruct historical patterns and processes as well as to link individual and colony phenotypes to the genes and molecular pathways that underlie their expression. While we make extensive use of modern techniques from fields such as molecular genetics, genomics, phylogeography, and geographic information systems, our research is grounded in the importance of understanding the natural history of species in their environment.

Sara Helms Cahan

Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Biology, University of Vermont.

The research in my lab focuses on the consequences of sociality on the evolution of individual, population, and species characteristics. The evolution of social groups is a fundamental transition that has occurred in a diverse array of organisms, from bacteria to primates. I use the tools of ecology, ethology, and genetics to understand how social life affects the evolution and dynamics of ant populations, primarily in the southwestern and southern US.

Ken Helms

Research Affiliate, University of Vermont.

Research in the Helms laboratory uses social insects as model systems to develop and test basic theory in ecology and evolution. The laboratory addresses questions of broad significance, often on large geographic scales. Projects range from the study of sex ratio evolution in social insects, to the importance of ecological interactions among invasive species, to studies of the evolution of cooperation, conflict and cooperative breeding.

Katie Bora

Lab Technician

I am the lab technician for the Helms Cahan lab. My primary responsibilities are assisting graduate and undergraduate students with their research, as well as maintianing laboratory safety standards and general housekeeping.


  • Current Lab Members

    Katie Miller

    Masters Candidate, Department of Biology, University of Vermont.

  • Contact

    We have an active, diverse lab of post-docs, graduate students and undergraduates. Our students have worked on a broad array of evolutionary and ecological projects, including chemical communication, host-pathogen coevolution, body size evolution, biogeography, systematics, and molecular evolution. Click here to read about our previous lab members.

    Are you interested in working in the ant lab? Do you have questions about the work that we do? Please call or send a message, we would love to hear from you!

    • Address

      University of Vermont
      Marsh Life Science Bldg
      105 Carrigan Drive
      Burlington, VT 05405
    • Email

      scahan@uvm.edu
    • Phone

      (802) 656-2962