Determining the mechanisms that maintain or increase biodiversity is a fundamental goal for ecology and evolution. Thus it is important to understand the evolution of plant defense via secondary compounds, because they mediate numerous important ecological interactions with herbivores, pollinators and pathogens. The overall aim of my research is to investigate the causes and consequences of chemical variation within a single host plant species on the evolution, physiology and diversity of specialist herbivores.

Piper.kelleyi_AEG1

 

Piper is a species-rich genus of small trees, shrubs and vines that are characterized by a remarkable diversity of plant secondary compounds, exhibiting important biological activities, such as insecticidal and antibacterial effects. Piper kelleyi is endemic to the eastern slopes of the Andes of Ecuador and Peru, with a narrow distribution of 1400 to 2400 m.

 

Eois.encina_AEG3

 

Eois is a genus of highly diverse caterpillars that feed exclusively on plants in the genus Piper and are host to diverse wasp parasitoid communities.

talking_earthwatch

 

My research will elucidate the mechanisms by which plant chemically-mediated interactions can drive diversity of herbivores, and parasitoid wasps.