Sensory Ecology


Drawings and photos (from various field guides) of the colourful venters of Myobatrachid frogs for use in colour pattern analysis

Drawings and photos (from various field guides) of the colourful venters of Myobatrachid frogs for use in colour pattern analysis

Multimodal defences in anurans

We are working on defensive colouration in Australian frogs. In this project we focus on the visual and behavioural ecology, toxicology and heritability of frog defenses in Pseudophryne australis (the red-crowned toadlet). While working as a postdoc with Scott Keogh at ANU and in collaboration with Allison ShawDale Roberts and Phil Byrne, Kate started a rather massive project qualitatively and quantitatively assessing the patterns of colouration across the frog family, Myobatrachidae. This group includes some colourful species such as the poison frogs (e.g. Pseudophryne corroborree & P. australis), crucifix toad (Notaden bennetii) and sunset frog (Spicospina flammocaerulea)We are exploring how their colour patterns occur across our phylogenetic framework to try and explain the enormous variation in this group. 


Pseudophryne corroboree (corroboree frog) having its photo taken for colour and colour pattern analysis © Joseph Bailey

Pseudophryne corroboree (corroboree frog) having its photo taken for colour and colour pattern analysis © Joseph Bailey

Colouration in corroboree frogs

With Phil Byrne, Aimee Silla and Joseph Bailey, we are analysing the colour and colour pattern of corroboree frogs (Pseudophryne corroboree) that have grown up on carotenoid-rich and carotenoid-poor diets. This involves using standardised photography, spectrophotometry and a whole lot of number crunching. It also involves the privilege of working on one of the coolest and most critically endangered frog species going round.


Tiliqua sp blue tongue lizard [image: wikicommons]

Tiliqua sp blue tongue lizard [image: wikicommons]

Defensive display in blue-toungued lizards and friends (Tiliqua skinks)

With Martin WhitingTerry Ord, Darrell Kemp 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, some kookaburras and some time spent flat out like a lizard drinking.

 


Acripeza reticulata (mountain katydid): A: adult male on defensive posture, B: adult female in defensive posture, C: adult female in resting posture, D: subadult male in defensive posture, E: subadult female in defensive posture, F: toxins on abdomen of adult female. © Kate Umbers

Acripeza reticulata (mountain katydid): A: adult male on defensive posture, B: adult female in defensive posture, C: adult female in resting posture, D: subadult male in defensive posture, E: subadult female in defensive posture, F: toxins on abdomen of adult female. © Kate Umbers

Deimatic display and defensive colouration in the mountain katydid (Acripeza reticulata)

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? Together with Johanna Mappes and Sebastiano De Bona, in a project funded by the Hermon Slade Foundation, we are using behavioural assays, spectrophotometry, toxicology, field-based predation trials and robotic models to try and explain this paradoxical display.


My title slide from my talk at Evolution 2012 in Ottawa, Canada

My title slide from my talk at Evolution 2012 in Ottawa, Canada

Mating strategies for ageing virgins

Females in many species must make decisions about when and how enthusiastically they should signal for a mate. In many moths females vary their signalling intensity over their lifetime. With Matthew Symonds and Hanna Kokko, we are all about optimal female strategies under different scenarios. Given that females must balance their lifetime requirement for sperm with the possibility of encountering too many or too few males, what should they do and what do they do?


Teleogryllus oceanicus (field cricket) mating trials © Kate Umbers

Teleogryllus oceanicus (field cricket) mating trials © Kate Umbers

Chemical signalling and male mate choice

Males should choose to mate with females through which their paternity is maximised. How can males tell which females are the best? With Leigh Simmons, we are am exploring the effects of diet on female fecundity and males' ability to choose wisely.  


The adaptive significance of fighting in male grasshoppers

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.