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.
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
We study how male mating signals (e.g. song) and female mating signal preferences vary based on biotic and abiotic conditions.
- Thermal sensitivity and plasticity in treehoppers & harvestmen
- Host plant identity and reproductive behavior
- Water availability and mating patterns in harvestmen
Society & Behavior
We examine the influence of social experience on mate preferences, mating signals, and competitive behavior.
- The effects of familiarity on mating patterns and aggression
- The effects of rearing conditions on adult reproductive behavior
- How experiencing different mate types influences female choice
Predators & parasites
We explore how predators and parasites impact fitness and how those impacts can shape the evolution of behavior.
- Predator cues and plasticity in reproductive behavior
- Anti-predator mechanisms
- Parasite infections in harvestmen
- Sensory cues used in escape behavior in harvestmen
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.
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.
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.