Dr. Christine W. Miller
Diversity and Functional Performance of Animal Weapons
Most species possess some type of weapon, but the most extreme weapons found in the natural world are those used by males competing over access to females. These astonishing structures have fascinated people for centuries. In fact, the earliest known human paintings depict the horns of buffalo and rhinoceros, the antlers of stags, and the tusks of mastodons. In spite of the interest these structures have attracted, we still do not know why there is such amazing weapon diversity. Why do some species use tusks to fight over females, while others use their legs? Why do even closely-related species often have such striking differences in their weapons (consider the diversity of horn shapes of the African antelope)? We are fascinated by the striking diversity of weapons in the leaf-footed bugs and relatives (Superfamily Coreoidea). Dr. Miller and her students are currently investigating the effects of fighting style on the evolution of weapon shape, the role of environmental factors in modifying fighting style, the interactions of natural and sexual selection in the evolution of limb autotomy (dropping of a leg), and role of ecology in shaping allocation decisions between animal weapons and their testes.
Research: Context-Dependent Sexual Selection
We use multiple species of leaf-footed bugs to study the expression of morphology and behavior over time and as resources and social environments change. We have found that females change their mating decisions based on the quality of resources present, and these effects translate into differences in selection on male traits. We also are investigating the effect of social environments and community composition on the processes and outcomes of selection.