Jen Hamel publishes study in special issue of high-impact journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

Hamel and co-author from the University of Missouri published an empirical study in a special issue of the journal.

Jen Hamel, an assistant professor in the Biology and Environmental Studies departments, have published an article in a special issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution that focuses on how eavesdropping predators shape animal communication systems.

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution is a premier open-access outlet for original, peer-reviewed research on topics in ecology and evolution. The special issue was edited by Ximena Bernal of Purdue University and Rachel Page of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, both preeminent scholars in the fields of animal communication and predator-prey interactions.

The editors state that "the aim of this [special issue] is to develop a framework that integrates the strategies used by signalers to communicate under the pressure imposed by eavesdropping predators and parasites."

The article "Maternal vibrational signals reduce the risk of attracting eavesdropping predators" was co-authored by Hamel and Rex Cocroft of the University of Missouri.

This study reported the results of several experiments testing hypotheses about the functions and benefits of social vibrational signaling by insects. In a species of insects called oak treehoppers, mothers and offspring both produce vibrational signals, and mothers defend their offspring against predator attacks. The study findings suggest that the vibrational signals produced by offspring evoke maternal defense, that maternal signals inhibit offspring from signaling, and that at least one species of invertebrate predator attends to offspring, but not to maternal signals. Taken together, the findings suggest that by silencing their offspring, mothers are reducing offspring predation risk.

The results support recent work by other researchers: some invertebrate predators home in on vibrational signals that insects produce to attract mates, and one species of predatory insect can locate caterpillar prey via the vibrations associated with caterpillar chewing. This study is the first to show that predators can exploit vibrational signals produced in a social context, and to show a strategy for reducing the apparency of such signals to predators.

Understanding the ways in which predators and other community members exert selection on the behavior of insects is a primary focus of research in Hamel’s research group.