We are interested in many aspects of sexual selection and evolution in insects and other arthropods. We work with several model systems to explore the influence of phenotypic traits on male and female reproductive fitness, and the expected and observed changes in quantitative traits in response to natural and sexual selection.
One of the fundamental problems in evolutionary biology concerns whether variation among animals in life history allocation patterns is adaptive. We approach this problem by examining how sexual selection alters the patterns and payoffs of investment in traits associated with mating relative to investment in other aspects of life history, such as longevity or immunity. We are also interested in how genetic variation underlying investment in life history is maintained, particularly when investment in life history is subject to sexual selection as well as natural selection.
We have several model species (all photos below by Tom Houslay) that we work with in pursuing this research. These include:
Crickets, which are very good models for lab work on how resource acquisition affects sexual investment (because sexual investment in crickets can be efficiently monitored by eavesdropping on males, and recording how much time they spend calling to attract mates);
Dance flies (Empididae: Empidinae), in which females appear to acquire all of their dietary protein as adults from “nuptial gifts” provided by their male mates. In some species, competition among females for this valuable food seems to have caused sex-role reversal, such that females are the more sexually competitive sex, and males the choosier one. In fact, females of some sex-role reversed taxa have even evolved incredibly elaborate ornaments that appear to attract males. The conditions that promote sex-role reversal and female ornamentation in some species but prevent it in others remain unclear, and are the focus of our ongoing research efforts;
Yellow dung flies, which are a model species for studying traits involved in post-copulatory sexual selection. We continue to assess the adaptive significance of traits affected by sexual and natural selection in both sexes.
We also engage opportunistically in collaborative research on other organisms whose biology allows tests of evolutionary or ecological theory, including bumblebees, Drosophila, elephants, hoverflies, Linyphiid spiders, and weta.