I'm a PhD student at the Centre for Evolutionary Biology at the University of Western Australia, investigating evolutionary consequences of female competition for mates in Western Australian bush crickets.
Many animals compete for access to mates – this is what drives the evolution of weapons (e.g. venom spurs on male platypus), ornaments (e.g. the lyrebird's tail) and behaviours (e.g. the dances of peacock spiders).
However, because of long-standing historical biases in research, most research has been on males competing for females, and relatively little attention has been paid to the reverse.
In the bushcricket Kawanaphila nartee (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae), males provide nuptial gifts of food during copulation. When food is scarce, females compete for access to calling males and their food gifts. In this situation, males are highly selective when choosing their mates.
However, when food is abundant, the roles reverse - females become choosy and males compete to access them. This flexible 'sex role reversal' is exceedingly rare, and is a good model system to explore the evolutionary consequences of mate choice and sexual competition.
Ultimately, understanding the similarities and differences between the sexes in the animal kingdom can inform our understanding of the evolutionary causes of differences in sex roles, helping to answer questions such as, 'Why do males and females tend to differ both morphologically and behaviourally across the animal kingdom?'
I have a long-standing interest in reproduction and sex behaviour in animals. I must say, though, that after studying the many variants of sexual behaviour in animals, sometimes it's humans that seem really weird!
Robin's contributions to Taxonomy Australia