Mazes to study the effects of spatial complexity, predation and population density on mate finding

Lloyd D. Stringer, Nicola J. Sullivan, Robyn White, Alfredo Jiménez-Pérez, Jess Furlong, John M. Kean, Jacqueline R. Beggs, David Maxwell Suckling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The difficulty to locate mates and overcome predation can hamper species establishment and population maintenance. The effects of sparseness between individuals or the effect of predators on the probability of population growth can be difficult to measure experimentally. For testing hypotheses about population density and predation, we contend that habitat complexity can be simulated using insect mazes of varying mathematical difficulty. To demonstrate the concept, we investigated whether the use of 3D printed mazes of varying complexity could be used to increase spatial separation between sexes of Drosophila simulans, and whether the presence of a generalist predator hampered mate-finding. We then examined how increasing D. simulans population density might overcome the artificially created effects of increasing the distance between mates and having a predator present. As expected, there was an increase in time taken to find a mate and a lower incidence of mating as habitat complexity increased. Increasing the density of flies reduced the searching time and increased mating success, and overcame the effect of the predator in the maze. Printable 3D mazes offer the opportunity to quickly assess the effects of spatial separation on insect population growth in the laboratory, without the need for large enclosed spaces. Mazes could be scaled up for larger insects and can be used for other applications such as learning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number256
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • 3D
  • Allee effects
  • Chelifer cancroides
  • Drosophila
  • Maze
  • Population dynamics
  • Spatial

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