04/02/09

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CURRENT LAB MEMBERS

Andrew Sensenig, Postdoctoral Scholar, (defending Ph.D. Fall 2008) University of Maryland
     
Andrew's expertise is in the functional morphology and biomechanics of arthropods. He characterized locomotion in harvestmen for his master's research. More recently, Andrew's Ph.D. focused on hydrodynamics during gill movements in mayflies. His work in the lab focuses on functional mechanics of silk.

Ingi Agnarsson, Postdoctoral Scholar, Ph.D. 2004 George Washington Univ.
     Ingi is trained in the systematics and evolution of spiders, particularly spiders that express cooperative web spinning and prey capture behaviors. More generally, Ingi's research interests span shore ecology, morphology, taxonomy, biodiversity, sociality, inbreeding and phylogenetic theory. His work in the lab focuses on the evolution of silk biomechanics in orb-weaving spiders. You can find out more about Ingi's research at this link. Congratulations! Ingi is now an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico!

 

 

Cecilia Boutry, Ph.D. candidate Integrative Bioscience, began spring 2006
     Cecilia is studying how individual level plasticity in the mechanical performance of spider silk is related to variation in web architectures and the environment. She is particularly interested in testing the hypothesis that spiders can actively control the structural and material properties of silk. Cecilia is also interested in relating variation in silk performance to functional differences between webs during prey capture. Her research has been highlighted by National Geographic. Cecilia has degrees in Biology from Université des Sciences et Technologies de Lille and from Université  François-Rabelais Tours.

 

Andrew Wu, M.Sc. Biology, began fall 2006
Andrew's interests are in community and ecosystem level ecology. He is currently investigating how web-spinning spiders influence plant-pollinator interactions. Andrew earned his B.S. in Wildlife Biology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

 

 

 

Undergraduate Researchers
Our summer 2008 undergraduate research assistants were Kim Lorentz (Biology), Taylor Gondek (Biology), Chad Rooks (Psychology), and Rachel Stevenson (a post-bac. student, now at Denison University).

Our summer 2007 undergraduate research assistants were Jaclyn Stenger (from Xavier University),  Marlena Abraham (UA), and Sarah Anderson (UA)

LAB ALUMNI

Raphael Royaute, visiting researcher summer 2007

Raphael came to UA from Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie de Toulouse in France for a summer research internship to learn about spider behavioral ecology. Raphael studied the energetic costs of cobweb construction. Working with Peter Niewiarowski, Raphael used respirometry to measure the behavioral costs of web spinning (spinning silk and assembling it into a web) and calorimetry to measure the material cost of the silk itself. We are currently analyzing the data for publication. Raphael is back in France finishing his degree and looking forward to starting a PhD in the near future -  on spider ecology and behavior!

Jacki Zevenbergen, M.Sc. Biology, graduated summer 2006
     Jacki is studying how organisms can adjust their behaviors to respond adaptively to selective pressures from both predators and prey in their environment. Her research focuses on the cobwebs spun by black widow spiders. These spiders dramatically alter the shapes of their webs depending upon how much food they capture and Jacki is currently testing the effects of these different web shapes on how black widows capture prey and defend themselves against their own predators. Jacki received her B.S. in Biology from U. Akron in 2005. Congratulations to Jacki for her successful thesis defense in spring 2006! Jacki's thesis was published in Animal Behaviour summer 2008 and the article was highlighted by New Scientist.

 

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STUDENT RESEARCH PROJECTS

Chad Eliason "Mesh width and energetic gain in orb spiders" - Biological Problems Summer 2006
   
Chad investigated how the spacing between rows of the sticky silk (mesh width) in orb webs affects the biomass of prey captured by spiders. By removing every other row of sticky silk from webs, using a hot wire, we were able to compare the prey capture of two spiders of the same species - one with an intact web and the other with half as much sticky silk. Preliminary analysis suggests that an increase in the mesh width of orb webs does not affect the probability of capturing prey. However, spiders with closely spaced spirals of silk in their webs were more likely to capture exceptionally large prey. This suggests that the capture of rare, large prey has played an important role in shaping the evolution of orb web architecture. The results of this project are published in Biology Letters. Chad is currently studying the ecology of pileated woodpeckers at Arkansas State University.

Burhan Dahir "Development of cobwebs in the common house spider Achaearanea tepidariorum" McNair Scholar Summer 2006

Burhan worked in the lab through the McNair Scholars program at U Akron. He investigated how the cobwebs spun by the common house spider change as spiders mature. Burhan's project included characterizing the shapes of cobwebs and examining how the structural and material properties of spider silk change as spiders age. He found that both the mass of silk in webs and the sizes of individual silk threads scale strongly with increases in body mass as spiders age. The numbers of sticky gumfooted threads in webs, which are used to trap prey, varied inversely with spider condition. This suggested that well-fed spiders may reduce investment in the prey capture elements within cobwebs even as they maintain an overall high level of investment in silk.

 

Hannah Koppleberger "The Use of Operant Conditioning and Positive Reinforcement in Training an American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis" Honors Thesis 2006
    
Hannah is an intern at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and is working on her Honors Thesis there. Hannah is testing the utility of operant conditioning through positive reinforcement to modify the behavior of an american alligator to facilitate its care in captivity and to provide behavioral enrichment to the animal. Hannah received second place for her research at the 2007 Biology Undergraduate Research Conference and and is moving to a research internship at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.!

 

Jacki Zevenbergen and Steve Schulz "Condition dependent web architecture in the western black widow Latrodectus hesperus" Biological Problems Spring 2005
    
Tradeoffs between prey capture and predator defense commonly cause changes in behavior. For instance, starved orb-weaving spiders sometimes construct larger webs, using thinner silk threads, than fed spiders. Within the Theridiidae, the orb web has been transformed into seemingly chaotic cobwebs, which depend upon tangled sheets and gumfooted threads to capture prey. We hypothesized that cobweb spiders with more food resources would invest more silk in webs than starved spiders and that the allocation of silk to gumfooted threads versus the sheet would change with resource availability. To test these hypotheses, we initially fed one group of black widow spiders for eight days while starving a second group. We then quantified web architectures and switched the feeding regimes between groups for a further eight days before repeating the quantification. We found that black widow spiders with more food resources were heavier than starved spiders and that heavier spiders invested more silk in webs than lighter spiders. We also found that starved spiders invested more silk in prey capture elements, sheets and gumfooted threads, while fed spiders directed resources into the three-dimensional tangle. We suggest that fed spiders are allocating silk resources toward the spinning of a defensive three-dimensional tangle, while starved spiders allocate effort toward foraging. This research is published in Animal Behaviour.

Jacki Zevenbergen

Steve Schulz

 

 

     

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This site was last updated 04/02/09