Rates of species invasions have greatly increased within the last centuries, often leading to dramatic alterations in ecosystem function as well as biodiversity loss. The objective of my research is to utilize the synergism arising from combining ecological, genetic, and evolutionary perspectives to generate a logical framework to further our understanding of the mechanisms and processes involved in invasions.
Hawaii has more legally threatened and endangered species than any other state in the country, and invasive species are mostly to blame. The western yellowjacket wasp, Vespula pensylvanica, is native to North America and its’ successful invasion of Hawaii is one of the largest threats to Hawaii’s endemic arthropods. Vespula pensylvanica has invaded Hawaii on multiple occasions (first records include Kauai, 1919, Oahu, 1936, and the easternmost Hawaiian Islands, 1976). This scenario of multiple historic colonization events across an archipelago provides an ideal opportunity to examine the genetic and evolutionary processes that underlie social structure and invasion dynamics. The objective of my research is to quantify and analyze the ecological impacts and hierarchical genetic structure of Vespula pensylvanica. The knowledge I obtain will provide: (i) insight into the social structure and evolution of wasps; (ii) the knowledge necessary for developing guidelines for prevention and control of Vespula and future invasions; (iii) insight into what causes species to become invasive; (iv) a model to study the fundamental mechanisms underlying evolutionary processes such as founder effects and genetic erosion in an invasive organism.