Predator-prey interactions and the maintenance of polymorphism

Plantaginis field experimentAntagonistic interactions between predators and prey are powerful evolutionary forces. Relationships between predators and prey offer classic ways of exploring adaptive evolution. Studies regarding anti-predator traits and questions about how predators can change ecological conditions that influence prey require integrating fields of behavior, ecology, genetics, and other disciplines to understand fully the evolutionary picture. In our general research we examine how the multidimensional nature of predator-prey relationships influence co-evolutionary dynamics between antagonists. We are also interested in the conditions that facilitate alternative evolutionary outcomes such as trait polymorphism. Our recent work has specifically focused on understanding the interplay between natural- and sexual selection, cost of defense in aposematic insects, and how predator community structure can switch selection on signaling prey. We have also started to look more comprehensively on how different types of enemies (birds, arthropods, diseases) shape the evolution of primary and secondary defences. Our findings serve to highlight the importance of understanding how natural, sexual, and anthropological selection pressures such as climate change can have important consequences on predator-prey dynamics.

Specific goals include:

  • Determining the relative influence of gene flow and adaptive divergence in maintaining colour polymorphism and other aspects of warning signal diversity.
  • Understanding the genetic basis and underlying costs of primary (warning signal, olfactory cues) and secondary defences (toxins, mechanical defence, immunocompetence), as well as the role of tradeoffs in the evolution of predator-prey interaction.
  • Investigating the arms race between host and parasite species, trade-offs between different life history functions, and the repercussions of infections at the cellular and gene level.
  • Isolating and analysis of sequence variation in candidate genes coding for wing colour, pigmentation and patterning of Arctia plantagis

Research team