Our world is rapidly changing, and we want to understand how biodiversity will respond.

Broadly, our research focuses on how environmental conditions--both biotic and abiotic--shape behavioral and physical traits, with particular interest in how genotypes and the environment interact to produce phenotypes. We dive deep into plasticity--or flexibility--in animal traits, including how plasticity is maintained and expressed via genetic processes and whether or not plasticity can facilitate adaptation to environmental change.

Our methods include observational and manipulative approaches, using cutting-edge technologies like laser vibrometers and high speed videography. We anchor our findings in the natural history of the organism with field studies that complement laboratory experimentation.

 
 
 A  Entylia carinata  treehopper on a host plant in our greenhouse. Treehoppers are small (~1/2 cm), plant-feeding insects that communicate using acoustic vibrations. We use them as a study system to better understand a variety of ecological and evolutionary processes. Photo:  Impact Media Lab

A Entylia carinata treehopper on a host plant in our greenhouse. Treehoppers are small (~1/2 cm), plant-feeding insects that communicate using acoustic vibrations. We use them as a study system to better understand a variety of ecological and evolutionary processes. Photo: Impact Media Lab

 
 
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Themes in our research

Our research is loosely organized around three main themes: 1) Ecology & Mating; 2) Society & Behavior, and 2) Predators & Parasites. We conduct experiments in three systems: Enchenopa treehoppers, harvestmen (commonly known as daddy longlegs), and Entylia treehoppers to address a variety of questions within these themes.

 

Ecology & Mating

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We study how male mating signals (e.g. song) and female mating signal preferences vary based on biotic and abiotic conditions.

Projects include

  1. Thermal sensitivity and plasticity in treehoppers & harvestmen
  2. Host plant identity and reproductive behavior
  3. Water availability and mating patterns in harvestmen

Society & Behavior

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We examine the influence of social experience on mate preferences, mating signals, and competitive behavior.

Projects include

  1. The effects of familiarity on mating patterns and aggression
  2. The effects of rearing conditions on adult reproductive behavior
  3. How experiencing different mate types influences female choice

Predators & parasites

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We explore how predators and parasites impact fitness and how those impacts can shape the evolution of behavior.

Projects include

  1. Predator cues and plasticity in reproductive behavior
  2. Anti-predator mechanisms
  3. Parasite infections in harvestmen
  4. Sensory cues used in escape behavior in harvestmen
 
 Harvestmen (aka daddy longleg) individuals preserved in the lab. Harvestmen exhibit high diversity in mating behavior across even closely related species. We are using harvestmen as a study system to better understand the role of morphological, environmental, and social conditions in mating behavior, within a phylogenetic context. Photo:  Kasey Fowler-Finn

Harvestmen (aka daddy longleg) individuals preserved in the lab. Harvestmen exhibit high diversity in mating behavior across even closely related species. We are using harvestmen as a study system to better understand the role of morphological, environmental, and social conditions in mating behavior, within a phylogenetic context. Photo: Kasey Fowler-Finn

 
 
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Featured projects

Too Hot for singing

Temperature Variation and Mating Behavior in Treehoppers

Global warming poses unknown challenges to the abilities of animals to attract and find suitable mates. In this study, we use Enchenopa binotata treehoppers--captured across a latitudinal gradient--to better understand the plasticity of male signals and female preferences in response to temperature changes, as well as their potential consequences for reproduction.

Harvestmen Sex Habits

Environmental, Physiological, and Social Drivers of Mating Behavior

The harvestmen of North America exhibit high diversity in mating behavior across even closely related species. In this study, behavior is compared across species, as well as across geographically separated populations of a single species, in order to better understand the determinants and dynamics of mating behavior.

When predators attack

The physiological and behavioral ways that arthropods detect and escape predators

Attracting mates and finding food can be  risky when predators are around. In this study, we explore 1) the types of "sensory cues" (e.g. sight, sound, or chemicals) that prey use to detect predation threats; 2) how individuals change their behavior when a predator is around to avoid detection;  and 3) the behavioral, physiological, and physical tactics that individuals use to escape an attack.

 
 Doctoral student Will Shoenberger counts Entylia carinata treehoppers on a host plant in the greenhouse. Will studyies the evolution of complex behaviors, including mutualistic interactions and niche construction, using various ant, treehopper, and plant species. Photo:  Impact Media Lab

Doctoral student Will Shoenberger counts Entylia carinata treehoppers on a host plant in the greenhouse. Will studyies the evolution of complex behaviors, including mutualistic interactions and niche construction, using various ant, treehopper, and plant species. Photo: Impact Media Lab

 

We believe that scientific excellence is achieved by synthesizing across diverse questions, organisms and approaches.

Got an idea for a new project? Let's chat!