I am unbelievably excited to share the news that my NSF grant proposal was funded! With my partner in crime Robin Tinghitella, we’ll spend the next two years conducting a series of experiments to reveal the role of plasticity in facilitating novelty. Here is the project abstract. Stay tuned for exciting findings over the next few years!
The role of plasticity in the evolution of novelty in animal communication: Understanding how new traits arise is fundamental to explaining the diversity of life on Earth, but it is challenging to imagine how novel traits could arise in animal communication because communication requires coordination between a sender and a receiver. For example, if a sender evolves a novel signal, it may not be perceived or recognized by the intended receiver as a signal. Yet we know that novel signals do evolve. Plasticity has been suggested as a possible explanation. Plasticity refers to changes in an organism in response to the environment. For example, perhaps exposure to a novel signal plastically changes the preferences of the receiver so that they are willing to accept senders with this signal. In this proposal, the researchers capitalize on the recent discovery of two novel signals (songs) that Pacific field crickets use to attract mates. The researchers propose a large breeding experiment where male and female crickets are exposed to different songs, including the two novel songs, beginning at a young age. Researchers will then measure plasticity in adult crickets for a suite of reproductive traits to uncover the role of plasticity in the origins of novelty. This project also integrates education aims including founding a “Queer Science” organization to support young scientists in the LGBTQ+ community, mentoring diverse undergraduate students in independent research, creating teaching resources that use data from this research to teach about plasticity and novelty, and using a web-based citizen science platform to allow the public to participate directly in the research.