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Research in our laboratory focuses on the evolution of communication and its relationship with divergence, speciation and sociality.
Divergence and speciation

What role do communication systems play in assortative mating between diverging populations? And how do the ecological changes that accompany diversification shape the communication systems used in mating and other social interactions? We currently have two main study systems. The Enchenopa binotata species complex of treehoppers is one of the most widely cited examples of sympatric speciation in plant-feeding insects. The nine species in this clade are host plant specialists that may have diversified as a consequence of changes in host use.

The Enchenopa binotata species complex
We are investigating the patterns and processes of divergence in mating signals in the E. binotata complex, focusing on the consequences of signal evolution for assortative mating and sympatric divergence. Our approaches include comparative behavioral studies of signals, preferences, and mating systems; investigation of how signaling environments differ among host plants; ecological experiments to assess local adaptation and developmental plasticity; and molecular phylogeny and phylogeography to estimate species relationships and the evolutionary history of host plant shifts. This research was initiated in collaboration with the late Tom Wood and continues in collaboration with Randy Hunt (at Indiana University Southeast).
Social behavior

A second focus of research in the lab is the evolution of social behavior and social communication systems. Our study species here are also treehoppers, which are well known for their diversity of social behavior. Our approaches include broad comparative analyses of the relationship between ecology, social behavior and communication; investigation of how maternal care influences the availability of nutritional resources for offspring; and detailed behavioral experiments to assess signal function and the interplay of cooperation and competition within social groups. One species that we focus much attention on regarding social interactions is the thornbug, Umbonia crassicornis. This species exhibits maternal care, with the mother defending her offspring against predators. The role of communication signals in mediating interactions between offspring, as well as between sexually mature adults is currently under investigation.

Substrate-borne signals
The insects we are studying communicate by means of substrate-borne vibrations, and we are also studying aspects of vibrational communication. These include studies of localization of vibrational signals; study of ecological sources of selection on vibrational communication systems, including characterization of vibrational environments and the vibration-transmitting properties of plants; and the development of more accurate methods of measuring and characterizing vibrational signals.

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