I investigate the behavioural ecology of invertebrates including spiders and insects within an evolutionary framework. I am interested in establishing spiders as significant models in behavioural and evolutionary research, deceptive signals in spiders and orchids, and the mating behaviour and sexual selection in spiders and insects.
Spiders as significant models in behavioural and evolutionary research
For a long time spiders have been underestimated as intriguing and suitable models for a variety of evolutionary questions. I have worked intensely on the behaviour of spiders, research that has contributed to a paradigm shift by highlighting the extraordinary and often bewildering complexity of spider behaviour. This includes significant intra and inter-individual variation in web building behaviour (eg. Herberstein et al. 2000, Evolutionary Ecology Research), the ability to learn (eg. Heiling & Herberstein 1999,Animal Cognition;) and even the ability to adjust the protein composition of silk (Craig et al. 2000, Molecular Ecology & Evolution). My book on spider behaviour (Cambridge University Press) summarises my efforts to emphasise the significance and versatility of spiders as model systems (check it out online).
Deceptive signals in spiders & orchids
Australia seems to be a hotspot for deception and together with colleagues I investigate deception via colour in several spiders, as well as deception via scent and colour in orchids. More recently, we have started a research project on spiders mimicking ants.
Mating behaviour and sexual selection in spiders and insects
I am concerned with the evolution of sexual cannibalism, male genitalia and mate choice. Our comparative work has revealed considerable evolutionary differences in the maintenance of sexual cannibalism and mate choice between praying mantids and spiders. With colleagues I investigate how sexual selection contributes to the extraordinary variation in penis morphology in an Australian mantid and genital damage in orb-web spiders. Our discovery of genital damage in orb-web spiders has identified significant limitations to the mating frequency of males.