Research

Work in our lab is driven by a fascination with biodiversity, and in particular, with the extravagant and brilliantly colored displays that animals use to communicate. The goal of our work is to understand the selection pressures that drive the evolution and maintenance of these colors.

SEXUAL SELECTION AND THE EVOLUTION OF COLORFUL COURTSHIP DISPLAYS. Much of our current work focuses on jumping spiders, because these make excellent models to understand the evolution of color. Jumping spiders are a highly diverse group of visual predators. There are more than 5000 species, many of which exhibit extreme color diversity between the sexes and across the family.

1) Communicating with color in complex light environments. Many animals communicate with colors, yet the effective transmission of color signals depends on the available light. We are examining the idea that the evolution of courtship complexity in jumping spiders (that integrates a variety of colors, sounds, and movement all into a single display), increases male success in unpredictable and complex light environments. In such cases, it is imperative that males get the right signal across to a female quickly before she makes the decision to attack and eat him.

2) Sensory exploitation in jumping spider courtship. While our experiments have identified mate preferences for specific male traits (i.e., colorful ornaments, large body size), understanding where these preferences come from is key to understanding the evolution of male traits. We are examining the idea that mate preferences result from ‘sensory traps’, where male ornaments improve success because they exploit a pre-existing female bias for a similar trait in a different context, such as foraging.

3) The role of learning in the formation of mate color preferences. In many animals, females of a particular species show remarkable uniformity in their mate preferences with little variation among individuals. However, several of our experiments have shown that individual female jumping spiders are highly variable in their preferences. Using a variety of techniques gleaned from the psychological literature, we are exploring the causes and consequences of learning on female mate choice.

PREDATOR PSYCHOLOGY AND THE EVOLUTION OF PREY COLORATION. It has been long recognized that the psychology of predators (color vision, perception, learning ability, etc.) shapes how they interact with their prey and this will influence how color will evolve. This rich field of inquiry has focused almost exclusively on avian predators, despite the fact that many arthropod predators show diverse abilities to perceive and learn about color.

1) Jumping spiders as predators driving the evolution of aposematism. Jumping spiders have excellent vision and the ability to learn and remember their interactions with colorful prey. We are incorporating empirical data from these spiders into models of the evolution of aposematic coloration to understand how different predator types might differentially affect the evolution of prey coloration.

2) Male dorsal color patterns for mimicry and deception. While much of our work focuses on jumping spiders as voracious predators, they also have predators of their own. In addition the obvious sexual dichromatism on the body regions that are displayed in courtship, males of many jumping spider species also exhibit bold color patterns on their backs, which are often oriented away from females during courtship. In most species, female dorsal coloration, like the rest of the female’s coloration is drab and cryptic. We are using a combination of field and lab studies to test the idea that these dorsal color patterns protect males from predation because they exploit the sensory systems of their predators (e.g., predatory wasps, praying mantids, and other spiders).

3) Learning and prey choice in spider-hunting mud dauber wasps. We take a keen interest in the predators that feed on these colorful spiders, such as spider-hunting mud dauber wasps. These wasps capture, sting, and paralyze spiders which they bring back and stuff into small chambers in their mud nests. Before sealing each nest chamber, they lay a single egg. When this egg hatches, the wasp larva works its way through the supply of zombie (paralyzed, but still living) spiders. How do foraging wasps locate, choose, and learn about their spider prey? And how have the color patterns of spiders evolved to influence/exploit these decisions?

Much of our previous work has focused on Habronattus pyrrithrix, a small jumping spider that is found throughout backyards and gardens in Phoenix, AZ.  For a video of the male’s colorful courtship dance, click here.  For highlights of some previous work in the ASU Research Magazine, go here.

PUBLICATIONS

Taylor, L.A., Powell, E. and McGraw, K.J. In press. Frequent misdirected courtship in a community of colorful jumping spiders. PLoS One.

Powell, E. and Taylor, L.A. In press. Specialists and generalists coexist within a population of spider-hunting mud dauber wasps. Behavioral Ecology.

Taylor, L. A., Amin, Z., Maier, E.B., Byrne, K., and Morehouse, N. I. 2016. Flexible color learning in an invertebrate predator: Habronattus jumping spiders can learn to prefer or avoid red during foraging. Behavioral Ecology, 27(2): 520-529. PDF. ScienceDaily/UF/IFAS coverage.

Zurek, D. B., Cronin, T. W., Taylor, L. A., Byrne, K., Sullivan, M. L. G. & Morehouse, N. I. 2015. Spectral filtering enables trichromatic vision in colorful jumping spiders. Current Biology, 25, R403-R404. PDF. Press coverage:National Geographic, Science News, Smithsonian, LA Times, NYC Today, ScienceDaily, Spiegel, NZZ Biologie, DIE WELT, Digital Journal, Futurity, 人民网, Sci-News.com, Science World Report, SINC, Vozpópuli, redOrbit, n-tv.de

Taylor, L.A., D. Clark, and K.J. McGraw.  2014.  From spiderling to senescence: ontogeny of color in the jumping spider, Habronattus pyrrithrix.  Journal of Arachnology 42(3): 268-276.  PDF.  (Cover photo shown above).

Taylor, L. A., D. Clark, and K. J. McGraw. 2014. Natural variation in condition-dependent display coloration does not predict male courtship success in a jumping spider. Animal Behaviour 93: 267-278.  PDF.

Taylor, L.A., E. B. Maier, K.J. Byrne, Z. Amin, and N.I. Morehouse. 2014.  Colour use by tiny predators: jumping spiders exhibit colour biases during foraging.  Animal Behaviour 90: 149-157.  PDF. SciLogs coverage.

Taylor, L.A. and K.J. McGraw.  2013.  Male ornamental coloration improves courtship success in a jumping spider, but only in the sun.  Behavioral Ecology 24(4): 955-967.  PDF.

Corman, J. R., K.A. Wyant, L.A. Taylor, D. Iwaniec, and R. Hale. 2013. Preface. In: Phosphorus, food, and our future (Ed. by K. A. Wyant, J. R. Corman & J. J. Elser). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Moore, D., T.C. Holbrook, M.G. Meadows, L.A. Taylor.  2012.  The mating game: A classroom activity that explores the evolutionary basis for differences in sex roles.  The American Biology Teacher 74(9): 648-651.  PDF.  Supplementary material.

Taylor, L.A., D.L. Clark, K.J. McGraw. 2011. Condition-dependence of male display coloration in a jumping spider.  Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 65: 1133-1146.  PDF.

Toomey, M.B., M. W. Butler, M.G. Meadows, L.A. Taylor, H.B. Fokidis, K.J. McGraw. 2010.  A novel method for quantifying the glossiness of animals.  Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 64:1047-1055.  PDF.  BBC news coverage.

Meadows, M.G, M.W. Butler, N.I. Morehouse, L.A. Taylor, M.B. Toomey, K.J. McGraw and R.L. Rutowski. 2009. Iridescence: views from many angles. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 6: S107-S113.  PDF.  Iridescence issue JRS Interface (open-access).

Taylor, L.A. and K.J. McGraw. 2007. Animal coloration: sexy spider scales. Current Biology 17:R592-R593.  PDF.

Rayor, L.S. and L.A. Taylor. 2006. Social behavior in Amblypygids, and a reassessment of arachnid social patterns. Journal of Arachnology 34: 399-421. Science Daily coverage.

If you don’t feel like reading technical papers, here is what we do in wordle form.

Dissertation_wordle_image_wordpress