Evolutionary Ecology of Communication

I am interested in how the senses mediate interactions between species (and sometimes between individuals of the same species). There are two sides to my interest: one fundamental and one mechanistic.

Fundamentally, I’m interested in the stability of signalling systems and the reliability of information about others that individuals can extract through their senses. We cannot detect quantities in other that we might be interested in with complete reliability, at a distiance of 100m meters in the rain, you might find it difficult to judge the sex of another individual, and very hard to estimate their age accurately. Such uncertainty can also impinge on animal sensory interactions. Worse still, it may be in the interests of one party to conceal information or present false information. Females of some species can be selected to conceal when they are fertile to avoid sexual harrassment; males of some species are selected to look like females to reduce aggressiveness by dominant males. Hence, I am interested in how communication systems cope with uncertainty, and how signals can remain (more or less) reliable in the face of the potential for deception, and how individuals behave on the basis of imperfect information.

As well as this interest in the fundamentals of sensory interactions, I am interested in understanding the working of specific systems. I have been very interested in recent years in masquerade (where animals disguise themsleves as twigs, stones, droppings etc). I’m interested in explaining the specifics of how naimals and plants are the colours they are.

 

Lots of people listen with varying degrees of patience to my ideas on this: Mark Broom, Mike Speed, Tom Sherratt, Martin Schaefer, Hannah Rowland, Martin Stevens & John Skelhorn to name a few.