Nuptial food gifts are food items given by males to females at copulation and are an integral feature of the mating systems of a wide variety of insects. A recent hypothesis suggests that nuptial food gifts are not ?gifts? at all, but devices by which males exploit their access to female physiology to manipulate females in ways beneficial to males, but harmful to females. This hypothesis predicts that the chemical composition of nuptial food gifts should be shaped by the divergent interests of males and females. The hypothesis will be tested in a cricket species in which males offer females a gelatinous mass forming part of the male?s spermatophore and consumed by the female after mating. Using an integrated series of biochemical analyses and behavioral assays, the substances that influence the palatability of gifts and their influence on female mating receptivity will be identified, and specially-constructed synthetic ?gels? will be used to probe the effect of specific compounds on female behavior. These studies may lead to the identification of male-derived accessory-gland substances that inhibit female mating behavior, which ultimately could furnish a safe, but effective means of biological control of insect pest species. The PI and his graduate students participate in multiple outreach programs, including programs involving high school students in research, enhancement of elementary school teachers? training in science, and efforts to enhance the science curriculum in middle and high schools (e.g., Bugs for Kids). The proposed research will provide excellent opportunities to enhance the research experiences and professional development of a number of undergraduate and graduate students. The proposed research also facilitates a 6-week summer research student internship in the U.K. in each of the three years of the project, working with one of the world?s foremost authorities on the evolutionary genetics of insect reproductive behavior.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
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Michelle M. Elekonich
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Illinois State University
United States
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