This Leaf Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us


I went to the Las Cruces biological station in Coto Brus, Costa Rica looking for a species of a jumping spider on which I could conduct mating experiments. My goal was to compare these results with those of my research on the mating behavior of California jumping spiders. In my first two years of graduate school, I have been conduction lab experiments on field-caught jumping spiders from California. Prior to matriculating at Berkeley, I had conducted field research in Costa Rica on two separate occasions, most notably on a project studying the behavior of army ants in the presence of termites. During my Tinker-funded field research, I happened upon a large, dense population of easily accessible jumping spiders on which there is not yet any published behavioral research. I also observed in the field that males of these spiders perform ritualized contest displays when each other's presence, and I found that these spiders would exhibit similar displays in a lab setting as well. I took video data of encounters between these spiders in the lab to understand the nature of their displays, and I will analyze these videos here on campus in the upcoming months. By being a pre-dissertation research grant, Tinker has allowed me to introduce a new, unexpected direction of study into my dissertation research. I did not expect to find a population of spiders so well suited to the study of contest behavior, but consider myself very lucky to have done so! I would recommend to others conducting similar field research that they keep an open mind to pursuing unexpected research directions. Jumping spider behavior has attracted a fair amount of research attention, but very little of this research has been conducted on tropical jumping spiders (even though such spiders are extremely plentiful). My research and findings can contribute to increased attention to tropical jumping spider behavior, which either affirms or challenges the generality of findings on temperate jumping spider behavior. This will allow the field to gain a better understanding of the evolution of animal behavior overall.

Benjamin Kessler
Publication date: 
August 18, 2017
Publication type: 
Student Research