The research on predatory arthropods is a long-term programme between icipe and the University of New Zealand, Canterbury, which goes back to 1994, primarily based at the icipe Thomas Odhiambo Campus, Mbita.
Most of the studies under this programme are on cognitive specialisation in the context of predation, with a commitment to acquiring a conceptually deeper understanding of what specialisation means in a wider context that extends beyond how the predator thinks.
While the objective is to use predatory arthropods for basic research on predatory specialisation and animal cognition. Such comprehensive understanding of the cognitive capacities of miniature animals (spiders and insects) is potentially useful in developing strategies, for instance for the control of disease vectors.
Within this context, research on mosquito-specialist predators has been a dominant interest, with an emphasis on Evarcha culicivora, a spider that feeds on blood indirectly by actively choosing blood-carrying mosquitoes and targets malaria vectors as its preferred mosquitoes.
The spider research started with a focus primarily on predators that manipulate the behaviour of their prey by getting them to respond to deceptive signals (aggressive mimicry), which is exceedingly flexible and complex with some of the African spiders. These studies have steadily become the impetus for the researchers’ current emphasis on using spiders to study animal cognition.
Previous funding for the research on predatory arthropods has been received from:
- National Geographic Society
- The New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology
- The Royal Society of New Zealand (Marsden Fund)
- United States National Institutes of Health
- Royal Society of New Zealand
- March 2014 - March 2017