Hi! I'm Dale Broder and I'm a new faculty member at a liberal arts college that is all about teaching. While I love teaching, I also love conducting pioneering evolutionary research. Please help me stay research active by supporting a short field season this winter. With the help of a stellar undergraduate, Aaron Wikle, I plan to collect the last pieces of data that we need for a publication about a new discovery in Hawaii—a purring cricket! Aaron will also be collecting samples for his independent research project, which we hope to publish separately. This kickstarter will cover all of the costs for both Aaron and me for up to a 2-week field season. #supportyoungscientists
These small but charismatic crickets sing a song unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. It sounds like a cat’s purr rather than the traditional chirp heard on the rest of the Hawaiian Islands. We discovered these “crick-cats” just last year, and they have a lot to teach us about evolution. Males rub their wings together to produce songs that attract females. How did these crick-cats evolve a new song? Can the females hear the new song? Do they like it? How is mate choice from female crickets shaping the new song? What about parasites that use the song to find hosts?
This discovery allows us to ask fundamental questions about how diversity is created and maintained, and we can study it in real time! Most research on animal communication looks back on traits that evolved in the past. Because we stumbled upon the purring crickets immediately after the new song arose, we can track the course of the new signal over time from the beginning. This is an incredibly rare opportunity. There is a new generation of crickets every 3 months, so it is critical that we establish what’s happening at “time 0” (now!) as soon as possible.
So what do we know about purring crickets? Over the past year, we recorded male songs and described the big differences between the purr and a typical song. We also discovered that some of the females can hear the purr and use it to locate mates! We published these findings this month in The American Naturalist. Check it out :-)
So what’s next? There is a fly that parasitizes crickets (photo below). It uses the typical male song to locate hosts and lays its larvae on the cricket. The baby fly larvae burrow inside the cricket and eat it from the inside out, emerging as adult flies and killing the cricket. Yikes! Can this fly hear the purr or are purring males safe from a gruesome death by being eaten alive? Females in the purring population can hear the purr, but what about other female crickets on other islands? Can they hear it? Are females more likely to mate with purring males or typical males? Ahh too many questions!
How you can help
It is critical that we establish answers to many of the big questions (like the hearing ability and preferences of female crickets and parasitoid flies) as soon as possible so that we can have a starting point on which to base future work. We plan to visit several islands during a two-week visit where we’ll work with these nocturnal crickets from a few hours before sunset until sunrise every night. We’ll measure fly populations and test fly hearing. We will also measure female cricket preferences and conduct mating experiments on islands that have purring males and islands that have typical males. These data will allow us to tell the next part of the story. Please help us with the next installment of this exciting crick-cat series. You will also be helping us lay the foundation for future work so that we can watch this signal change over time. In advance, please let me offer a heartfelt thank you for your generous support of this project. This groundbreaking research will only be possible with your assistance. #EvolutionInAction
Note: Each prize category automatically includes all prizes below it. If we hit our goal, you will receive a request for an address where I can send your prizes.
Risks and challenges
I do not anticipate any risks. This will be my 3rd trip to visit these populations. I have a great support network in Hawaii through the National Park as well as through the local community college on Molokai. I will be working closely with my collaborator, Dr. Robin Tinghitella, who is THE expert on Hawaiian field cricket signal evolution. The biggest challenge will be to collect all of the data in 2 weeks. Because I teach at St. Ambrose University, I only have a short window during winter break to get to the field and collect this “time 0” data. Luckily I will have the help of a stellar undergraduate, Aaron Wikle, for whom this opportunity will be invaluable.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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