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The McPherson College Natural Science Department requires all of our natural science majors to conduct an independent scientific research project in order to graduate. This is an incredible opportunity for each of our students, as the faculty aid in the development of every individual project and we support the research financially. Every student is allowed to pursue and develop research projects that answer questions that interest them personally. Because of this, I have had the opportunity to mentor projects that encompass a wide scope of biological systems. Here are a couple examples of the projects some of my research advisees have worked on:

    - Effects of female mating status on alternative mating tactic expression and success in Rabidosa                  punctulata - Sophie Simon (2016)
    - Effects of hardness and turbidity from limestone road runoff on growth rates of freshwater mussels
        - Levi Fleming (2016)
    - Effects of light environments on the development of eye pigments in Drosophila - Alia Khalidi (2016)
    - Diversity of spiders in two ecoregions of Puerto Rico - Nathan Schowengerdt (2015)
    - Effects of substrate variation on escape speed and substrate preference in wolf spiders - Christian              Rodriguez (2014)
    - How collection techniques affect the families of spiders sampled - April Childs (2014)
    - Effects of male-male competition on mating tactic expression in wolf spiders - Sean De Young (2014)
    - Comparing the gut microbiomes of arachnids that differ in feeding ecology - Sebastian Toro (2014)
    - Factors affecting refuge use and activity in wolf spiders - Jony Chai (2014)

In the pictures below, students from McPherson College are working on a research project funded by Kansas Department of Wildlife, Park, and Tourism through the Chickadee Checkoff program during the summer of 2013. Student workers helped collect spiders at Sand Hills State Park near Hutchinson, KS in order to assess the diversity of spiders found in that unique and interesting sandhills habitat. 

                                                         


My Personal Research Interests
Many students have picked research projects that align with my own interests. If you are interested in working on these kinds of questions below during your undergraduate career, please contact me.

I've always been intrigued by the incredible diversity  witnessed in animal courtship signals and mating behaviors. My primary research interests focus on questions related to behavioral ecology and the evolution of animal communication systems. However, I also enjoy survey work aimed at understanding animal distributions in response to environmental disturbances (see publications page).

Courtship signal evolution in Rabidosa Wolf Spiders

I am investigating the male courtship signals in two closely related species of wolf spider (Lycosidae), Rabidosa rabida and R. punctulata. These two species are syntopic, yet males exhibit very different secondary sexual characteristics, visual movements, and seismic components utilized during their courtship (click to see R. rabida and R. punctulata courtship). I hope to ascertain the various selection pressures involved in the divergence of courtship signal forms by determining their current signal function. To do this I investigate signal components in isolation as well as allowing them to interact and assess female responses.

I assess the information content of the various signal components (ornament, visual display, seismic) through diet manipulations used to diverge male condition. I also assess signal efficacy through mate choice trials where the various signal modalities are altered to eliminate transmission. Additionally, I am interested in how various signal components of complex signals interact resulting in different receiver responses. potential interactions between content-based and efficacy-based selection on signals by quantifying any impacts of condition dependent signaling (content) on signal efficacy via diet manipulation experiments.


Alternative mating tactics in Rabidosa punctulata

Recently we have discovered an intriguing pattern of condition-dependent alternative mating tactics in the wolf spider Rabidosa punctulata. When encountering a female, males adopt one of two pure tactics: 1) Multimodal courtship - consisting of both a visual component (foreleg waves) and a seismic component (pedipalp stridulation), or 2) Direct mount - consisting of males grappling/holding females until female acquiescence and eventual copulation. Interestingly, large, good condition males forgo courtship and typically utilize the direct mount tactic, while small, poor condition males predominantly utilize courtship. Our initial studies suggest that large, good condition males may in fact be subjecting themselved to a more direct form (unbluffable) of assessment through direct mounting females. While small, poor condition males utilize a may indirect form of assessment, courtship, because their small size increases their vulnerability to sexual cannibalism. 

My research focuses on identifying the tactic-related costs and benefits for males that has resulted in this somewhat counterintuitive pattern of mating tactic expression, where the best condition males are forgoing courtship. Several of the factors I have initially focused on include: 1) predator proximity, 2) habitat complexity, and 3) male-male competition.


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