Integration of chemical and visual cues by zooplankton

The sensory world of animals is a complex blend of concurrent stimuli, and behavior emerging from this sensory input commonly depends on multiple types of sensory information. In zooplankton, chemical odors emitted from predators, such as fish, result in increased swimming behavior when exposed to light stimuli. This translates into increased survival because swimming in response to light forms the basis of numerous predator-avoidance behaviors that zooplankton rely on in order to survive in their open water habitat. This project uses the mud crab Rhithropanopeus harrisii as a model organism to advance our understanding of how zooplankton integrate information across multiple sensory modalities.

rhithro_eggs Scanning electron micrograph of zoea larva of R. harrisii.

Specifically, we are using microscopy, electrophysiology, and behavior to study how odor and light control predator-avoidance behavior by asking the question: Is the effect of predator odor on zooplankton photoresponses operating at the level of primary photoreceptors in the retina of a larval crab, or do chemical cues from the environment alter behavior by influencing higher-level neural processing of visual information? In essence, we are eavesdropping into the animal’s sensory system to find the confluence of chemical and visual information which ultimately leads to ecologically significant behaviors. This project if funded by the University of Delaware Research Foundation.

Project Team

Jon Cohen, Corie Charpentier (graduate student), and Alex Wright (2013 UDRF REU intern)

Featured Faculty

Jonathan Cohen

Jonathan Cohen picture

Associate Professor Marine Biosciences


CEOE School & Departments

School of Marine Science & Policy

Advancing the understanding, stewardship, and conservation of estuarine, coastal, and ocean environments.

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Department of Geological Sciences

Discovering how geological processes have operated over various time scales to create and influence the planet’s surface environments.

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Department of Geography

Investigating the interactions between people and the environment and the processes that explain the location of human and natural phenomena.

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College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment • 111 Robinson Hall • Newark, DE 19716 • USA • Phone: 302-831-2841
Geography: 302-831-2294 • Geology: 302-831-2569 • Marine Science and Policy: 302-645-4212 • E-mail:

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