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Phillip Barden

Barden, Phillip M.
Assistant Professor, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE
428B CKB

About Me

I am an evolutionary biologist interested in social insects, the fossil record, and comparative genomics. The projects I am involved in are typically centered around understanding patterns of diversity, ecological impact, and the evolution of complex behavior in some of nature’s greatest success stories: ants and termites – however – I also occasionally work on other organism groups. More broadly, I use social insects as a system for testing methods related to the use of comparative paleontological and genetic data, as well as novel imaging pipelines.


  • American Museum of Natural History – Richard Gilder Graduate School, PhD., 2015

  • Arizona State University – School of Life Sciences, B.S., 2009



  • Entomology Society of America

  • Society of Systematic Biologists


  • Department of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History

Awards and Grants

  • Entomology Society of America Snodgrass Memorial Award, 2016

  • National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology, 2015

Research Interests

  • Extracting information from data-rich fossil specimens

  • Comparative genomics and morphology

  • The evolutionary history of social insects

  • Social insect ecology

Current Research

Our current projects deal with describing and contextualizing fossil amber specimens, exploring and quantifying functional morphology, and comparative genomics of eusocial insects (such as ants, termites, social bees and wasps). From a methodological perspective, much of this work translates into preparing and imaging fossils, generating phylogenetic hypotheses that describe the relationships among living and extinct species, creating three-dimensional models of modern and fossil species to better understand natural form/function, and statistical analyses of morphological and genetic data. In addition, some student projects are rooted in ecology and the role of social insects in terrestrial communities, as well as the response of these animals to dynamic environments. Some core questions that drive our work:

How can we extract the maximum amount of information from fossil specimens to uncover evolutionary history and inform our understanding of how life changes over time?

What can convergent trends in morphology or behavior tell us about broad phenotypic and genetic evolutionary patterns in biology?

Selected Publications

Barden, P., Herhold, H.W. & Grimaldi, D.A. 2017. A New Genus of Hell Ants from the Cretaceous (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Haidomyrmecini) with a Novel Head Structure. Systematic Entomology 42: 837-846.

Barden, P. & Ware, J.L. 2017. Relevant Relicts: the impact of fossil distributions on biogeographic reconstruction. Insect Systematics and Diversity 1: 1-7

Barden, P. 2017. Fossil ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): ancient diversity and the rise of modern lineages. Myrmecological News 14: 1-30

Barden, P. & Grimaldi, D.A. 2016. Adaptive radiation in socially advanced stem-group ants from the Cretaceous. Current Biology 26: 515-521

Engel, M.S., Barden, P., Riccio, M. & Grimaldi, D.A. 2016. Morphologically Specialized Termite Castes and Advanced Sociality in the Early Cretaceous. Current Biology 26: 522-530