Assistant Professor of Biology
Pollination by animals is an essential service for most flowering plants and they use a wide array of traits to attract and reward pollinators. However, plants must also contend with numerous enemies and defenses against these antagonists, along with the damage they cause, can interfere with pollination. Plants are therefore faced with a trade-off between survival and reproduction that can lead to conflicting selection on plant traits. My research focuses on the ecological and evolutionary interactions between plants, pollinators and herbivores. Specifically, I examine how dynamics between mutualists and antagonists shape floral traits and what that means for pollinators and pollination. Much of my work centers around secondary metabolites, distasteful and often toxic compounds that frequently function to deter herbivores but are, surprisingly, also present in floral nectar. These compounds can impact pollinator behavior, physiology and health, but responses tend to be compound and concentration specific. Nectar secondary metabolites may affect reproductive success by altering pollinator preference, but they may also help defend nectar from non-pollinating floral visitors such as nectar robbers, bacteria and yeast. My research aims to disentangle the ecological costs and adaptive function of secondary metabolites in nectar.
Using both field and laboratory-based approaches, my research group asks questions from the plant and the animal perspective. In the lab, we focus on bumble bees as a model system and study foraging preferences for different nectar traits, nutritional quality of pollen and how diet can mitigate pollinator pathogens. In the field, we manipulate plant traits in natural populations to assess how plants change in response to herbivory and how pollinators respond to variation floral traits. Much of our field research takes place at Mountain Lake Biological Station, where we work on common milkweeds and their associated animal community. We are also interested in pollinator conservation and are examining how factors such as land use, floral abundance and availability of natural habitat drive the biodiversity of native bees in agricultural ecosystems. We continue to develop new research projects on the chemical ecology of plant-animal interactions and the biology of native bees.
Click a figure below for more information about recent publications.