Spying on a Hidden Predator-Prey Communication Channel

Project description

Animals use different sensory modalities for several purposes (i.e. to attract and/or locate a mate, to find a prey or to deter a predator). The use of substrate-borne vibrations is one of the most ancient and widespread forms of communication, and yet it is very poorly studied. Most of the research so far has focused on sexual behavior (i.e. attracting and locating a mate). Sexual signals which carry intended messages exhibit certain robustness due to sexual selection pressure. However, little is known about variability in vibrational cues (i.e. carrying unintended messages) due to environmental factors.

Different plant species and parts of plants can differ in the way they transmit vibrational cues. Variation in transmission properties can affect the way that cues are perceived, and might lead to important consequences for the evolution of vibrational communication systems. The student will conduct behavioral experiments / observations to determine which plant traits are important in the transmission properties of vibrational cues. The study system is Spodoptera exigua (the Beet-army worm), which is a generalist pest species in Europe. Foraging cues by S. exigua can used by parasitic wasps to locate their host. We are interested in understanding how different plant traits (in different plant species) affect the way that cues are produced and transmitted.

The student will use a Laser-Doppler vibrometer to record the Doppler shift in Frequency of cues produced during S. exigua foraging on different plant species. Plant traits will also be measured.

Figure 1: S. exigua foraging on Helianthus annuus (sunflower) on the left, Doppler-Laser Vibrometer on the right


Project goal

Determine which plant traits are important in the production and transmission of vibrational cues.

Student responsibilities

  • Carry out behavioral experiments / observations independently
  • Analyze the collected data and write a report
  • Assist in the rearing and maintenance of plant and animal cultures

Location and timeframe

This project will be carried-out at the VU Amsterdam (Animal Ecology labs).
Starting date is flexible between January and February 2017. Applications are now open.

Supervision and information

Estefania Velilla, MSc (room M-122, W&N building, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): e.velillaperdomo@vu.nl
Dr. Wouter Halfwerk (room H-142, W&N building, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): W.H.Halfwerk@vu.nl