Matt Sears ’18 and Jen Hamel publish study in peer-reviewed journal

Sears and Hamel, an associate professor of biology, published an empirical study in a disciplinary, peer-reviewed journal.

Matt Sears ’18, a biology major, Elon College Fellow and Provost Scholar, Jen Hamel, an associate professor in the Elon Biology and Environmental Studies departments, and Flavia Barbosa, an assistant professor at Lake Forest College, have published a journal article that documents and evaluates outcomes of prolonged copulations in insects.

The article “Prolonged and variable copulation durations in a promiscuous insect species: no evidence of reproductive benefits for females,” was published in Behavioural Processes, a disciplinary journal that publishes high-quality original research on animal behavior from theoretical perspectives.

This study reported the results of two experiments conducted as part of Sears’ Elon College Fellows research project. In the first experiment, the authors documented mating durations for a focal insect species. In the second experiment, the authors tested hypotheses to explain the prolonged mating durations that were observed. By manipulating mating durations and then tracking the resulting numbers of eggs and offspring produced by females, the authors evaluated whether prolonged matings benefit female reproductive success.

The study findings suggest that mating durations are highly variable for this species, with first matings lasting eight hours on average, and that females do not benefit from prolonged matings. The data also show that sperm transfer occurs within the first 30 minutes of copulation, and that females can store viable sperm for up to 4 weeks after a single copulation. The authors suggest that that prolonged matings likely benefit males as a mate-guarding strategy, and that this study species should be a good model organism for studying reproductive conflict.

The results add to the growing literature on reproductive conflict, and they are of interest to researchers studying sexual selection and related topics in behavioral ecology. Successful reproduction is the currency on which selection acts, and the behavior of each individual involved in a copulation may not be adaptive for both. Despite a large number of studies examining reproductive strategies in invertebrates, the discipline is still uncovering general principles, because reproductive behaviors and their outcomes are dynamic and highly variable.

Sears continues to be active in research, and his publications can be viewed on ResearchGate. Topics relating to reproductive conflict are a central area of study in Barbosa’s research group at Lake Forest College. Understanding the ways in which mating behavior affects the ecology and evolution of insects is a focus of research in Hamel’s research group at Elon.