BSc Honours Biology (Animal Behaviour), University of Western Ontario
What I am now
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I am studying ecological and evolutionary factors involved in the ability of prey to learn and subsequently evade novel predators. Invasive species are often thought to experience success in their introduced range because local prey do not recognize these new predators as a threat nor exhibit the appropriate antipredator behaviours. However, predator recognition and avoidance mechanisms could rapidly evolve in prey species experiencing strong selective pressure. The high population density and associated predation rates exhibited by invasive red lionfish in the western Atlantic may provide sufficient pressure for this type of rapid evolution to occur in native reef fish. To explore this, I will measure predator recognition learning and evasion response of reef fish in relation to densities of both native predators and of lionfish. By measuring predator density on multiple spatial scales, I hope to gain insight as to the relative immediate ecological and long-term evolutionary pressures that influence learned predator recognition. I will also sample from reefs at different stages of lionfish invasion, thereby measuring the rate at which prey are acquiring fear of lionfish in the wild. Results of this work will add to our understanding of how learning evolves within predator-prey relationships and will also tell us whether we can hope to see increased resilience of reefs to the negative impacts of lionfish invasion.