Brent Matthew Stoffer
Assistant Professor Educator
A&S Biological Sciences - 0006
Sexual selection, multimodal communication, plasticity in mate-choice decisions, effects of social environment
B.S.: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 2008 (Biology)
M.S.: California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) 2011 (Biological Sciences)
Ph.D.: University of Cincinnati 2015 (Biological Sciences)
My main research interests lie within the field of animal behavior. Specifically, I am interested in factors in the social environment (e.g., availability of potential mates, 'quality' of potential mates, perceived competition) that result in plasticity in invertebrate mating behaviors. Such behavioral plasticity is important to understand because it may drive the evolution of particular phenotypes. Past research has included work on mate preferences and male aggression in a swordtail fish, Xiphophorus helleri, as an undergraduate at UCLA and investigating the use of multimodal communication in mate-choice decisions by female Acheta domesticus as a Master's student at California State University, Fullerton.
Study species and playback tools
My research advisor, Dr. George Uetz, along with his former students and colleagues have worked on behavioral research in the brush-legged wolf spider, Schizocosa ocreata, for several decades now. Such detailed behavioral research allows me to answer further in-depth questions regarding animal communication, sexual selection, and behavioral plasticity. In the past decade, a lot of research from the Uetz lab has described and quantified the use of multimodal communication in S. ocreata. Males use a combination of visual (leg tapping, leg arches) and vibratory (stridulation and percussion) signals to convince females to mate with them - and not prey upon them. Females will not only respond to these signals in isolation (unimodal), but will also respond to video (e.g., iPod) and vibratory (e.g., piezoelectric element) playback techniques. Such a study organism, in combination with these playback techniques, allows us to answer powerful questions that lie at the foundation of sexual selection theories.
Socially cued anticipatory plasticity in mating behaviors of a wolf spider
Much of my PhD dissertation at the University of Cincinnati focused on investigating different social experiences (e.g., mate density, operational sex ratios, sensory modality availability, male quality) and determine if they affect their subsequent mate preferences. Using video and vibrator playback techniques, I am able to ask detailed questions about how plasticity in behavioral response might vary depending on (1) whether there is juvenile or adult experience, (2) whether females are given a choice between males or not, (3) which signal modality they experience such experience in, and (4) whether some aspects of the social environment affect female preferences more than others.
Mechanisms of behavioral plasticity
As part of my PhD, and now during my postdoc question, I am interested in the underlying mechanisms that result in plasticity in female preferences and male courtship behaviors. Biogenic amines can act as neurotransmitters, neuromodulators, neurohormones, and regulate a variety of behaviors seen across the animal kingdom. In spiders, such biogenic amines might be particularly important in regulating trade-offs in mating behaviors. My research in this area takes a correlative and manipulative approach to determine how experience might result in varying amine levels and how such variation in amine levels can result in behavioral plasticity in mating behaviors.
sexual selection, animal communication, plasticity in mate choice preferences, sensory modalities