The public world of insect vibrational communication


Reginald B. Cocroft, Fax: 573 882 0123; E-mail:


Food webs involving plants, herbivorous insects and their predators account for 75% of terrestrial biodiversity (Price 2002). Within the abundant arthropod community on plants, myriad ecological and social interactions depend on the perception and production of plant-borne mechanical vibrations (Hill 2008). Study of ecological relationships has shown, for example, that termites monitor the vibrations produced by competing colonies in the same tree trunk (Evans et al. 2009), that stink bugs and spiders attend to the incidental vibrations produced by insects feeding or walking on plants (Pfannenstiel et al. 1995, Barth 1998) and that caterpillars can distinguish among the foraging-related vibrations produced by their invertebrate predators (Castellanos & Barbosa 2006). Study of social interactions has revealed that many insects and spiders have evolved the ability to generate intricate patterns of substrate vibration, allowing them to communicate with potential mates or members of their social group (Cokl & Virant-Doberlet 2003; Hill 2008). Surprisingly, research on the role of substrate vibrations in social and ecological interactions has for the most part proceeded independently, in spite of evidence from other communication modalities – acoustic, visual, chemical and electrical – that predators attend to the signals of their prey (Zuk & Kolluru 1998; Stoddard 1999). The study by Virant-Doberlet et al. (2011) in this issue of Molecular Ecology now helps bring these two areas of vibration research together, showing that the foraging behaviour of a spider is influenced by the vibrational mating signals of its leafhopper prey.