Interview with a social insect scientist: Juliane Lopes

You can read Juliane’s recent research article on the influence of post-flight on queens’ survival and productivity in leaf-cutter ants here.

IS: Who are you, and what do you do?

JL: I’m Juliane Lopes, a biologist. I am a researcher and professor at the Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, Brazil. I’m part of the Post-Graduation Program in Biodiversity and Nature Conservation at the same university.

IS: How did you develop an interest in your research?

JL: I started to study ants in 1997 in my master’s degree, but even before that, I was always interested in insect behavior.

IS: What is your favorite social insect, and why?

JL: The ants. Their complex organization level is amazing. I always find them doing stuff that I would never think they could. Recently, I found a paper that described ants basking in the sunlight.

IS: What is the best moment/discovery in your research so far? What made it so memorable?

JL: Every research moment is memorable. Each student that reaches their objective of the final thesis is a victory and gives me great satisfaction. I’m not able to choose one of them.

IS: Do you teach or do outreach/science communication? How do you incorporate your research into these areas?

JL: Yes, the divulgation of science is very important and I, along with my team, always work in this direction. We always make expositions of laboratory colonies in schools and science fairs. This contact is very pleasant, and every time at least one person has a curiosity about ants. When you answer new questions that arise in their minds, they are always surprised about the cooperation and communication in the ant colonies. We also have an Instagram profile, @mirmecolab.ufjf (follow us!!), in which we publish at least two posts weekly. Sometimes the posts are about ants, other times about biology in general or opportunities for biology students.

IS: What do you think are some of the important current questions in social insect research, and what’s essential for future research?

JL: Understanding the mechanisms that drive their organization is THE question for me. I think that their systems can be cleverly used as models to improve our society. Integrating and collaborating with researchers of other disciplines, such as mathematics, physics, and art, will broaden the applications of studies about social insects.

IS: What research questions generate the biggest debate in social insect research at the moment?

JL: I think that a relevant theme is the evolutionary paths of sociality in these insects; there are always new discoveries on this topic.

IS: What is the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?

JL: I haven’t been able to finish a book for some time, as there are always too many articles to read or corrections to make, reunions to attend, classes to prepare, and dogs to care for, among many other things. For now, I am trying to finish two books, Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, and Game Theory and Animal Behaviour edited by Lee Dugatkin and Hudson Kern Reeve.

IS: Outside of science, what are your favorite activities, hobbies, or sports?

JL: I love to play music and care for my dogs, plants, sons, daughter, and parents.

IS: How do you keep going when things get tough?

JL: I go to the countryside and take a breath of fresh air.

IS: If you were to go live on an uninhabited island and could only bring three things, what would you bring? Why?

JL: Antiallergic, because I’m allergic to insects, especially wasps, bees, and ants (!!!), some colored markers to paint ants to help me to observe them, and a ukulele.

IS: Who do you think has had the most considerable influence on your science career?

JL: Certainly my advisor Dr. Luiz Carlos Forti, who taught me how to care about ants, about their ecological function, how to apply basic behavior research to improve control methods, and how to advise my own students.

IS: What advice would you give to someone hoping to be a social insect researcher in the future?

JL: Know that a lot of people will question the importance of what you are doing. Having a fast and complete response to this question is essential to putting value in our research. Also, have the patience to mark ants, repeat the same experiment several times, and know that insects can have a bad mood and won’t always do what you want them to do.

IS: What is your favorite place science has taken you?

JL: Toulouse in France where I spent my postdoc, and Trinidad-Tobago for a talk in a symposium. I had never expected I would go there. Such a beautiful place.

IS: If you had unlimited funds to conduct whatever research you wanted, where would you go and what would you investigate?

JL: I would go to space and investigate how a colony might adapt to changes in gravity and atmosphere.

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