Thomas E. White

Thomas E. White
The University of Sydney

PhD

About

57
Publications
17,116
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935
Citations

Publications

Publications (57)
Article
Full-text available
As growing urban populations have fewer chances to experience nature, i.e., ‘the extinction of experience’, the subsequent loss of emotional affinities for biodiversity (biophilia) pose major challenges to environmental conservation. Gardening, as an everyday nature interaction and window into invertebrate ecological functioning may offer opportuni...
Preprint
Cities are a fragmented matrix of cultivated and semi-natural greenspaces. In rural agroecosystems, croplands attached to forest often have higher pollinator diversity than isolated croplands due to temporary spillover from adjacent forests. A similar dynamic could be at play in cities, where different cultivated and semi-cultivated greenspaces cou...
Article
Full-text available
Sexual signals are often central to reproduction, and their expression is thought to strike a balance between advertising to mates and avoiding detection by predatory eavesdroppers. Tests of the predicted predation costs have produced mixed results, however. Here we synthesized 187 effects from 78 experimental studies in a meta-analytic test of two...
Article
Full-text available
Many species – humans included – employ color as an instrument of deception. One intriguing example of this resides in the conspicuous abstract color patterns displayed on the bodies of female orb weaving spiders. These displays increase prey interception rates and thereby function at least as visual lures. Their chromatic properties however vary e...
Article
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Group living is ubiquitous in nature, and social foraging is among the common forms of cooperative behaviour in animals. Understanding the evolution and maintenance of social foraging requires knowledge of the underlying benefits and costs to group members, though these are only known for few model taxa, which often lie at the extremes of social or...
Article
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Bluelined goatfish ( Upeneichthys lineatus ) exhibit dynamic body colour changes and transform rapidly from a pale, buff/white, horizontally banded pattern to a conspicuous, vertically striped, red pattern when foraging. This red pattern is potentially an important foraging signal for communication with conspecifics, provided that U. lineatus can d...
Article
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Structurally coloured sexual signals are a conspicuous and widespread class of ornament used in mate choice, though the extent to which they encode information on the quality of their bearers is not fully resolved. Theory predicts that signalling traits under strong sexual selection as honest indicators should evolve to be more developmentally inte...
Article
Social animals are expected to face a trade-off between producing a signal that is detectible by mates and rivals, but not obvious to predators. This trade-off is fundamental for understanding the design of many animal signals, and is often the lens through which the evolution of alternative communication strategies is viewed. We have a reasonable...
Article
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The combined use of noxious chemical defences and conspicuous warning colours is a ubiquitous anti-predator strategy. That such signals advertise the presence of defences is inherent to their function, but their predicted potential for quantitative honesty-the positive scaling of signal salience with the strength of protection-is the subject of end...
Article
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• Understanding how increasing risk of frequent and severe fires affects biodiversity and ecosystem function is important for effective conservation and recovery, but large knowledge gaps exist for many taxa in many parts of the world, especially invertebrates. • After Australia's 2019–2020 catastrophic bushfire disaster, estimates of biodiversity...
Article
Wing interference patterns (WIPs) are stable structural colours displayed on insect wings which are only visible at specific viewing geometries and against certain backgrounds. These patterns are widespread among flies and wasps, and growing evidence suggests that they may function as species‐ and sex‐specific mating cues in a range of taxa. As suc...
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Pollinator-mediated selection is expected to constrain floral color variation within plant populations. Here, we test for patterns of constraint on floral color variation in 38 bee- and/or hummingbird-pollinated plant species from Colorado, United States. We collected reflectance spectra for at least 15 individuals in each of 1-3 populations of eac...
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Sunlight is the ultimate source of most visual signals. Theory predicts strong selection for its effective use during communication, with functional links between signal designs and display behaviors a likely result. This is particularly true for iridescent structural colors, whose moment-to-moment appearance bears a heightened sensitivity to the p...
Article
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Sensory systems can capture only a fraction of available information, which creates opportunities for deceptive signalling. The sensory traps and sensory bias models have proven valuable for explaining how visual systems and environments shape the design of sexual signals, but their application to deceptive signals is largely limited to the context...
Article
Full-text available
There is a wealth of research on the way interactions with pollinators shape flower traits. However, we have much more to learn about influences of the abiotic environment on flower colour. We combine quantitative flower colour data for 339 species from a broad spatial range covering tropical, temperate, arid, montane and coastal environments from...
Preprint
Full-text available
Sunlight is the ultimate source of most visual signals. Theory predicts strong selection for its effective use during communication, with functional links between signal designs and display behaviours a likely result. This is particularly true for iridescent structural colours, whose moment-to-moment appearance bears a heightened sensitivity to the...
Article
Full-text available
The silks of certain orb weaving spiders are emerging as high-quality optical materials. This motivates study of the optical properties of such silk and particularly the comparative optical properties of the silks of different species. Any differences in optical properties may impart biological advantage for a spider species and make the silks inte...
Article
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Colourful ornaments often communicate salient information to mates, and theory predicts covariance between signal expression and individual quality. This has borne out among pigment-based signals, but the potential for 'honesty' in structural coloration is unresolved. Here, I synthesized the available evidence to test this prediction via meta-analy...
Article
Full-text available
Communication requires both the encoding of information and its effective transmission, but little is known about display traits that primarily serve to enhance efficacy. Here we examined the visual courtships of Lispe cana, a cursorial fly that lives and mates in heterogeneous foreshores, and tested the prediction that males should seek to enhance...
Preprint
Full-text available
Colourful ornaments often communicate salient information to mates, and theory predicts covariance between signal expression and individual quality. This has borne out among pigment-based signals, but the potential for 'honesty' in structural colouration is unresolved. Here I synthesised the available evidence to test this prediction via meta-analy...
Article
Full-text available
The defensive repertoires of prey are shaped by diverse ecological and evolutionary demands. This can generate trade-offs between the components of defences, as in the classic ‘fight or flight’ dichotomy, or dedicated investment in a singular end, allowing individuals in better condition to mount a more effective defence all round. Further, sexual...
Article
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Sexually signalling animals must trade off the benefits of attracting mates with the consequences of attracting predators. For male guppies, predation risk depends on their behaviour, colouration, environmental conditions and changing intensity of predation throughout the day. Theoretically, this drives diel patterns of display behaviour in native...
Article
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Understanding how and why animal secretions vary in property has important biomimetic implications as desirable properties might covary. Spider major ampullate (MA) silk, for instance, is a secretion earmarked for biomimetic applications, but many of its properties vary among and between species across environments. Here, we tested the hypothesis t...
Preprint
Sensory systems capture only a fragment of available information, which creates opportunities for the evolution of deceptive signalling. The sensory traps and sensory bias models have proven valuable for explaining how the structure of visual systems and environments may shape the evolution of sexual signal design, but their potential in deceptive...
Article
Full-text available
Pollinator-mediated selection is expected to constrain floral color variation within plant populations, yet populations with high color variation (at least in human visual space) are common in nature. To explore this paradox, we collected floral reflectance spectra for 34 populations of 14 putatively bee-pollinated plant species of north-central Ne...
Article
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1.Biological colouration presents a canvas for the study of ecological and evolutionary processes. Enduring interest in colour‐based phenotypes has driven, and been driven by, improved techniques for quantifying colour patterns in ever‐more relevant ways, yet the need for flexible, open frameworks for data processing and analysis persists. 2.Here w...
Article
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Predation has driven the evolution of diverse adaptations for defence among prey, and one striking example is the deimatic display. While such displays can resemble, or indeed co-occur with, aposematic ‘warning’ signals, theory suggests deimatic displays may function independently of predator learning. The survival value of deimatic displays agains...
Preprint
Full-text available
Biological colouration presents a canvas for the study of ecological and evolutionary processes. Enduring interest in colour-based phenotypes has driven, and been driven by, improved techniques for quantifying colour patterns in ever-more relevant ways, yet the need for flexible, open frameworks for data processing and analysis persists. Here we in...
Article
Full-text available
Color in nature presents a striking dimension of variation, though understanding its function and evolution largely depends on our ability to capture the perspective of relevant viewers. This goal has been radically advanced by the development and widespread adoption of color spaces, which allow for the viewer-subjective estimation of color appeara...
Article
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Lay Summary An outstanding challenge for the study of colour traits is how best to use “colour spaces” to represent their visual perception, particularly when asking questions of colour-difference (e.g. the (dis)similarity of males and females, mimics and models, or sister species, to a given viewer). We use simulations to show that existing method...
Article
Iridescence, a change in hue with viewing or illumination geometry, is a common feature of colour patterns in nature, though its significance remains elusive. Recent studies of floral iridescence reveal its functional versatility in enhancing the detection and discrimination of resources by insect viewers, as well as augmenting higher-level process...
Article
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Floral colour is a fundamental signal that shapes plant-pollinator interactions. Despite theoretical reasons why floral colours might shift in representation along biotic and abiotic gradients, few studies have examined community-level shifts in colour, and even fewer significant patterns have been detected. 2.We examined floral colour on six repli...
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Background Theory predicts that colour polymorphism may be favored by variation in the visual context under which signals are perceived. The context encompasses all environmental determinants of light availability and propagation, but also the dynamics of perception in receivers. Color vision involves the neural separation of information into spect...
Article
Animal color phenotypes are invariably influenced by both their biotic community and the abiotic environments. A host of hypotheses have been proposed for how variables such as solar radiation, habitat shadiness, primary productivity, temperature, rainfall and community diversity might affect animal color traits. However, while individual factors h...
Article
Ontogenetic colour change (OCC) may signal a switch in defensive strategies across development. Commonly, juveniles use cryptic colours and transition to conspicuous coloration as adults. Extensive theoretical and empirical work suggest such a transition is more likely than the converse. Oreophryne ezra, a newly discovered frog from New Guinea, how...
Article
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Much of what we know about human colour perception has come from psychophysical studies conducted in tightly-controlled laboratory settings. An enduring challenge, however, lies in extrapolating this knowledge to the noisy conditions that characterize our actual visual experience. Here we combine statistical models of visual perception with empiric...
Article
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Heritable variation is the fuel for adaptive evolution, and the processes that generate and maintain it have been the focus of intense interest since the inception of modern evolutionary biology. The level at which variation is expressed determines, in large part, the processes that maintain it. Neutral and nearly-neutral molecular variation (e.g....
Article
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Deimatic or 'startle' displays cause a receiver to recoil reflexively in response to a sudden change in sensory input. Deimatism is sometimes implicitly treated as a form of aposematism (unprofitability associated with a signal). However, the fundamental difference is, in order to provide protection, deimatism does not require a predator to have an...
Article
Full-text available
Selection is expected to favour the evolution of efficacy in visual communication. This extends to deceptive systems, and predicts functional links between the structure of visual signals and their behavioural presentation. Work to date has primarily focused on colour, however, thereby understat-ing the multicomponent nature of visual signals. Here...
Article
Full-text available
Receiver biases offer opportunities for the evolution of deception in signalling systems. Many spiders use conspicuous body colouration to lure prey, yet the perceptual basis of such deception remains largely unknown. Here we use knowledge of visual perception in key pollinator groups (bees and flies) to test whether colour-based lures resemble flo...
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White and Kemp introduce colour polymorphism in animals.
Article
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Selection for signal efficacy in variable environments may favour colour polymorphism, but little is known about this possibility outside of sexual systems. Here we used the colour polymorphic orb-web spider Gasteracantha fornicata, whose yellow- or white-banded dorsal signal attracts dipteran prey, to test the hypothesis that morphs may be tuned t...
Article
The idea that species are generally more colourful at tropical latitudes has held great appeal among biologists since the days of exploration by early naturalists. However, advances in colour quantification and analysis only now allow an objective test of this idea. We provide the first quantitative analysis of the latitudinal gradient in colour on...
Article
Full-text available
The study of deceptive signalling has provided compelling insights into evolutionary and ecological processes. Aside from mimicry, however, research into the use of colour as a deceptive instrument has progressed largely without an explicit theoretical basis. This is especially true for colour-based prey lures, that is, displays of colour used by p...
Article
Cryptic coloration may evolve in response to selective pressure imposed by predators, yet effective intraspecific communication may require some level of detectability. This creates a tension between the benefits of sexually selected visual traits and the predatory costs imposed by greater conspicuousness, and little is known about how this tension...
Article
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Sensory drive theory contends that signalling systems should evolve to optimize transmission between senders and intended receivers, while minimising visibility to eavesdroppers where possible. In visual communication systems, the high directionality afforded by iridescent colouration presents underappreciated avenues for mediating this trade-off....
Article
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Albert Einstein once famously remarked that "reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." In the hallmark of Einstein, this simple phrase encapsulates worlds of conceptual complexity across physics, biology, psychology, and philosophy. From a biological perspective, the essence of this idea is that an individual's perceptual realit...
Article
Full-text available
Structurally generated colours are at least as commonplace and varied components of animal signals as pigment colours, yet we know far less about the former, both in terms of the patterns and phenotypic variation and of their underlying correlates and causes. Many butterflies exhibit bright and iridescent colour signals that arise from a characteri...

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Projects (4)
Project
Determine the ecological and evolutionary drivers of pollinator-perceived floral color variation along elevation gradients in both North and South America
Project
Estimate genetic and environmental effects and the influence of rGEs on range of behaviours and traits. Using B tryoni and P reticulata