In addition to visual cues, songs and pheromones, vibrations transferred through the substrate such as a plant stem, the surface of the water or a spider’s web have been found in several vertebrate and arthropod groups to carry valuable information to conspecific individuals (see review by Pr. Peggy Hill). For example: The red-eyed tree frog males use body vibration on substrate as aggressive display. Elephants use substrate-borne signals to communicate over distance of up to 20 miles. Male Salticid spiders and pentatomid bugs produce vibrational signals by striking their abdominal tips against the substratum during courtship.
The vibratory world is “silent” to us and is more difficult to record. Therefore, the number of species for which studies have identified substrate-borne vibratory signals remains small. Nevertheless it is a complete and important channel of communication that needs to be explored to expand our appreciation of animal behaviours in contexts such as predation, parental care and mating habits. This field of research is growing more and more and the researchers studying this mode of communication recently decided to call this type of study « Biotremology« . We therefore now call ourselves Biotremologists!
Biotremology in flies:
After decades of research, Drosophila melanogaster courtship has become an iconic example of an innate and interactive series of behaviours. It consists of stereotyped behaviours triggered by serial communication between male and female. I recently discovered that seismic vibratory signalling is crucial to courtship in Drosophila melanogaster; The discovery in this genetically tractable model organism opened many avenues of research, including the possibility to study the neurogenetics of vibratory communication (click here to see our latest work).