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Project: Spider Communication in a Variable World

Project title

Spider Communication in a Variable World

Photo credit:

Mentor/Co-mentor name(s)

Rowan McGinley; Sabrina Amador; Rachel Page; William Wcislo

Location of internship. Will mentor be at this location?

Gamboa, Barro Colorado Island and Tupper, Panamá. The mentor(s) will be at these locations.

Project summary

Communication allows animals to manipulate the behaviour of other animals – from coordinating social defenses to deceiving prey. Successful communication usually requires transmission of a signal from a signaling animal, through the environment, to an animal that receives the signal. Therefore, the environment may play a significant role in the success and the evolution of animal communication. This project will use wolf spiders (Lycosidae) – which live and communicate in habitats that can vary over space and time – to understand the various ways that the environment can affect communication. Male wolf spiders court females using a combination of signals in different sensory modalities (e.g visual and vibrational signals) that vary from one species to another. It is expected that certain types of signals are better suited for communication under the particular environmental conditions in which these different species are active – some species may be diurnal, while others might be more active at night, and different species may inhabit different microhabitats, such as grass or leaf litter. In addition, anthropogenic disturbances to the environment, such as light and noise pollution, may have different effects on the communication of these different species. Interns working on this project will investigate whether the use and success of particular types of signals is dependent on the signaling environment and will have the opportunity to collect various types of data, from field observations to experiments manipulating the signals and signaling environments of these spiders.

Mentorship goals

Over the duration of this project, the intern will gain hands-on experience with various spider species and will have access to a range of equipment for measuring and monitoring animal behaviour in the laboratory and in the field, including high-speed cameras, night-vision cameras, activity monitoring systems and devices for recording substrate-borne vibrations (laser doppler vibrometers and accelerometers). The intern will also be able to collaborate with various members of the Laboratory for Animal Behaviour – a collaboration between the labs of three STRI staff scientists (Sabrina Amador’s Tropical Behavioral Ecology Lab; William Wcislo’s Evolution, Behavior and Neurobiology Lab; Rachel Page’s Sensory and Cognitive Ecology Lab). The intern will be involved in all parts of the research, from experimental design and data collection through to analysis and manuscript publication.

Intern’s role, time commitment and expected products

Experimental design; data collection in the field and in the lab, including collecting spiders in the field; running behavioral trials; identifying and measuring specimens; and analyzing recordings. Hours are flexible, but a minimum of four days each week will be required, including some hours at night. It is expected that the research is carried out with the intention to publish a manuscript and possibly present the findings at conferences.

What are the regularly held occasions for group discussions, attendance at lectures, career counseling, and other educational and experiential opportunities for your interns?

The intern will be able to participate in academic activities at Tupper (seminars and discussion groups), Gamboa (seminars and discussion groups) and Barro Colorado Island (seminars), as well as public outreach events. Also, it is expected that the intern will meet with the mentors on a regular basis to discuss the project and get training.

List of suggested readings

McGinley RH, Starrett J, Bond JE & Hebets EA (2023) Light environment interacts with visual displays in a species-specific manner in multimodal signaling wolf spiders. American Naturalist 201: 472-490. doi:10.1086/722830.

Hebets EA & McGinley RH (2019) Multimodal Signaling, Vol. 1: Encyclopedia of animal behavior (ed. by JC Choe) Elsevier, Academic Press, pp. 487-499.

Fleishman LJ, Wadman CS & Maximov KJ (2020) The interacting effects of total light intensity and chromatic contrast on visual signal visibility in an Anolis lizard. Animal Behaviour 167: 263-273. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2020.07.008.

Rosenthal MF, Hebets EA, Kessler B, McGinley R & Elias DO (2019) The effects of microhabitat specialization on mating communication in a wolf spider. Behavioral Ecology 30: 1398-1405. doi:10.1093/beheco/arz091.

Uetz GW, Roberts JA, Clark DL, Gibson JS & Gordon SD (2013) Multimodal signals increase active space of communication by wolf spiders in a complex litter environment. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 67: 1471-1482. doi:10.1007/s00265-013-1557-y.

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