Males often use conspicuous signals to attract females but, in doing so, they may also attract the unwanted attention of parasites. How does one species come to have the ability to eavesdrop on the signals of other species? This project will address this question integrating multiple levels of analysis (behavioral, acoustical, biomechanical, and physiological) in laboratory and field experiments to comprehensively investigate eavesdropping behavior in of midges that home-in on the calls of singing frogs. This investigation will characterize the midge's ear and relate the midge's hearing ability to its evolutionary origins. This project will ultimately determine the sensory and behavioral adaptations driven the ecology and evolution of eavesdropping in frog-biting midges.
Intellectual Merit: The project will address a long-standing biological mystery by exploring the origins of eavesdropping of between animal species. By examining an evolutionary innovations in insect hearing, this study will have implications for microphone design, bioacoustics and the co-evolution of sexual and exploitive communication. In addition, the midge-frog system has parallels to the mosquito-human relationship, which enlarges the evolutionary scope of the questions addressed here. Overall, understanding the mechanisms underlying the evolution and sensory ecology of eavesdropping will increase our understanding of exploitation in animal communication systems.
Broader Impacts: Training of undergraduate and graduate students in cutting edge techniques in animal communication and neuroethology will be an important component of this project. Additional educational activities will include workshops at elementary schools about frog calling behavior and eavesdroppers to generate interest and enthusiasm about animal behavior and science in general.