College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences

Jessica Purcell

Jessica Purcell

Assistant Professor

B.S., Biology, History, 2002 Williams College

Ph.D., Zoology, 2009 University of British Columbia

Research Areas

Ecology and genetics of sociality in arthropods; social immunity in ants; collective behavior

Contact Information
Entomology Bldg. 284
(951) 827-7258

Social behaviors have evolved in a wide range of taxa, from bacteria to slime molds and from insects to mammals.  This repeated and parallel evolutionary transition raises key questions about how sociality evolves. Natural variation in social traits within or among species  provides an ideal opportunity to understand factors that contribute to the emergence of different social systems.  In my research, I seek the proximate and ultimate drivers of social organization.  I have pursued these interests by integrating population genomics, field ecology, manipulative experiments in the lab and in the field, and individual-based modelling approaches. 

Awards Received

2015 UC, Riverside Collaborative Seed Grant (with Erin Wilson Rankin), Funding for project: 'Understanding the genetic basis of novel social phenotypes in damaging invasive wasps'.

2013 University of Lausanne Fondation du 450e Anniversaire, Funding for project: 'The genetic basis of sociality in spiders'.

2013 Swiss National Science Foundation, Funding for project: 'Ecological genomics of social polymorphism in ants', collaborator on application of PI Michel Chapuisat.

2011 Fondation Herbette, Funding to initiate genotyping-by-sequencing project, collaborator on application of PI Michel Chapuisat.

2008 American Society of Naturalists Travel Award, Evolution Meeting.

2005-2008 U.S. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

2004-2008 UBC Graduate Tuition Award.

2004-2005 UBC Graduate Entrance Scholarship.

2005 U.S. National Science Foundation Student Travel Grant.

2002-2003 U.S. Fulbright Fellow in Bolivia.

2002 Induction into Sigma Xi in recognition of undergraduate honors thesis.


Purcell J, Zahnd S, Athanasiades A, Türler R, Chapuisat M, Brelsford A. In press. Ants exhibit asymmetric hybridization in a mosaic hybrid zone. Molecular Ecology.

Ingley S, Pruitt J, Scharf I, Purcell J. In press. Social context, but not individual personality, alters immigrant viability in a spider with mixed social structure. Animal Behaviour.

Avril A, Purcell J, Chapuisat M. 2016. Ant workers exhibit specialization and memory during raft formation. The Science of Nature 103: 36.

Featured on NPR weekend edition and Discover magazine, among others

Purcell J, Pirogan D, Avril A, Bouyarden F, Chapuisat M. 2016. Environmental influence on the phenotype of ant workers revealed by common garden experiment. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 70: 357-367

- Featured on the Springer Animal Sciences blog


Purell J, Pellissier L, Chapuisat M. 2015. Social structure varies with elevation in an alpine antMolecular Ecology 24: 498-507.

Purcell J*, Brelsford A*, Wurm Y, Perrin N, Chapuisat M. 2014. Convergent genetic architecture underlies social organization in ants. Current Biology 24: 2728-2732. (* authors contributed equally)

Purcell J, Chapuisat M. 2014. Foster carers influence brood pathogen resistance in ants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281: 20141338.

* Recommended by Faculty of 1000.

Media coverage, 24 heures Lausanne

Kocher SD, Pellissier L, Veller C, Purcell J, Nowak MA, Chapuisat M, Pierce NE. 2014. Transitions in social complexity along altitudinal gradients reveal a dual impact of climate on social evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281: 20140627.

Rasmann S, Buri A, Gallot-Lavallée M, Joaquim J, Purcell J, Pellissier L. 2014. Differential allocation and deployment of direct and indirect defences of Vicia sepium along elevation gradients. Journal of Ecology 102: 930-938.

Purcell J, Avril A, Jaffuel G, Bates S, Chapuisat M. 2014. Ant brood function as life preservers during floods. PLOS ONE 9: e89211.

Media coverage, partial list: Science Now, National Geographic, Los Angeles Times, NY Times

Purcell J, Chapuisat M. 2013. Bidirectional shifts in colony queen number in a socially polymorphic ant population. Evolution 67: 1169-1180.

Reymond A, Purcell J, Cherix D, Guisan A, Pellissier L. 2013. Strategies in ant communities shift in response to colder conditions. Ecological Entomology 38: 364-373.

Purcell J, Chapuisat M. 2012. The influence of social structure on brood survival and development in a socially polymorphic ant: Insights from a cross-fostering experiment. J. Evolutionary Biology 25: 2288-2297.

Purcell J, Brelsford A, Avilés L. 2012. Co-evolution between sociality and dispersal: the role of synergistic cooperative benefits. J. Theoretical Biology 312: 44-54.

Avilés L, Purcell J. 2012. The evolution of inbred social systems in spiders and other organisms: From short-term gains to long-term evolutionary dead-ends? Advances in the Study of Behavior 44: 99-133.

Purcell J, Vasconcellos-Neto J, Gonzaga MO, Fletcher JA, Avilés L. 2012. Spatio-temporal differentiation and sociality in spiders. PLOS ONE 7: e34592.

Purcell J, Brütsch T, Chapuisat M. 2012. Effects of the social environment on the survival and fungal resistance of ant brood. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 66: 467-474.

Purcell J. 2011.Geographic patterns in the distribution of social systems in terrestrial arthropods. Biological Reviews 86: 475-491.

Reber A, Purcell J, Buechel SD, Buri P, Chapuisat M. 2011. The expression and impact of anti-fungal grooming in ants. J. Evolutionary Biology 24: 954-964.

Avilés L, Purcell J. 2011. The social system and primary sex ratio of the recently-described social spider Anelosimus oritoyacuJ. Arachnology 39: 178-182.

Purcell J, Avilés L. 2008. Gradients of precipitation and ant abundance may contribute to the altitudinal range limit of subsocial spiders: Insights from a transplant experiment. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 275: 2617-2625.

Purcell J, Brodin A. 2007. Factors influencing route choice by avian migrants: A dynamic programming model of Pacific brant migration. J. Theoretical Biology 249: 804-816.

Avilés L, Agnarsson I, Salazar P, Purcell J, Iturralde G, Yip E, Powers KS, Bukowski T. 2007. Altitudinal patterns of spider sociality and the biology of a new mid-elevation social Anelosimus species in Ecuador. American Naturalist 170: 783-792.

Purcell J, Avilés L. 2007. Smaller colonies and more solitary living mark higher elevation populations of a social spider. J. Animal Ecology 76: 590-597.

Purcell J, Brelsford A. 2004. Reassessing the causes of decline of Polylepis, a tropical subalpine forest. Ecotropica 10: 155-158.

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