Karen Kapheim

College of Science


Dr. Kapheim’s research asks the question “Why do organisms cooperate?”. A cornerstone of evolutionary biology is that traits that shorten lifespan or decrease reproduction should not persist. Yet some of the most abundant creatures on Earth (e.g., ants, bees) have achieved unparalleled ecological success through extreme cooperation – most individuals are sterile and sacrifice their lives to protect their colonies. Dr. Kapheim and her students have been investigating how and why this behavior evolves by studying the social lives of bees. Although Dr. Kapheim has always been interested in the evolution of social behavior, she wasn’t always interested in bees. She got her start as an undergraduate research assistant at Michigan State University, where she studied hyena behavior, including as a field assistant in Kenya. She then studied foxes, hyraxes, and coatis before discovering the wonder and beauty of bees while doing field work at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Dr. Kapheim completed her Ph.D. at UCLA and postdoctoral research at University of Illinois, where she merged behavioral ecology with evolutionary genomics. Dr. Kapheim started her lab at USU in2014, and now investigates the developmental and genomic mechanisms underlying behavior to better understand how it evolves.