Dr Sarah Lane
Post-doctoral Research Fellow
School of Biological and Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)
I am a post-doctoral research fellow working with Dr Mark Briffa, Dr Manuela Truebano Garcia and Dr Alistair Wilson (University of Exeter) investigating the influence of indirect genetic effects on contest behaviour in the beadlet sea anemone Actinia equina. The overarching aim of our project is to understand how an individual's behaviour during a contest (i.e. aggression) is affected by the interaction between its own genotype and that of its opponent.
Roles on external bodies
Member of the British Ecological Society (BES) Review College
I’m fascinated by the many different forms of conflict which result from sexual and natural selection. I spent my PhD investigating sexual conflict and sperm competition in the broad-horned flour beetle Gnatocerus cornutus. During this time I watched a lot of interactions both male-male and male-female, in which males would often court other males while aggressively wrestling with females. These observations of unexpected and seemingly maladaptive behaviour sparked my interest in social interactions, in particular agonistic encounters.
My current research focuses on the fighting behaviour of the beadlet sea anemone Actinia equina. These anemones are extraordinary, they are in many ways extremely simple in form, lacking a central nervous system and specialised organs for processes such as excretion, yet they possess weapons. Beadlets are named for the ring of blue bead-like structures called acrorhagi that border their body columns. These acrorhagi are crammed full of stinging nematocysts, which are deployed during fights with conspecifics, leaving the opponent covered in necrotising scars.
Using these fascinating creatures I aim to discover more about contest behaviour and how individuals make decisions during fights. Something I am extremely interested in is the fact that in order to inflict damage onto an opponent, an anemone has to rip off pieces of its own acrorhagi and thus these anemones are unable to inflict damage onto each other without also hurting themselves. This concept which I have coined ‘self-inflicted damage’ (see Lane and Briffa 2017 ‘The price of attack: Rethinking damage costs in animal contests’) is not restricted to sea anemones, examples can be found in taxa from humans to beetles, but has never before been studied. I want to explore the costs of this self-inflicted damage and the effect these costs have on the decisions an individual makes during a fight.
Outside of sea anemones, I am eager to learn more about the use of weapons during conflicts. What differentiates weapons from other kinds of traits? How do individuals cope with the costs of using weapons (specifically self-inflicted damage)? How do the costs and benefits of offensive and defensive weapons differ from one another?
Creative practice & artistic projects
Briffa, M. & Lane, S. M. In Press Signals in conflict resolution: Conventional signals, aggression and territoriality. In Breed, M. D. & Moore, J (Eds) Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior (2nd ed.) Elsevier.
Reports & invited lectures
March 2018 Plymouth University. Talk title: ‘Costs anddeterminants of weapon use in animal contests’
February 2017 University of Exeter. Talk title: ‘From BScZoology to researching anemones’
May 2018Guest lecturer on third year Behavioural Ecology module, Plymouth University, UK.