Background on Vibrational Communication
Mating behavior in leafhoppers and treehoppers involves the exchange of vibrational signals between the sexes. These signals are often complex and are transmitted through plants as vibrations that are beyond human perception. Historically, the study of their species-specific mating signals focused on quantifying variation at the population and species level in order to resolve taxonomic problems. Recent studies demonstrate that these insects are excellent models for addressing broader questions on the role of mating signals in reproductive isolation and speciation. However, compared to birds, frogs, and insects that use airborne signals, the function and evolution of vibrational communication systems are relatively unexplored. It is my hope that information provided here might encourage others to study these insects.
Leafhoppers (Cicadellidae) are among the most diverse and abundant of all insect taxa. Thousands of species have been described. Even a typical lawn may harbor 20 or more species with up to several hundred individuals per square meter. Much work on these insects has been prompted because a few species are important agricultural pests. Some leafhoppers damage crops by their feeding activities. More important is that they transmit many plant
pathogens. Treehoppers (Membracidae) are close relatives of leafhoppers. Although they
cause few problems and go largely unnoticed, treehoppers have long fascinated biologists
because of their interesting behaviors and morphological adaptations (e.g. crypsis, warning
coloration, maternal care of offspring, ant attendance, etc.).
My students and I are currently engaged in a range of projects aimed at understanding the role of vibrational signals in male-male competition, mate preference, community structure, and speciation. Further information can be found in the Current Interests section.