My primary research area is the behavioral ecology of spiders, as they are common and ecologically important terrestrial invertebrate predators. Their large behavioral repertoire and amenability to laboratory culture make them ideal for a diversity of experimental manipulations. Spiders represent a large taxon of some 38,000 known species and probably just as many that are currently unknown. Despite their abundance and potential importance for the regulation of insect populations, they tend to be an understudied group. My current research interests include chemically-mediated predator-prey interactions, foraging behavior, sexual selection, cannibalism, and the evolution of signal design. A common thread running through my various research projects is how the environment shapes the evolution of particular sensory systems in an animal, how these sensory systems then, in turn, bias the type of information available to an animal, and finally, how that information influences a variety of fitness-related decisions that an animal makes day to day (or even minute to minute). In other words I address three primary questions: 1) what information does an animal have about its environment? 2) what information does the animal use under what context? and 3) how does this information translate into specific foraging, reproductive, or predator avoidance behavior? My previous research involved examining cues used in decision-making processes, as well as the origin of sensory biases in the evolution of courtship displays of spiders in the genus Schizocosa. I have also examine how sensory biases may influence the evolution of displays in anoline lizards.Previous research with Leo Fleishman involved investigating the evolution of signal design in anoline lizards . These lizards have colored dewlaps and elaborate behavioral components to their aggression, courtship, and territorial displays. The form of these signals has presumably been shaped by the interactions of a variety of selective forces. Selection on the design of the signals include the ambient light and physical structure of the environment, the sensory biases of the receiver of the signal, and perhaps other factors such as the presence of predators. My doctoral work was at the University of Cincinnati with George Uetz where I examined how different types of sensory information influenced a wolf spider's decision to stay or leave a particular foraging patch. If you're interested in Schizocosa biology check out the Schizocosa homepage currently under construction.
Foraging theory predicts that animals will behave in a way that maximizes the amount of energy/time. Although many animals forage in a way consistent with theory, many spider species do not. I am interested in investigating the cognitive and perceptual constraints that limit the efficiency with which spiders can procure food. This interest includes, but is not limited to, determining the sensory channels used while foraging, understanding what information is important in determining how long spiders stay at a particular foraging site, and the influence of prior experience, stage of development, and physiological state on the foraging patterns of wolf spiders.
The genus Schizocosa is a rapidly evolving species cluster. Some species can only be identified based on behavioral characters, whereby interbreeding is prevented solely by differences in courtship displays of the male and differential receptivity by the female. Female spiders have distinct sensory biases with respect to receptivity to male courtship displays; this plays a critical role in species recognition and perhaps sympatric speciation processes in this genus. I am interested in the origin of these sensory biases and am exploring the sensory modes used in a variety of ecological contexts among different species within this genus.
If you are interested in Arachnology or Animal Behavior societies try out these sites.
Wolf spiders, like many other types of spiders leave a silk dragline behind them as they move through the environment. This, along with feces and other waste products, may be used as a source of information for both predators and prey. Currently, Ann Rypstra's lab at Miami University, along with students here, are exploring the information content of spider silk and excreta. Recent studies have found that wolf spiders are capable of detecting and responding to chemical cues produced from insects and other wolf spiders. Further, the wolf spider, Pardosa milvina, is capable of not only detecting chemical cues from a larger predatory wolf spider, Hogna helluo, but can also determine the recent diet of the Hogna producing the cues.