Research

Research Interests

I’m fascinated by the many different forms of conflict which result from sexual and natural selection. I spent my PhD investigating sexual conflict and sperm competition in the broad-horned flour beetle Gnatocerus cornutus. During this time I watched a lot of interactions both male-male and male-female, in which males would often court other males while aggressively wrestling with females. These observations of unexpected and seemingly maladaptive behaviour sparked my interest in social interactions, in particular agonistic encounters.

CURRENT PROJECTS

2018-2021

‘The role of skill in animal contests: analysis of a neglected RHP trait in fighting hermit crab’

(Named Researcher Co-I, Prof Mark Briffa as PI)

My current research focuses on the the idea that a good fighter may not always be the one who fights with the most vigour, but that skill may play a role in determining fighting success too. While we know that skill plays an important role in human conflict, both in warfare and sports, this phenomenon has yet to be explored in animal contests. Professor Mark Briffa and I have recently secured a BBSRC grant to explore the role of skill in hermit crab fights using the common European hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus. Unlike many crustaceans, hermit crabs have soft abdomens making them vulnerable to predation unless they can secure the safety of an empty gastropod shell. However, not just any shell will do, hermit crabs need a perfect fit which will allow them to retract their whole body inside when threatened but that is still easy to move around in. Thus hermit crabs grapple with one another over the ownership of the ‘perfect’ shell. During these fights, hermit crabs take on either the role of the attacker or the role of the defender (whose shell has caught the attention of the attacker). In an effort to make the defender give up the goods, the attacker raps its shell against the defender’s shell, all the while trying to pull the defender out. We know from previous research that the likelihood of the attacker succeeding is influenced by the vigour with which he raps but we want to know whether where he raps matters too. For instance is an attacker who raps on the same spot continually more likely to secure a victory? Or is it better to cover a greater area of the defender’s shell in raps? These are just some of the questions we hope to answer with this project over the next three years.

PREVIOUS PROJECTS

2015-2018

The role of additive and non-additive genetic effects during animal contests in the beadlet sea anemone Actinia equina

(with Prof Mark Briffa, Prof Alistair Wilson (Uni of Exeter) & Dr Manuela Truebano Garcia)

Behaviour is shaped both by genetics and by the environment, both physical and social. During interactions with others, such as contests, an individual’s behaviour may be determined not only by its own genotype but by the genotype of its social partner. By pairing individuals of different genotypes we can examine whether some genotypes are consistently more aggressive than others regardless of who they are fighting or whether the behaviour of individuals changes depending on the genotype of their opponent. This project aims to explore these concepts using the clonal beadlet sea anemone Actinia equina. These anemones are extraordinary, they are in many ways extremely simple in form, lacking a central nervous system and specialised organs for processes such as excretion, yet they possess weapons. Beadlets are named for the ring of blue bead-like structures called acrorhagi that border their body columns. These acrorhagi are crammed full of stinging nematocysts, which are deployed during fights with conspecifics, leaving the opponent covered in necrotising scars.

Outside of sea anemones and hermit crabs, I am eager to learn more about the use of weapons during conflicts. What differentiates weapons from other kinds of traits? How do individuals cope with the costs of using weapons (specifically self-inflicted damage)? How do the costs and benefits of offensive and defensive weapons differ from one another?

Current Projects

2015-2018

The role of additive and non-additive genetic effects during animal contests in the beadlet sea anemone Actinia equina

(with Prof Mark Briffa, Prof Alistair Wilson (Uni of Exeter) & Dr Manuela Truebano Garcia)

Behaviour is shaped both by genetics and by the environment, both physical and social. During interactions with others, such as contests, an individual’s behaviour may be determined not only by its own genotype but by the genotype of its social partner. By pairing individuals of different genotypes we can examine whether some genotypes are consistently more aggressive than others regardless of who they are fighting or whether the behaviour of individuals changes depending on the genotype of their opponent. This project aims to explore these concepts using the clonal beadlet sea anemone.

 

 

Advertisements