Our research is motivated by a desire to understand life’s diversity, and we use experimental, observational, and theoretical tools to test evolutionary theory. We tend to prefer invertebrates for their experimental tractability for questions of evolution and behaviour, though will use any system appropriate for the problem at hand. Some areas of particular interest include:
Visual communication is ubiquitous in nature. It underlies some of the most conspicuous aspects of biological diversity—such as the colours of animals and plants—and we are broadly interested in understanding the mechanisms, causes, and consequences of this mode of information exchange. Current projects focus on examining how suites of signalling traits coevolve to enable the effective exchange of information in ‘noisy’ real-world conditions, and how the information encoded in diverse visual cues (colour, pattern, motion etc.) is integrated and weighed by viewers to ultimately effect behaviour. We also enjoy testing and extending methods for analysing colour and vision in nature, as well as developing software that improves the accessibility of such tools.
The evolution and maintenance of extreme variation
Species that exhibit dramatic phenotypic variation—such as polymorphism and sexual dimorphism—offer exciting opportunities for studying the evolutionary, ecological, and genetic basis of phenotypic diversity. We have a long-standing interest in these extremes, such as the colour polymorphic lures of tropical spiders. We’re still working to unravel that particular puzzle, and also have ongoing projects centred on understanding the evolution of sexual dimorphism using model butterflies.
Natural and sexual selection in the wild
How are intersexual differences in sensory ecology reconciled with the fact that males and females largely share a genome? To what extent do signals and sensory systems coevolve? Can we predict the trajectory of signal evolution from knowledge of viewers and/or viewing environments? We are keen to understand how social and natural selection interact to shape phenotypic evolution at large. As part of this work, we’re also testing whether particular phenotypes—such as brilliant structural colours—may be inherently favoured due to, for example, their suitability for encoding biological information (e.g. mate quality), or their unrivalled salience in chaotic visual environments.