Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What Comes First: The Signal or the Response?

Jewel wasps show us how new communication systems may have come to be.
Photo by M.E. Clark at Wikimedia Commons.
Finding and attracting a mate is tricky business for most species. It can be quite helpful then to have a species-specific signal that is sent and received by members of your own species, but not perceived as well by predators. Chemical signals (those we perceive through smell and taste) are among the most diverse and specific signals produced in the animal kingdom, so they make good candidates for these species-specific mating signals. Sex pheromones are chemical compounds released by an animal that attract animals of the same species but opposite sex. They are often so specific that other species can’t smell them at all, which makes them useful as a secret communication line for just that species. But this specificity raises an intriguing question: What develops first: the ability to make the pheromone or the ability to perceive it?

This week I tell the story of how jewel wasps shed light on this chicken-or-the-egg problem at Accumulating Glitches. Check it out here.

And to learn more, check these out:

1. Lassance, J., & Löfstedt, C. (2013). Chemical communication: A jewel sheds light on signal evolution Current Biology, 29 (3) DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.03.055

2. Niehuis, O., Buellesbach, J., Gibson, J.D., Pothmann, D., Hanner, C., Mutti, N.S., Judson, A.K., Gadau, J., Ruther, J., & Schmitt, T. (2013). Behavioural and genetic analyses of Nasonia shed light on the evolution of sex pheromones Nature, 494, 345-348 DOI: 10.1038/nature11838

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