On plant and insect ecology

To whoever is out there reading this blog post:

First of all thank you so much for taking interest in my research project, I hope that over the course of the summer we can learn new things about how the world works together! I am a rising senior at the college, and I double major in biology and environmental science. My research for the summer deals with discovering more about the dynamics of plant insect interactions between common milkweed and the Monarch butterfly (those are the really pretty orange ones). A little background on why this particular pair interested me… Milkweed is among the many plants that can produce these awesome defenses to being eaten. You know how animals have developed spines or shells to prevent them from being eaten by other animals? Well, plants can do that too and milkweed exhibits a whole array of defenses. These include latex (which gum up the mouths of insects eating them), trichomes, and cardenolides. The last one is what I am most interested in, cardenolides belong to the chemical family of cardiac glycosides which have some pretty heart stopping effects (literally). For this reason most organisms cannot eat them, but a very small group of insects are able to and among this group is (drumroll please) the Monarch butterfly! Because of its awesome defenses milkweed has been studied pretty extensively, but in past experiments biologists have used scissors or hole punches to mimic actual damage incurred on the plant by insects like Monarch caterpillars. I’m going to compare the responses of milkweed to natural and unnatural damage using a hole-punch and Monarch caterpillars, and then I’ll measure the latex, trichome, and cardenolide production of all of my milkweed plants. In addition, I will be incorporating plant density treatments to look into plant population dynamics and how the relationships with herbivores are affected by differing densities.