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Paleontology and Phylogeny of Insect Ears

PI(s): Roy Plotnick (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Start Date: 10-Jun-2012
End Date: 22-Jun-2012
Keywords: coevolution, paleontology, communication, behavior

The goal of the proposed study to evaluate current hypotheses for the evolution of insect ears, which are based on their distribution among living insect groups, by systematically searching for preserved examples in the fossil record. In particular, we propose to examine for the first time the fossil record of what has been called "an iconic example of a coevolutionary arms race" (Ratcliffe, 2009); the interaction between bats and insects. The apparent co-evolutionary relationship between echolocating microchiropterid bats and their insect prey has suggested to entomologists that the origin of hearing in most insect groups should have followed the origin of these nocturnal predators. This scenario implies that there were two phases in the evolution of insect hearing. The first was when ears were used to detect sounds for intraspecific communication, among groups such as crickets and cicadas. These forms were not necessarily flying or nocturnal. The second occurred when early bats began to use ultrasound to detect nocturnal flying insects. This would have resulted in the appearance of ears as an anti-predator response in a wider variety of groups. In order to test this scenario, we will need to synthesize the phylogeny of insect taxa with tympana with their known fossil record, so that we can properly frame testable hypotheses of their evolution. The goal of my time at NESCent will be to work on this synthesis for Lepidoptera, and probably Neuroptera.