I joined the Entomology and Plant Pathology Department in August 2016. I came to UTIA from the USDA Agricultural Research Service where I spent ten years (2006-2016) studying fire ant biology and natural history. I held two academic positions before that (Western Michigan University [1998-2002] and University of Wisconsin [2002-2006]). My primary teaching responsibilities in the past were Introductory Genetics, Evolutionary Genetics, and Molecular Evolution. I was a postdoctoral research associate for almost four years at three different institutions. I received my Ph.D. at the University of Georgia under the supervision of Dr. Ken Ross in the Department of Entomology. My research program has largely focused on functional, population, and evolutionary genomics studies of fire ants (genus Solenopsis), although I have worked in other systems over my career. Mentoring is critical to integrating my teaching and research responsibilities. I have mentored six postdoctoral associates, three graduate students, and I have served on 15 graduate committees. I also actively recruit undergraduates and they play integral roles in almost all of my studies. I have mentored more than 27 undergraduate students to date. I am committed to strengthening diversity in science and I have a long track record of mentoring and hiring students of STEM-underrepresented groups.


Research focus

A central concern to evolutionary biology is understanding the evolutionary, ecological, and historical processes responsible for the patterns of diversity observed in nature. One main goal of my research is to contribute to this understanding. My research program largely focuses on functional, population and evolutionary genomics studies of fire ants (genus Solenopsis). Fire ants, especially the invasive species Solenopsis invicta, already are considered an ideal model for evolutionary and ecological studies given their pest status and the wealth of existing background information on their biology and natural history, including detailed understanding of the population genetics in their native and introduced ranges. As a result of the development and availability of new genomic resources and our continuing efforts, fire ants quickly are becoming a social insect model system (along with honey bees) for functional, ecological, and evolutionary genomic studies. An additional significant component of my research focuses on using these population genomic data and approaches to address more applied questions, which ultimately are aimed at the development of biologically based, environmentally safe strategies to manage fire ants (as well as other invasive ants and emerging pests). Thus, for my research program now I employ tools of molecular biology, population genetics and functional genomics to address basic evolutionary questions using fire ants as a model system as well as apply these to address fundamental issues or questions in biological control or population suppression of fire ants.


Extension and outreach focus

I consider outreach an important facet of teaching. I have had the wonderful opportunity to develop and teach an outdoor science curriculum during a week-long field biology course sponsored by a middle school in Gainesville, Florida. One goal was to make learning science fun! I also am involved in two citizen science projects. Citizen science—the inclusion of the public in scientific research—is one solution and is an approach that has been growing in use over the last decade, including in the area of natural resource management. Citizen science is a cost effective way of increasing the temporal and spatial breadth of data collection and analysis, and provides an opportunity to educate and engage the public about science in general and more specifically topics related to a specific project. One project builds on an already successful citizen science project created by Dr. Sean Ryan (Pieris Project) that is one of the few that focus on an agricultural pest—the globally invasive cabbageworm Pieris rapae. Our joint project expands the scope of the original project to include detailed studies of this pest and a naturally occurring virus that infects P. rapae and is used to control this pest. The second project, which is also led by Dr. Sean Ryan, a postdoctoral researcher under my supervision, incorporates citizen science to describe several new fire ant species.


Teaching focus

I believe that a major goal of education is the development of self-directed or perpetuating learners. In this age, information is accumulating so rapidly that no one can possess enough knowledge or skills to insure they will be ready for future developments. We must all be equipped to acquire new skills as the need dictates. Therefore, I feel I am responsible as a teacher not only for imparting knowledge, but also for teaching students to think critically and independently. I also know from personal experience as a student that the teachers who have had the most impact on me are those who forced me to think critically and independently rather than those who merely presented factual information directly from a textbook. Although I had little formal training in teaching and learning prior to receiving my first faculty position, I have worked hard to educate myself in pedagogy and mentoring. I have had a variety of teaching experiences from small graduate-level specialty courses to undergraduate biology courses for science majors. My goal across all of these courses is to communicate principles of biology whereby students learn by actively participating (experiential learning) and by thinking critically. Thus, I’ve always placed an emphasis on learning important concepts within a given field or discipline more than simply relaying factual material for memorization.


EPP 531 – Special Problems in Entomology, Nematology, and Plant Pathology (course syllabus on Canvas)

Mark windham

office (865) 974-7955
mobile (352) 682-9048
fax (865) 974-4744

371 Plant Biotechnology Building
2505 EJ Chapman Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996-4560

Professional appointment
34% Research, 33% Teaching, 33% Extension

Graduate program concentrations
Bioinformatics, Genomics, and Molecular Interactions
Organismal Biology, Ecology, and Systematics

Areas of expertise
Population and evolutionary genetics/genomics of insects

evolution, fire ants, gene flow, hybrid zones, invasive species, population genetics and genomics, speciation

B.S., Entomology, University of Georgia (1989)
Ph.D., Entomology, University of Georgia (1995)

Creative Art Microscope image

Research questions in our laboratory

  • How do invasive species adapt to new environments?
  • What genomic changes occur when a species invades a new habitat?
  • What are the genetic underpinnings of complex social behaviors?
  • What is the genetic architecture (number, distribution, and effects of genes) of species differences?
  • What are the consequences of hybridization and admixture between different species?

Current lab members

  • Sean Ryan (postdoctoral researcher; Ph.D., Notre Dame University)

Selected Publications
Huang, Y.-C., Lee, C.-C., Kao, C.-Y., Chang, N.-C., Lin, C.-C., Shoemaker, D. D., Wang, J. 2016. Evolution of long centromeres in fire ants. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 16: 189. doi: 10.1186/s12862-016-0760-7.

Poelchau, M., Coates, B., Childers, C., Evans, J., Hunter, W., Perez De Leon, A., Hackett, K., Shoemaker, D. D. 2016. Agricultural applications of insect ecological genomics. Current Opinions in Insect Science, 13: 61-69.

Gotzek, D., Axen, H., Suarez, A., Helms Cahan, S. Shoemaker, D. D. 2015. Global invasion history of the tropical fire ant: A stowaway on the first global trade routes. Molecular Ecology, 24: 374-388.

Wang, J., Wurm, Y., Nipitwattanaphon, M., Riba-Grognuz , O., Huang, Y.-C., Shoemaker, D. D., Keller, L. 2013. A Y-like social chromosome causes alternative colony organization in fire ants. Nature, 493: 664-668.

Lawson, L.P., Vander Meer, R.K., Shoemaker, D.D. 2012. Male reproductive fitness and queen polyandry are linked to variation in the supergene Gp-9 in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 279: 3217-3222.

Wurm, Y., Wang, J., Riba-Grognuz, O., Corona, M., Nygaard, S., Hunt, B. G., Ingram, K. K., Falquet, L., Nipitwattanaphon, M., Gotzek, D., Dijkstra, M. B., Oettler, J., Shih, C.-J., Wu, W-J., Yang, C.-C., Thomas, J., Beaudoing, E., Pradervand, S., Flegel, V., Fabbretti, R., Stockinger, H., Long, L., Farmerie, W., Oakey, J., Boomsma, J. J., Pamilo, P., Yi, S. V., Heinze, J., Goodisman, M. A. D, Farinelli, L., Harshman, K., Hulo, N., Cerutti, L., Xenarios, I., Shoemaker, D. D., Keller, L. 2011. The genome of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 108: 5679-5684.

Hunt, B. G., Ometto, L., Wurm, Y., Shoemaker, D. D., Yi, S. V., Keller, L., Goodisman, M. A. D. 2011. Relaxed selection is a precursor to the evolution of phenotypic plasticity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 108:15936-15941.

Ascunce, M. S., Yang, C.-C., Oakey, J., Calcaterra, L., Wu, W.-J., Shih, C.-J., Goudet, J., Ross, K. G., Shoemaker, D. D. 2011. Global invasion history of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. Science, 331:1066-1068.

For complete list of publications please visit my

The Entomology & Plant Pathology Department is grateful to have been a part of your educational experience. Your ongoing support is essential for our continued success. Thanks to our donors, this is a time of unparalleled success for our department. With your support, we can achieve continued greatness.