We study how interactions between species contribute to the evolution and maintenance of behavioral phenotypes. We spend most of our time right now studying mating behavior and communication.
HYBRIDIZATION and MATING BEHAVIOR — In an area where two formerly separated but closely related insect species have come back together, mating decisions sometimes result in hybridization. These matings are driven at least in part by male preference for female body size (Hamel, Nease, & Miller, 2015), and they produce many fewer eggs and offspring than do matings between conspecifics (Hamel et al., in revision). In 2015 and 2016, we tested the hypothesis that reproductive isolation should be greater in this area of species overlap, and we examined habitat and host plant use by both insect species in the field. In 2017, we documented the extremely long copulation durations of one of the focal species, and we assessed the effects of mating duration on female reproductive success. In 2018, we are examining how diet influences reproductive development for the two focal species.
VIBRATIONAL COMMUNICATION — It is estimated that >90% of all insect species communicate at least in part with substrate vibrations - in other words, by shaking the surface they are on. Such vibrations can travel through leaf litter, across the water's surface, and through plant stems. This is a largely unexplored frontier! For such species, predator-prey interactions, mate choice, and parent-offspring behavior can all be mediated by signals undetectable to the human ear (Cocroft & Hamel 2010; Hamel & Cocroft 2012). We use recording and playback experiments in the laboratory and field to test hypotheses about the functions and benefits of such signaling behavior (Cocroft et al. 2014).
STUDY SYSTEMS — We study hybridization and mating behavior with two species of leaf-footed bugs in the southeastern US. We study vibrational communication with neotropical katydids in Panama, and with katydids and treehoppers in NC.