I am a PhD student in the Agrawal lab studying local adaptation in insect-plant interactions. As a biologist, I enjoy looking for patterns in nature! I am obsessed with the variation of behavioral patterns that I find among populations of insects and how that relates to geographic gradients and the relationship with their host plants. Currently I am working on understanding whether behavioral traits in specialized insects are locally adapted and the consequences for population divergence in coevolved systems.
Milkweeds and the community of insects they support are a great system to work on the topic of local adaptation because the plants and insects have adapted to each other: milkweed plants produce latex and cardenolides, secondary metabolites that are really toxic, and the specialized insects that feed on them have physiological and behavioral traits to counteract these toxins. If a milkweed population becomes more or less toxic, it might determine what type of insects can survive on that population.
I spend my summers looking for milkweed patches, hunting for milkweed stem weevils in the Northeast and Midatlantic regions, and performing behavioral assays in the greenhouse or in common gardens in the field. I am also starting to use landscape genetic tools to understand the demography and evolutionary history of these weevils, so ask me a bit more about that in a few months.
To learn more about the distribution of milkweed stem weevils, I started a citizen science project that you can get involved with! Check it out here: http://citsci.org/cwis438/browse/project/Project_Info.php?ProjectID=811&WebSiteID=7
When I am not working on my research projects, I work on increasing and maintaining diversity in the sciences, learn and hopefully apply different teaching methodologies to improve STEM education. In my free time, I do all the things that Stepfanie does in her free time. Except for the dog part because I have a cute cat instead. Stepfanie we should talk more! I guess I also spend a big part of my days reading news about Colombia, Canada, and the USA, and daydreaming about bats and rafting.