2013 Wiley Fundamental Ecology Award winner

Congratulations Petah Low 
Winner of the 2013 Wiley Fundamental Ecology Award


Petah's PhD project is "The effects of predation risk on insect herbivore foraging: integrating behaviour, physiology and ontogeny"

Acquiring food is necessary for survival but often increases an animal’s risk of being preyed upon. This conflict between nutrient acquisition and avoidance of predation is one of the most prominent trade-offs in ecology. While not responding appropriately to predators can be lethal, the consequences of unnecessary or excessive response can be similarly detrimental. Therefore, this trade-off will likely be optimised when animals are able to assess short-term changes in predation risk (via visual, chemical, physical and/or auditory cues) and match their investment in anti-predator defenses to the prevailing conditions.

While research in this field has historically focused on vertebrate prey and how predation risk alters aspects of their foraging behaviour, there is now growing evidence that insects too can be sensitive to predation risk and that their responses to risk can have important consequences that extend beyond the individual to influence populations and even ecosystem structure and function.

Despite the apparent importance of these non-consumptive predator effects, little is known about the types of cues that insects use to assess predation risk, the factors that influence their responses to risk and how behavioural and physiological responses to risk are integrated. One factor that may be particularly important in influencing insect herbivore responses is ontogeny, since during development insects often undergo dramatic changes in size and appearance, and exhibit differences in their sensory abilities, defences and behaviours that could alter their vulnerability and responses to predators.

I aim to investigate how predation risk influences the foraging behaviour and nutritional physiology of insect herbivores, and describe how responses to risk vary depending upon herbivore ontogeny. To do this I will examine the behavioural and physiological responses of Doratifera casta caterpillars to the individual and combined effects of various physical and chemical risk stimuli, across a range of ontogenetic stages.

Petah receives a $5000 scholarship to support her research and will present her research at ESA14 in Alice Springs.