I first became interested in conducting research when I joined The Philpott lab in 2008, while I was an undergrad at The University of Toledo. As an undergrad, I conducted 4 research projects in Chiapas, Mexico and Toledo, OH. Below is a brief description of each of my research projects.
In 2009, I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico for two months to conduct three research projects. My first project examined the relationship between Azteca instabilis ants, a flea beetle, and Conostegia xalapensis trees. We measured the amount of shot-hole leaf damage that was caused by the beetles on Conostegia trees with an A. instabilis nest and without A. instabilis nests. We found that when A. instabilis ants are present on the Conostegia trees, they significantly reduce the amount of damage caused by the beetles. This is an important finding because the ants protect the tree from herbivory, yet they do not receive any mutualistic reward in return. Our results were published in the Journal of Tropical Ecology.
The second research project I conducted was on the trophic interaction between a parasitic phorid fly, the ant species Azteca instabilis, and the coffee berry borer, an economically damaging coffee pest. Specifically, we examined whether phorid effects on A. instabilis ants differ between low-shade and high-shade coffee farms. Further, we investigated the cascading effects of coffee berry borer predation by ants and whether the presence of phorid flies deters A. instabilis from preying on coffee berry borers. Our findings showed that the phorid flies have greater effects on the ants in low-shade coffee farms than in high-shade coffee farms. The results also showed that the coffee berry borers’ foraging activity on the coffee berries was reduced by half when A. instabilis ants were present. However, when a phorid fly was present, the ants’ predation rate on coffee berry borers was significantly lowered, thus demonstrating that phorid flies have an indirect positive effect on coffee berry borers. Our results were published in Environmental Entomology.
The third project I worked on was a continuation of the study described above. We introduced two more ant species, Psuedomyrmex simplex and Procryptocerus hylaeus into the trophic web using insect arenas to determine how well each species preys on coffee berry borers and whether two- or three- species combinations of ants differ in their effects on the coffee berry borer. We found that each species reduced coffee berry borer damage, but increasing species richness did not further decrease borer damage. This study is significant because even though phorid flies decrease A. instabilis foraging behavior on coffee berry borers, there are other ant species present to limit borer damage. Our results were published in Ecology.
My final project took place in Toledo, OH. Through the NSF Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program, I conducted a project to determine whether native plants in backyard gardens affect bee species richness and abundance. Furthermore, I examined how specific local garden and landscape characteristics correlate with changes in bee abundance and richness. My research demonstrated that there was a higher abundance of native bees, cavity nesting bees, and ground nesting bees in backyard gardens that contained native plants. I also found that both garden characteristics and the surrounding landscape play an important role in bee diversity. This study is significant because it is one of the first projects to examine the correlation between landscape factors and bee diversity within urban areas. My results were published in Urban Ecosystems
Experience as a field technician
After graduation, I moved to New Brunswick, NJ to work in the Winfree lab for 18 months. I worked as a field assistant on three research projects throughout NJ and PA. In spring 2012, I worked for a graduate student who was studying how the surrounding landscape of blueberry farms affects native bees. The second project I worked on was for the lab's PI, who was examining the extent to which native bees pollinate various crops throughout NJ and PA. In summer 2013, I was a project supervisor on a restoration project. The purpose of the project was to assess bee diversity in abandoned farm fields that have been restored by planting native plants. We then compared the number of individuals and species collected in the restored areas to farm fields that have been abandoned, but no native plants were planted.