Plant-herbivore interactions in tallgrass prairie
Habitat change influences dynamics between plants and their insect herbivores. We are investigating interactions between the purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) and insect herbivores in fragmented prairies. We have previously found interesting "bottom-up" effects of plant genotype on insect communities, including greater herbivore damage on inbred and outcrossed plants compared to plants from within-remnant crosses. We are now investigating aspects of the relationship between E. angustifolia and its specialist aphid. Current projects include quantifying "top-down" effects of aphids on host plant performance, dynamics of aphid infestation within plant populations, and the effects of habitat fragmentation on aphids. We are also interested in the role of aphid-tending ants for host plants and the insect community. We seek an REU student interested in investigating plant-herbivore interactions. Potential project activities include collecting and identifying ants, surveying aphids and ants in remnant prairies, and conducting field observations of insect behavior. The student will also collaborate with a graduate student on several field experiments related to plant-herbivore interactions.