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Reproduction is one of the most fundamental and awe-inspiring processes in the natural world. From the tiniest microbes to the largest mammals, the urge to propagate and pass on genetic information has shaped the course of evolution. While the most common form of reproduction in the animal kingdom is sexual reproduction, the world is full of surprising reproductive strategies, and when it comes to going it alone, some species have truly mastered the art.

So what happens when males are nowhere to be found? Or when they never existed in the first place? My research aims to answer this question using a native Australian stick insect species from the lush Daintree rainforest. These incredible creatures are what’s known as facultative parthenogens – this means that if males are not present, females can clone themselves, resulting in all-female offspring. But if males are present, they reproduce just like other animals.

Through studying this unique reproductive behaviour, I am interested in understanding if there are benefits to reproducing asexually (i.e. cloning) for individuals and populations. By studying these stick insects in their lush rainforest habitat, I hope to uncover the secrets of how this unique reproductive behaviour affects how these animals evolve, reproduce, and survive.

There is a plethora of wacky and wonderful mating strategies that have evolved through various different mechanisms. By studying the evolution of mating strategies, we can gain insights into the factors that have shaped the behaviour of organisms, such as sexual selection, parental investment, and mate choice. Furthermore, understanding mating strategies can help us address pressing issues such as pest control in agriculture, the impact of human activities on animal mating behaviour, and the consequences of climate change on reproductive success.

I love teaching the importance of how different mating strategies evolve using the Arludo game, Blue Steal. In this game, students use augmented reality to bring female bowerbirds to life. Working in teams, students will try and impress an AR female bowerbird. They’ll present her with various items to win her affection. Through resource limitation and time constraints, students get to witness new strategies “evolve” in real-time within the classroom.

Exploring the fascinating world of mating strategies provides students with a foundation for understanding how sexual selection works in nature, the complex behaviours of organisms, and the diverse mechanisms that drive evolutionary change. I hope to help students nurture a deep appreciation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth, as well as contribute to our collective knowledge of the natural world.

Written by Soleille Miller

Soleille is an evolutionary biologist at the University of New South Wales. She studies alternative reproductive modes of animals to better understand why sexual reproduction is so prevalent in the animal kingdom.