Animals exhibit an astonishing diversity of exaggerated traits, such as iridescent peacock tails, elaborate deer antlers, and colorful lizard dewlaps. Further, animals such as colorful songbirds often possess multiple exaggerated traits, and these traits are frequently used to communicate. But why do animals showcase such a diversity of signals? Why possess more than one signaling trait? And how does selection shape signal use, perception, production, and evolution? My research uses field-, museum-, and lab-based techniques to understand the diversity, evolution, and mechanisms of signals in wild animals.
To study signals and their diversity, my research primarily focuses on visual signals, such as dances or coloration, which are found throughout the animal kingdom. Colorful signals provide an ideal system to study the evolution and diversity of animal form and function, as animal colors are produced through a variety of physiological or bio-mechanical mechanisms and are often used for more than just communication, for example animal coloration could function to aid with thermoregulation or camouflage. The diverse functions of color lead to a multitude of selection pressures on color evolution. Additionally, colorful ornaments are often presented through behavioral displays, gestures, or ritualized postures. The interaction between colorful and behavioral signals can create unique signal properties, which can vary among species and help shape the evolution of interacting signals.