Tracking males of the Sydney funnel-web spider
My recent work tracking Sydney funnel-web
spiders featured in a short story in the Australian Geographic website. Very little is actually known about the ecology and behaviour of this popular and feared species. There is some great research done on the venom of funnel web spiders, but their mating systems are poorly understood — we know that males roam around looking for females during summer (which is how they end up in people's houses, causing accidents). But we don't know what influences their movements, how far they go, or basically any patterns that would help us predict where these little guys will end up... That's what I am exploring in a project funded bu National Geographic and Australian Geographic. Oh, and a leaf-tailed gecko ate one of my spiders and pooped out the transmitter 3 days later, which is the part of the story that everyone seems to love the most!
Fights, multiple male matings, and sperm competition in the Australian quacking frog
Between 2013 and 2014 I was employed (by professors Leigh Simmons and J. Dale Roberts) under an ARC Discovery Project aimed at investigating the trade-off between pre and postcopulatory investment in the Australian quacking frog Crinia georgiana. In September 2015 I told the story about my findings with these frogs in the Western Australia Fresh Science — a national competition where early-career researchers are trained and tested in their public speaking skills and their interaction with the media.
The event was an amazing learning experience, and my participation also resulted in some media attention on my work with the frogs. Check the stories that came out in ABC news, ABC news Western Australia, and ScienceNetwork WA!
Male dimorphism in short-tailed whipscorpions (Arachnida: Schizomida)
In 2013, my friend and colleague Adalberto Santos invited me to participate in a paper describing two species of short-tailed whipscorpions (arachnids from the order Schizomida). I helped Adalberto analyzing the allometry of male pedipalps in Rowlandius potiguar, and we detected a clear dimorphism in these appendices, which could be linked to alternative reproductive tactics in males. I was very happy to participate in a study on these fascinating and poorly known arachnids, and our paper is the first reported case of male dimorphism in Schizomida. Originally published in PLoS One, the study received some media attention in Brazil, where it was mentioned in the newspaper "Estado de Minas", and in a few science news sites. It is very important to mention that the morphological analysis used in the paper would not have been possible without the help of Prof J Mark Rowland from the University of New Mexico.
Dung beetles and alternative reproductive tactics
In October, 2012, the magazine The Scientist published a short story on a paper from my PhD thesis. Originally published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology (where the paper featured in the categories 'highly accessed' and 'Editor's pick'), the study used the dung beetle Onthophagus taurus to explore the response of male dimorphism to population density. I found that, compared to females that experience a low population density, female beetles that experience a high population density produce male offspring with longer horns, meaning that females can prepare their offspring for the high level of sexual competition they will face as adults. This finding represents a novel transgenerational response of alternative reproductive tactics to population density. The print version of the story can be viewed here. This story also appeared in the German newspaper The Munich Eye.
This same story also attracted the attention of ABC Radio here in Perth, WA. In August, 2011 I was interviewed by Russell Woolf (at the time the host of the program 'Drive'), for a section of his show called "You study WHAT?". It is a lighthearted 7 minute-long interview that you can listen to here.
Harvestmen (Arachnida: Opiliones) and parental care
Part of my early career research was on harvestmen, amazing arachnids that are highly diverse (there are more species of harvestmen than mammals!) and present amazing reproductive strategies. In June 2014, my friend Billy Requena was once again interviewed about some of his work on paternal care in harvestmen, and I am privileged to be one of Billy's co-authors in the two papers that were cited in the interview, one of them originally published by PloS One (2013) and the other one by Animal Behaviour (2009). With Father's day approaching in the USA (June 15th), the British magazine New Scientist published a great story about the evolution of exclusive paternal care, citing our work with harvestmen in the first few paragraphs, and then interviewing experts from all over the world about the topic. You can check the full story here, but only if you have a subscription for New Scientist's online content, otherwise you will have to check the print version of the magazine! Credit for the drawing on the left - © Renaud Vigourt ; Heart
In October 2012, a paper I co-authored with Billy Requena and other colleagues attracted the attention of the newspaper The New York Times, which published an interesting story about it. Originally published in PLoS One, the study showed that, in the harvestmen Iporangaia pustulosa, males that guard eggs forage less frequently than non-guarding individuals, and experience a deterioration in their body condition as a result, but pay no survival costs for this behavior. Paternal males provide an honest signal of their quality as offspring defenders, and female preference for caring males could be responsible for maintaining the trait. This story was also published in science news websites, such as Live Science, Science Daily, and e! Science News. In Brazil, this paper was noted by the funding agency FAPESP, the newspaper Folha de São Paulo and the magazine VEJA (in Portuguese).
My MSc thesis was entirely on the reproductive biology of the harvestman Serracutisoma proximum, a species in which females guard their eggs for approximately one month, protecting them from predators until they hatch. In February 2008, around the time when I was finishing my MSc degree, the Brazilian magazine Pesquisa FAPESP published a story (in Portuguese) about the research on harvestmen conducted in the lab of Prof Glauco Machado (my supervisor at the time). The story has a section on S. proximum and my work on maternal care.