Like many biologists, I am fascinated by the enormous diversity of the animal world. Although we generally find diversity everywhere that we look, there is perhaps no group of traits where this diversity is more apparent than in sexual signals. Many animals have colorful, elaborate, and seemingly superfluous mating signals and behaviors. These signals have been both an inspiration and a headache for biologists since Darwin lamented that, “the feathers on a peacock’s tail, whenever I look at them, make me sick.” The reason that these signals are so troubling is that we generally think of selection as acting to produce highly efficient organisms that are exquisitely adapted to their environment, yet sexual signals seem to fly in the face of this logic: they appear to be both unnecessary and, in some cases, extremely costly. Despite apparent costs, sexual signals persist in many species across a wide range of taxonomic groups.
My research program is aimed at answering (or beginning to answer!) several questions relating to the evolution and maintenance of sexual signals. For example, why have signals at all? Are signals used for communicating between competing males or are they favored because choosy females base their mating decisions on signaling? If signals are related to reproductive success, why is this the case? Do the signals actually say something about the signaler and, if so, what? What prevents some males from ‘cheating’ and, if selection is so strong, why don’t males all have equally elaborate signals? How do females assess behavioral signals that often vary across time even within the same male and what factors influence this variation? Finally, why do many species have multiple signals, often in different modalities, rather than just a single reliable signal?
Click the pictures below to learn more about some of my projects.
Why have multiple signals? How do signals interact?
How do animals deal with noisy signals? Is signal repetition important?
Why don't males cheat? What maintains signal honesty?