Congratulations to Dr Erin Powell, who has had not one but TWO papers out from her PhD research on the evolution and ecology of weapon polymorphic New Zealand harvestmen over the last few weeks!
First up you can read a beautiful natural history account describing the predators, diet and defense behaviours of the long-legged harvestmen (Neopilionidae) found in Aotearoa New Zealand, which was published recently in the Journal of Arachnology. The paper includes lots of great images showing off the various behaviours she describes in the paper so it makes for a really enjoyable read. It’s so great to see natural history being appreciated and published by society journals.
Erin also did a really neat set of observations and experiments on one species of harvestmen, Forsteropsalis pureora, where she investigated the rates of autotomy among males of different weapon morphs. Lots of different animals use autotomy as a defense strategy against predators, where they can shed a limb at a predetermined breakage point to give themselves a better chance to escape. Erin hypothesised that males employing scrambling tactics would have higher rates of predation exposure during mate searching compared to males with much larger weapons, that use female-defense tactics. This could manifest in higher rates of autotomy for scrambling males. However, the experiments showed that although there were really high rates of autotomy (54% of wild caught males had at least one leg lost!), there was no evidence of different autotomy rates between male morphs. Also, during predator simulation experiments there was no difference in whether males from different morphs would drop legs, or which leg they dropped. This was a really nice example of a study that investigates the potential costs of scrambling to find mates. That paper is out now in Animal Behaviour.