Most organisms communicate using chemical signals. Insects use chemical signals for a variety of functions including: mate finding, habitat and host selection, foraging and egg-laying decisions. The reliability and repeatability of these signals will depend on ecological factors and physiological state of the signaler and responder. We take an eco-physiological approach to understand insect chemical signaling and movement by flight in response to chemical cues using several insect species as models.
1. Plasticity of chemical communication in insects:
In long-lived insects, reproduction can be delayed to provide energy for dispersal (migration) or somatic maintenance in unfavaourable conditions (overwintering). Little is known about the effect of delayed reproduction on response to chemical cues in insects. We study the effect of physiological state on response to pheromone and host volatile cues in long-lived moths and beetles.
2. Trade-offs between reproduction and flight in insects:
In insects, resource allocation trade-offs occur between energetic investment to flight and other life history investments such as reproduction and longevity. We study insects with varying mating systems, resource acquisition patterns and dispersal capacities to understand factors that drive physiological trade-offs in these species.
3. Development of pheromone-based pest management systems:
Knowledge of the role that chemical cues play in ecological situations permits exploitation of chemical communication by pest managers. Synthetic copies of chemical signals can be used to monitor pest populations and to directly control them. We approach the development of IPM programs by determining the mechanism by which the approach works and its efficacy. If the mechanism of the tactic is known, limitations of the tactic can be addressed before the program is implemented.