Behavioural Ecology Projects


Startle displays: a new route to resolving the aposematism paradox.
ARC DECRA Fellowship 2019 - 2021

Warning colours should prevent prey from being attacked, so how come mountain katydids are cryptic before they are attacked and only reveal their colours afterwards? We are using behavioural assays, spectrophotometry, toxicology, field-based predation trials and mechanical models to try and explain this paradoxical display.

Related: here’s fun look at eyespots in Australian insects! Curiosity Show on youtube:

Photo by Emily Burdfield-Steel

Photo by Emily Burdfield-Steel

Tracking warning signals across a variable landscape
ARC Discovery project 2019 - 2021
Team: Marie Herberstein Macquarie University, Nathan Hart Macquarie University, Hannah Rowland Max Planck Institute, Johanna Mappes University of Jyväskylä.

This project aims to investigate how local environmental factors and predator communities affect warning colour expression across the Australian landscape. Warning colours protect toxic prey from predators who learn to associate the colours with an unpleasant taste. Theoretically, warning colours should not vary, but in nature we find appreciable and unexplained variation. This project will utilise Australia's excellent environmental and biodiversity informatics infrastructure to inform the public and decision makers about the adaptability of animals to environmental change such as predator loss.


Deimatic displays in the praying mantises
Collaborators: James O'Hanlon University of New England, Marta Vidal-Garcia ANU, Gavin Svenson Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Among the most impressive of defensive displays are those of the praying mantises. These stealthy predators are veracious hunters, but are also palatable prey for many predators. Mantises are not toxic and many rely on camouflage as a primary defence but once detected some can change their posture to reveal conspicuous colour patterns. We are reconstructing the evolutionary history of deimatic displays in praying mantises to gain insights into their evolution.

Photo by Kate Umbers

Photo by Kate Umbers

Life-saving tongues: Do blue tongues tongues save their lives?

Collaborators: Martin Whiting, Sergio Naretto, William Bailes, and David Inglis, Macquarie University.

We are entering the wonderful world of the Tiliqua skinks with a project on the protective value of their colourful tongue displays. Naturally this project involves some robotics and some kookaburras. One thing's for sure, we will be working flat out, like a lizard drinking.

Photo by Kate Umbers

Photo by Kate Umbers

The adaptive significance of fighting in male grasshoppers

Collaborator: Marie Herberstein, Macquarie University

During her PhD Kate discovered male grasshoppers fighting over ovipositing females. This was exciting because before this grasshoppers were known for avoiding conflict. Kate conducted a series of experiments to try to get at what was driving these fights, female preference or male conflict. Now Nikolai Tatarnic, Peter Mahoney, Giselle Muschett and are continuing to look into male choice, female condition and paternity analyses to tie down why these grasshoppers fight.

Photo by Kate Umbers

Photo by Kate Umbers

Protecting reintroduced corroboree frogs from predation

Collaborators: Julia Riley Stellenboch University, JP Lawrence University of Mississippi, Phil Byrne University of Wollongong.

Following the wonderful success of breeding programs around the country, how well will the world's most endangered frog fare upon being reintroduced into the alps? We are interested increasing our understanding of the natural history of the corroboree frog to ensure we understand all the threats they face.