Learning is important. How well could individuals perform if they didn’t learn from their experiences to become better hunters, avoid predators, court mates, or even when to escalate a conflict. There is evidence demonstrating that individuals differ in their capacity to learn, yet if learning is beneficial, why is there so much variation. One reason may be that developing a brain that is better at learning is energetically more costly, and paying those costs is only beneficial in certain contexts.
In our cricket system, we have evidence that individuals alter their investment in neuronal development as a consequence of the juvenile social environment. The best thing is that we can now measure this with gene expression! We are currently exploring whether individuals that increase their investment in brain development gain a benefit in either a mate searching (females) or competitive (males) context. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface here and there is so much left to do!
Researchers involved: Caitlin Anderson, Emily Morris and Michael Kasumovic