Visual ecology of sexual selection and antipredator behavior Grant uri icon


  • Animals are continuously bombarded with sensory information from their environment (Bradbury & Vehrencamp 2011), including sounds (such as frequency ranges and amplitude levels; Alain & Izenberg 2003), smells (such as pheromones and volatile chemicals; Wright & Thomson), tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami; Jones et al. 2006), and touch (such as smooth, rough, and other sensations; Hollins et al. 1993). They also receive complex visual inputs, including information about colors, shapes, textures, and movements of objects and other animals (Itti & Koch 2001). For many animals, such as primates (Barton 1998) and birds (Iwaniuk &Wylie 2006), which rely heavily on vision, visual cues and displays may be particularly important for understanding behavior.Due to neural processing limitations, animals selectively filter these visual inputs by directing their attention to relevant information (Dukas 2002; Clark & Dukas 2003). The brain can only process a limited amount of information at a given time (Broadbent 1965) and individuals therefore perform better when they focus their attention on a subset of information. For example, blue jays detect cryptic prey targets at higher rates when they are only searching for one target compared to two targets (Dukas & Kamil 2010). Selective attention can therefore be an adaptive strategy that animals employ in complex sensory environments.Previous research has demonstrated that animals do employ selective attention in multiple behavioral contexts (Dukas 2002; Yorzinski et al. 2013). During foraging, animals must survey the environment where their food items are located. When environmental conditions change, such that it is more difficult to locate prey, animals focus their attention on a limited area. Arctic grayling, for example, are drift-feeding fish and wait for the water current to bring food to them; when the water current increases and they therefore have less time to inspect prey that pass by, they narrow their visual search angle (Hughes & Dukas 2002 in Dukas 2002). During inter-specific communication, animals must attend to the informative features of other species with which they are communicating. For example, domestic dogs follow the gaze of humans to specific targets (Teglas et al. 2012).Despite a growing literature on visual perception, we still know little about how animals evaluate aspects of their environment that are critical to their survival and reproduction. Over the next five years, I will study visual perception in animals to gain a better understanding of how animals use information to make behavioral decisions that directly affect their fitness.

date/time interval

  • 2018 - 2023