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Christian Rabeling

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Associate Professor
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 4501
Assoc Professor
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 4501

Christian Rabeling is an evolutionary biologist who studies the speciation mechanisms and biological diversity of ants, as well as the evolutionary ecology of symbiotic interactions between ants and other organisms.

Research in the Rabeling lab is motivated by a love for ants, their complex behaviors, exciting natural history, and fascinating evolutionary biology. Research questions are approached in an integrative framework including field research, natural history, behavior and taxonomy, as well as phylogenetics, population genetics, and genomics. 


Ph.D. University of Texas-Austin 2010

Research Interests: 

A core research question pursued in the Rabeling lab is how socially parasitic ant species arise. Inquiline social parasites obligately depend on their hosts for survival and reproduction. Although highly specialized, inquiline social parasitism is a successful life history strategy that evolved more than one hundred times in ants alone. Frequently, inquilines are close relatives of their host species and comparative phylogenetic and population genetic studies demonstrate that inquiline species evolved reproductive isolation from their host species while living in the same colony. The research team of the Rabeling lab explores the genetic and behavioral conditions under which a switch from eusocial to parasitic behavior leads to genetically based barriers to gene flow and ultimately to speciation.


In contrast to the social parasites, the fungus-growing ants are a textbook example for mutualistic interactions between ants, fungi, and their associated microorganisms. The agricultural symbiosis of the fungus-growing ants and their fungi originated some 50-60 million years ago, comprising more than 250 described as well as many undescribed and undiscovered species, exclusively New World in distribution. Interestingly, the diversity of symbiotic interactions is not distributed randomly across the fungus-growing ant phylogeny. Whereas the well-known leaf-cutting ants rely on a single, recently evolved fungal species, the distantly related, early diverging fungus-growing ants cultivate a high diversity of symbionts. The research team explores the mechanisms that mediated the ant-fungus co-evolutionary balance between symbiont fidelity and symbiont plasticity. The fungus-growing ant mutualism is a particularly riveting example of biological complexity and has benefits to society because research on ant-associated fungi has produced human-beneficial antibiotics and antimalarials.


Rabeling C. 2020. Social Parasitism. In: Starr C. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Social Insects. Springer, Cham.

Borowiec M, Moreau CS, Rabeling C. 2020. Ants: Phylogeny and Classification. In: Starr C. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Social Insects. Springer, Cham.

Messer S, Cover SP, Rabeling C. 2020. Two new species of socially parasitic Nylanderia ants from the southeastern United States. ZooKeys 921: 23-48.

Rabeling C, Messer S, Bacci Jr M, Nascimento IC, Lacau S, Delabie JHC. 2019. Acromyrmex fowleri: a new inquiline social parasite species of leaf-cutting ants from tropical South America. Insectes Sociaux 66: 435–351.

Solomon SE, Rabeling C, Sosa-Calvo J, Lopes CT, Mueller UG, Vasconcelos HL, Bacci M, Schultz TR. Molecular phylogenies of Trachymyrmex ants and their fungal cultivars provide insights into the co-evolutionary history of "higher" ant agriculture. Systematic Entomology 44: 939–956.

Borowiec ML, Rabeling C, Brady SG, Fisher BL, Schultz TR, Ward PS. 2019. Compositional heterogeneity and outgroup choice influence the internal phylogeny of the ants. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 135: 111–121.

Li H, Sosa-Calvo J, Horn H, Pupo MT, Clardy J, Rabeling C, Schultz TR, Currie CR. 2018. Convergent evolution of complex structures for ant-bacterial defensive symbiosis in fungus-farming ants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115: 10720–10725.

Gray KW, Cover SP, Johnson RA, Rabeling C. 2018. The dacetine ant Strumigenys arizonica, an apparent obligate commensal of the fungus-growing ant Trachymyrmex arizonensis in the North American Southwest. Insectes Sociaux 65: 401–410.

Sosa-Calvo J, Schultz TR, Ješovnik A, Dahan RA, Rabeling C. 2018. Evolution, systematics, and natural history of a new genus of cryptobiotic fungus-growing ants. Systematic Entomology 43: 549–567.

Matos-Maraví P, Clouse RM, Sarnat EM, Economo EP, LaPolla JS, Borovanska M, Rabeling C, Czekanski-Moir J, Latumahina F, Wilson EO, Janda M. 2018. An ant genus-group (Prenolepis) illuminates the biogeography and drivers of insect diversification in the Indo-Pacific. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 123: 16–25.

Mueller UG†, Ishak HD, Brushi SM, Herman JJ, Smith CC, Solomon SE, Mikheyev AS, Rabeling C, Scott JJ, Cooper M, Rodriguez A, Ortiz A, Brandão CRF, Lattke JE, Pagnocca FC, Rehner SA, Schultz TR, Vasconcelos HL, Adams RMM, Bollazzi M, Clark RM, Himler AG, LaPolla JS, Leal IR, Johnson RA, Roces F, Sosa-Calvo J, Wirth R, Bacci Jr M. 2017. Biogeography of mutualistic fungi cultivated by leafcutter ants. Molecular Ecology 26: 6921–6937.

Sosa-Calvo J, Jesovnik A, Lopes CT, Rodrigues A, Rabeling C, Bacci Jr. M, Vasconcelos HL, Schultz TR. 2017. Biology of the relict fungus-farming ant Apterostigma megacephala Lattke, including descriptions of the male, gyne, and larva. Insectes Sociaux 64: 329–346. https://doi.org10.1007/s00040-017-0550-2

Rabeling C, Sosa-Calvo J, O’Connell LA, Coloma LA, Fernández F. Lenomyrmex hoelldobleri: a new ant species discovered in the stomach of the dendrobatid poison frog, Oophaga sylvatica (Funkhouser). ZooKeys 618: 79-95.

Nygaard S, Hu H, Li C, Schiøtt M, Chen Z, Yang Z, Xie Q, Ma C, Deng Y, Dikow RB, Rabeling C, Nash DR, Wcislo WT, Brady SG, Schultz TR, ZhangG, Boomsma JJ. 2016. Reciprocal genomic evolution in the ant-fungus agricultural symbiosis. Nature Communications 7: 12233.

Rabeling C, Schultz TR, Bacci Jr. M, Bollazzi M. 2015. Acromyrmex charruanus: a new inquiline social parasite species of leaf-cutting ants. Insectes Sociaux 62: 335-349.

Economo EP, Sarnat EM, Janda M, Clouse R, Klimov P, Fischer G, Blanchard BD, Ramirez L, Andersen AN, Berman M, Guénard B, Rabeling C, Wilson EO, Knowles LL. 2015. Breaking out of biogeographic modules: range expansion and taxon cycles in Old World PheidoleJournal of Biogeography 42: 2253–2460.

Rabeling C, Schultz TR, Pierce NE, Bacci M. 2014. A social parasite evolved reproductive isolation from its fungus-growing ant host in sympatry. Current Biology 24: 2047-2052.

Sarnat EM, Rabeling C, Economo EP, Wilson EO. 2014. First record of a species from the Pheidole flavens-complex (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) from the southwestern Pacific. BioInvasions Records 3: 301-307.

Clouse RM, Janda M, Blanchard B, Sharma P, Hoffman BD, Andersen AN, Czekanski-Moir JE, Krushelnycky P, Rabeling C, Wilson EO, Economo EP, Saranat EM, Wheeler WC. 2014. Molecular phylogeny of a widespread ant group reveals waves of dispersal and colonization into and out of the Pacific. Cladistics 31: 424-437.

Rabeling C, Love CN, Lance SL, Jones KL, Pierce NE, Bacci M. 2014. Development of twenty-one polymorphic microsatellite markers for the fungus-growing ant, Mycocepurus goeldii (Formicidae: Attini), using Illumina paired-end genomic sequencing. Conservation Genetics Resources 6: 739–741.

Masiulionis VE, Rabeling C, De Fine Licht HH, Schultz TR, Bacci Jr. M, Santos Bezerra CM, Pagnocca FC. 2014. A Brazilian population of the asexual fungus-growing ant Mycocepurus smithii (Formicidae, Myrmicinae, Attini) cultivates fungal symbionts with gongylidia-like structures. PLoS ONE 9(8): e103800.

Rabeling C, Bollazzi M, Bacci M, Beasley RR, Lance SL, Jones KL, Pierce NE. 2014. Development and characterization of twenty-two polymorphic microsatellite markers for the leafcutter ant, Acromyrmex lundii, utilizing Illumina sequencing. Conservation Genetics Resources 6: 319–322.

Rabeling C & Kronauer DJC. 2013. Evolution of thelytokous parthenogenesis in eusocial Hymenoptera. Annual Review of Entomology 58: 273-292.

Sosa-Calvo J, Schultz TR, Brandão CRF, Klingenberg C, Feitosa RM, Rabeling C, Bacci M, Lopes CT, Vasconcelos HL. 2013.Cyatta abscondita: Taxonomy, evolution, and natural history of a new fungus-farming ant genus from Brazil. PLoS ONE 8(11): e80498.

Rabeling C, Verhaagh M, Garcia MVB. 2012. Observations on the specialized predatory behavior of the pitchfork-mandibled ponerine ant Thaumatomyrmex paludis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Breviora 533: 1-8.

Rabeling C, Gonzales O, Schultz TR, Bacci M, Garcia MVB, Verhaagh M, Ishak H, Mueller UG. 2011. Cryptic sexual populations account for genetic diversity and ecological success in a widely distributed, parthenogenetic fungus-growing ant. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108: 12366–12371.

Rabeling C & Bacci M. 2010. A new workerless inquiline in the Lower Attini (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), with a discussion of social parasitism in fungus-growing ants. Systematic Entomology 35: 379-392.

Rabeling C, Lino Neto J, Cappellari SC, Santos IA, Mueller UG & Bacci M. 2009. Thelytokous parthenogenesis in the fungus-gardening ant Mycocepurus smithii (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). PLoS ONE 4(8): e6781.

Rabeling C, Brown JM & Verhaagh M. 2008. Newly discovered sister lineage sheds light on early ant evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105: 14913-14917.

Mueller UG, Dash D, Rabeling C & Rodrigues A. 2008. Coevolution between attine ants and actinomycete bacteria: a reevaluation. Evolution 62: 2894–2912.

Mueller UG & Rabeling C. 2008. A breakthrough innovation in animal evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105: 5287-5288.

Rabeling C, Cover SP, Mueller UG & Johnson RA. 2007. A review of the North American species of the fungus-gardening ant genus Trachymyrmex (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Zootaxa 1664: 1-54.

Rabeling C, Verhaagh M & Engels W. 2007. Comparative study of nest architecture and colony structure of the fungus-growing ant species Mycocepurus goeldii and M. smithii (Formicidae: Attini). Journal of Insect Science 7 (40): 1-13.

Rabeling C, Verhaagh M & Mueller UG. 2006. Behavioral ecology and natural history of Blepharidatta brasiliensis (Formicidae: Blepharidattini). Insectes Sociaux 53: 300-307.

Spring 2022
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 345Evolution
BIO 495Undergraduate Research
Fall 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 495Undergraduate Research
Spring 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 345Evolution
BIO 495Undergraduate Research
Fall 2020
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 495Undergraduate Research
BIO 591Seminar
Spring 2020
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 345Evolution
BIO 495Undergraduate Research
Fall 2019
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 495Undergraduate Research
Spring 2019
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 345Evolution
BIO 495Undergraduate Research
Spring 2018
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 345Evolution
Honors / Awards: 

CAREER award, National Science Foundation, 2019

Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows, 2011-2014

C. P. Oliver Memorial Endowment for Genetic Research Award, UT Austin, 2009

Michael H. Granof Outstanding Graduate Student Award, UT Austin, 2009

George C. Eickwort Student Research Award, IUSSI, 2009


Subject Editor, Myrmecological News, 2013-present

Work History: 

2017-2020, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ; 2014-2016, Assistant Professor, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY; 2011-2014, Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows, Cambridge, MA; 2010-2011, Postdoctoral Researcher, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.