Research

My research interests focus on the interactions among herbivorous insects, their host plants, and their natural enemies in communities.  Why do species live where they do? Why does an insect choose a particular host individual? Why are some insects such generalist feeders and others so specialized? How do attributes of individuals in a population influence other members of their community?

Solidago in an old fieldHost plant variation and herbivorous insects: (How) does specialization lead to speciation?

My PhD research (in Stephen Heard’s lab at the University of New Brunswick) investigated the role of host ecology in driving genetic divergence and speciation of herbivorous insects. My results suggest that divergent use of plant phenotypes plays a role in insect diversification, and that early divergence may occur at local scales. More broadly, my work indicates adaptation to within-niche variation may facilitate colonization of novel niches and ultimately drive ecological speciation.

Pilosella field work 335Cryptic host-associated and frequency dependent host use of a candidate weed biological control agent in its native range

My MSc research (2009-2012, in the labs of Jason Pither and Bob Lalonde, UBC Okanagan) investigated the ecological host range of a cynipid gall wasp (Aulacidea pilosellae), which is a candidate classical biological control agent for invasive hawkweeds (Pilosella spp.) in North America. We found  cryptic diversification of this herbivore – with at least two host-associated forms, one a tight specialist, and one more oligophagous. Within the oligophagous type, that there were strong frequency dependent patterns of host selection.

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Bell pepper seedlings used in the food web experiments. Sadly, I don’t have photos from the actual experiments.

Impact of extreme climatic events on multi-trophic interactions

As part of my undergraduate degree in the Biology Department at the University of Victoria, I completed four co-op work experience terms, three of which were in labs at Agriculure and Agri-Food Canada’s Pacific Agri-Food Research Station  in Agassiz, BC. In my final term, I worked in the lab of Dave Gillespie where I was part of an awesome team investigating the impact of extreme temperature events in an experimental food web, composed of bell pepper plants, green peach aphids, and a few of their parasitoid species. One of the papers that came out of this group is here.  The other two terms I spent in the lab of Bob Vernon working with then PhD Candidate Wim van Herk, with whom I co-authored a paper on wireworm control