Sensory ecology deals with how animals acquire, process, and use information in their lives, and the sensory systems involved. It investigates the type of information that is gathered by animals, how it is used in a range of behaviours, and the evolution of such traits. It deals with both mechanistic questions and functional questions.
Our lab is interested in how sensory systems work, and the links between the senses, signals, behaviour, and evolution. We use a mix of lab, semi-natural and field experiments to determine which traits affect precopulatory and postcopulatory male mate choice. Much of our work in this area focuses on the long distance chemical signals produced by female praying mantids and the sensory organs (i.e. antennae) that males use to assess these signals, but visual signalling systems are also of interest to us. In future, we hope to identify and synthesise the aforementioned sex pheromones and subsequently measure the pheromone quantity and quality of individual females.
We are also interested in exploring the sensory ecology of praying mantids in the context of scramble competition polygyny. Sexual selection on signals and mate searching ability is predicted to be particularly strong in species exhibiting a scramble competition mating system, where male–male competition is essentially restricted to the race for females and does not involve fighting or female defence. In scrambling species, males that are more efficient in detecting and locating females are expected to achieve fertilisation successfully.