Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Seminar

“Nanotechnology in Nature: iridescence and signal privatisation in butterflies” presented by Darrell Kemp, Department of Biological Sciences Macquarie University

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

2320 Life Sciences Building


Humans are using optical nanostructures in new and creative ways, and for such noble outcomes as faster internet speeds, stealthier fighter jets and more interestingly coloured cars. These applications have drawn inspiration from the natural world, where adaptive evolution has been tinkering with nanotechnology for millions of years. In this talk I will present the highlights of a research program aimed at understanding the role of iridescent colouration in sexual selection and evolution. Signals of this nature are generated from arrays of micro- or nano-scale structures, and are often extremely bright and colourful. Their hallmark is angular visibility, that is, changes in appearance depending upon the orientations of viewers and/or illumination light. Sometimes – as in the male-limited ornaments of some tropical butterflies – this means that their full brilliance can only be appreciated from certain viewing orientations. Iridescent signals present intriguing opportunities for animals to bias their appearance across different ecological scenarios and to select audiences, which I will discuss in regard to butterflies and other groups such as guppies.

Host: Greg Grether