Insect behavioral and physiological adaptations under changing agricultural landscapes

Habitat fragmentation can lead to reduction of suitable habitat, low habitat quality with fewer resources and low connectivity among suitable patches.  Working with  a small ground dwelling beetle, I am examining:

  • if populations from small and isolated habitats prioritize locomotion: decreasing metabolic cost of locomotion and increasing investment in legs and leg muscle
  •  How these physiological adaptations trade off with other fitness-traits

Stress responses to predation risk

The costs associated with predator avoidance, known as predator intimidation effects (or non-consumptive effects), are a major component of the net impact of predators on prey.  Using an insect predator-herbivore model system (Fig. 2 a), I am intrested in understanding how predation risk impacts prey nutritional ecology, including resource acquisition and the metabolism of nutritional resources.  Working with the Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) this research focuses on:

  • Predator-induced maternal effects on prey: I have demonstrated how an extreme form of maternal investment -via increased intraclutch cannibalism- acts as an adaptive maternal effect under predation risk.
  • Prey and Stress responses to predation risk

Fig. 2. (a) Podisus maculiventris predator attacking L. decemlineata larva while foraging. (b) Newly hatched larva cannibalizing an egg sibling. (c) Graph shows how prey nutritional condition, via cannibalism, differentially affects the behavioral and physiological responses to predation risk.


A nitrogen-rich lifestyle while feeding on poor nitrogen diets:

The fundamental mismatch in nitrogen content between herbivores and their host plants butterflieshas received considerable attention and proven to be a critical aspect of insect ecology. Surprisingly, the importance of nitrogen limitation for herbivore success is rarely considered within the field of sexual selection, even though the nutritional context in which animals grow and reproduce is known to be of particular importance for the expression of sexually-selected traits. Using Pieridae butterflies as a study system I examine how dietary nitrogen drives phenotypic diversity and underlies patterns of sexual selection. Projects under this topic include:

  • Carry-over effects of larva nutrition on adult reproductive traits
  •  Nitrogen-rich sexual signals and male mate choice
  • Protein-rich nuptial gifts link male and female nutritional budgets