My Research

Insect herbivory and plant defenses

An important feature of many plant species is that they can resist herbivore attack by either exhibiting constitutive or induced defenses. Constitutive defenses are always present, and because they are manufactured even in undamaged plants, they are thought to be more costly than induced defenses. Alternatively, induced defenses are phenotypically plastic traits that arise in response to herbivory, similar to mammalian immune system reactions. Induced defenses are very common, but in most cases we do not understand their importance in ecological settings and factors that influence inducibility. I have addressed a few questions regarding these different types of plant defenses:

Defense Specificity and Community Effects

  •     Do all insect herbivores induce plant defenses in the same way?
  •     Are all insect herbivores equally impacted by plant defenses?
  •     How do differences in specificity affect insect communities?

Patterns in Plant Defensive Strategies

  •     Are all plants equally inducible?
  •     Does habitat lead to evolutionary differences in plant inducibility?

swamp harvestman IMG_1484 Harv sampling 6 10 09

Invertebrate diversity sampling

I have also been working with several collaborators to better understand the ways that habitat and other environmental factors affect diverse invertebrate communities of moths and harvestmen (also known as daddy long-legs). The questions we’ve been working on include:

  •     How are communities of harvestmen in Costa Rica affected by tropical forest succession?
  •     How do communities of moths change as the landscape becomes more urbanized?
  •     Do moths in urban woodlots emerge earlier because cities are warmer than rural areas?

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