We study how plastic (flexible) and evolutionary responses to environmental variation shape behavioral and morphological traits. We explore a variety of research questions, approaches, and organisms to better understand how plasticity and genetic proccesses contribute to biological diversification.


Enchenopa binotata

treehoppers are small

(1/2 cm) plant-feeding

insects that sing to one another to coordinate mating. However, their song is not the typical sounds we think of traveling through the air. Instead, their song travels through the plant stems via tiny vibrations. We use special equipment (laser vibrometers, accelerometers) to listen, and vibrational playbacks to sing back to them. We are primarily interested in how male song and female mate preferences differ across variable social and ecological environments.

Some major projects on treehoppers include:

i. Social plasticity - Several social factors influence female mate preferences and male singing behavior. So far, we have documented these to include the composition of conspecifics and heterospecifics, as well as density.

ii. Genetic structure of traits involved in mating - patterns of genetic variation and covariation in female preferences and male song vary across species and populations, and should influence patterns of diversification.

iii. Temperature variation and mating behavior - Temperature influences almost every major biological process, and mating behavior is no exception. We currently have a multi-year project investigating genetic and plastic factors influencing patterns of mating in treehoppers across temperatures and latitudes.

Leiobunine harvestmen of

North America (commonly

known as daddy longlegs)

show high diversity in

mating behavior in the

clade. In some species,

long drawn-out mating

interactions involve

struggles between the male

and female. In other species, mating involves a quick, cordial exchange. We study this diversity in behavior within a phylogenetic context using a combination of field work and experimentation in the lab. Some major projects on harvestmen include:


i. Variation in mating behavior across social contexts - the types of competitors and suitors around should influence who is successful in mating. We are researching how different social situations influence mating dynamics.

ii. Geographic variation in mating behavior - we are conducting a long-term project studying variation in mating behavior across populations but within species.

iii. Evolution of mating behavior - we are interested in understanding how and why different morphological traits (e.g. male body size, armament size) predict the outcome of mating interactions in different species in the clade.


                                 Predators can influence

                                 prey by consuming them,

                                 but also by influencing the

                                 behaviors prey exhibit. For

                                 example, male wolf spiders

                                 delay courtship and male

                                 treehoppers will delay flight

                                 when predation risk is high.

                                 We continue to expand our

studies of predator-prey interactions in other systems. Some major questions include:

i. Predator cues and plasticity - organisms often change their behavioral patterns when they encounter cues from potential predators. We are interested in the potential evolutionary consequences of this type of plasticity.

ii. Predator-prey interactions - We are interested in predators detect and hunt prey, as well as the evolution of anti-predator mechanisms in prey. We are particularly interested in how these processes unfold in vibrationally communicating and vibrationally sensitive arthropods.

iii. Inter-species interactions - Plastic responses to the threat of predation are often phenotype-specific. We explore the patterns of plasticity in relationship to phenotype across a variety of arthropods.

Office: 324 Macelwane

Main Lab: 143B