Major research activities
Plant protective mutualisms 1: Extrafloral nectaries
One way plants defend themselves against enemies is by "hiring" insect bodyguards, usually ants, which they "pay" with nectar secreted from specialized structures called extrafloral nectaries.
Plant protective mutualisms 2: Clash of the sugars
Certain homopterans also gain protection from enemies by retaining ant bodyguards with sweet secretions, called honeydew. It gets interesting when both plants and their homopteran enemies attract ants with honeydew. It is especially interesting when the ants and plants are both invasive, and the homopteran is non-native.
Plant protective mutualisms 3: Leaf domatia
Leaf domatia are a different kind of plant protective mutualism. The plant provides shelter (rather than food, as do EFNs) for predatory and fungus-eating mites (rather than predatory and aggressive ants). Relatively little is known about them; they are tiny, located on the undersides of leaves they are easy to overlook, and they are not necessarily easy to study. It would be nonetheless be valuable, and feasible, to survey the trees of the area to see which species have leaf domatia, and what kinds they have.
Ecology of tiger beetle larvae
We recently documented the first known case of wind-powered wheel locomotion, initiated through leaping somersaults, in larvae of the coastal tiger beetle Cicindela dorsalis media
. Stronger winds increased the proportion of larvae rolling as well as the speed and distance traveled, exceeding 3 m/sec and 60m in some cases. I followed this project with behavioral observations of live larvae in their burrows, which has led to an entirely new set of "firsts."
Previous (and future?) projects (under construction)
• Hermit crabs
• Spontaneous alternation behavior
• Duckweed dispersal
• Evolution of compound leaves