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Many species have evolved elaborate physical defences (armour, spines, noxious sprays, toxins) to avoid predation and stay safe. The factors that influence why such defences evolve are less clear, but exposure to predators clearly serves as a strong source of selection. Using comparative evolutionary analyses and behavioral research on wild skunks and coyotes, we can understand how and why defences evolve, how having a defence influences risk assessment and fear, and how predators learn about warning coloration and prey defences. Dr. Stankowich will discuss his research on why and how defences have evolved in mammals (e.g., armadillos, pangolins, skunks, porcupines), and what the consequences have been to the other aspects of their lives, including their perceptions of fear and cognitive ability.
Dr. Ted Stankowich is an Associate Professor at California State University Long Beach and is an evolutionary behavioral ecologist with broad interests in the evolution of mammals, animal behavior, and how animals use and advertise defensive adaptations. He has worked on a wide variety of animal groups including naked mole rats, deer, spiders, skunks, coyotes, marmots, lizards, and anything armoured or spiny! Using field studies of skunks and coyotes and evolutionary analyses of museum specimens, his lab currently focuses on how mammals perceive fear and defend themselves against predators, how predators learn about aposematic warning coloration, how morphological antipredator defences evolve in mammals (armour, spines, quills, sprays), how black-and-white coloration evolves. He is passionate about teaching and science communication and works to reach out to the general public to pull back the curtain on how science is done. Be sure to follow him on Instagram (@dr.tedstankowich), on Twitter (@CSULBMammalLab), and on Facebook (StankowichLab)!