Michael Sheehan


Research Overview

I am broadly interested in understanding the causes and consequences of variation in social behavior across taxa. A particular focus of mine has been understanding the evolution of traits used to mediate social interactions via individual recognition.

My dissertation work on Polistes wasps examined the evolution of individual recognition in P. fuscatus, which recognizes individuals by their highly distinctive color patterns. My research examined both the evolution of the highly variable color patterns in P. fuscatus as well as cognitive abilities associated with recognition.

My current research is centered on further understanding the evolution of distinctive identity signals, using house mice as a model. This project seeks to link genetic variation to phenotypes used for individual recognition as well as look for molecular signatures of selection on loci involved in individual recognition. This work is conducted in collaboration with Drs. Jane Hurst and Rob Beynon (University of Liverpool).

As an extension of my work on individual recognition, I am collaborating with Dr. Thore Bergman (University of Michigan) to investigate the relationships between mechanisms for gathering social information, such as individual recognition and quality signals.

In addition to my work on communicaiton, I am also working on a project investigating variation in rates of cooperative breeding across paper wasps.

Selected Publications

Bergman, T.J. & Sheehan, M.J. (2013). Signals and social cognition in primates. American Journal of Primatology.

Tibbetts, E.A. & Sheehan, M.J. (2012). The effect of juvenile hormone on Polistes wasp fertility varies with cooperative behavior. Hormones and Behavior. 61: 559-564

Sheehan, M.J. & Tibbetts, E.A. (2011). Specialized face learning is associated with individual recognition in paper wasps. Science. 334: 1272-1275.

Tibbetts, E.A. & Sheehan, M.J. (2011). Facial patterns are a conventional signal of agonistic ability in Polistes exclamans paper wasps. Ethology. 117: 1138-1146.

Sheehan, M.J. & Tibbetts, E.A. (2011). Condition-dependence and the origins of elevated fluctuating asymmetry in quality signals. Behavioral Ecology. 22: 1166-1172.

Sheehan, MJ & Tibbetts, EA. (2010) Selection for individual recognition and the evolution of polymorphic identity signals in Polistes paper wasps. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 23: 570-577.

Cords, M, MJ Sheehan, LS Ekernas. (2010). Sex and age differences in juvenile social priorities in female-philopatric, non-despotic blue monkeys. American Journal of Primatology. 72: 193-205.

Sheehan, MJ & Tibbetts, EA. (2009). Evolution of identity signals: Frequency-dependent benefits of distinctive phenotypes used for individual recognition. Evolution. 63: 3106-3113.

Sheehan, MJ & Tibbetts, EA. (2008). Robust long-term social memories in a paper wasp. Current Biology. 18: R851-2.