My research interest is in predator-prey interactions including mimicry and camouflage. Another goal of my research is to address the individual differences in animal decision making, including the mechanisms underneath and its evolutionary benefits.
Undergraduate and Master study: Sheep in wolf’s clothing – predator mimicry between micromoths and jumping spiders: Predator mimicry, in which predator is mimicked by the prey and perceptionally confused by the signals exhibited by the mimic, is a special example in Batesian mimicry. Several unrelated insect species including micromoths and medflies are presumed to be jumping spider mimic. We showed that jumping spiders exhibited courtship/territorial behaviours to the mimetic moths instead of eating them. Furthermore, the behaviour spiders presented was more close to the behaviour they exhibited to female jumping spiders, which suggested female spider might be the model of the mimetic system. However, this mimicry did not require complete resemblance between the model and mimic, and a little alternation of the mimetic signal (e.g. blocking UV reflectance) could make the mimicry fail. This new mimic system provides the possibility for the first time to experimentally test the model of the mimetic animal. The findings have become standard textbook and evolutionary class examples for a special bipolar case in Batesian mimicry system.
Bee divided attention in visual search paradigm: The ability for animals to process multiple stimuli at the same time is called divided attention. Our aim was to present bees with a natural divided attention task, including to forage from target and distractor flowers distinguished by similar colours and either varying reward levels of sucrose or reward contrasted with the risk of mild punishment via distasteful quinine to encourage colour discrimination. Subsequently, bees were exposed to predation risk, by the addition of robotic crab spiders, to examine how bees adapted visual search strategies to the presence of predators. Further punishment with distasteful quinine motivated the bees to simultaneously avoid predation and make correct foraging choices. The finding which bees are able to divide attention to both visual foraging search and predator avoidance is highly surprising, and is also a novel addition to past research demonstrating the cognitive sophistication of animals with small brains. We believe these findings have important implications for the study of divided attention in all animals, including humans, and represent a leap forward in our understanding of attention under biologically realistic conditions of reward and punishment. The results also have implications for the ecology of foraging and predator-prey relations.
Zebrafish speed-accuracy tradeoffs and consistent ‘personality’ in visual discrimination tasks: We tested the strategies used by zebrafish individuals in solving visual foraging tasks, and found that some fish consistently made rapid choices but with low precision, whereas other fish were slower but highly accurate. We found the strategies of the fish tend to be consistent in their response to color discrimination task at least within three days, which fulfill the criteria for animal personality in the common sense of the term.