Master’s Thesis (2017-2019)

Host Plant Effects on Defensive Behaviors of White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) Caterpillars
University of Colorado-Boulder, The Bowers Lab, EBIO Department/ Museum and Field Studies Program
Adviser: Dr. Deane Bowers, Committee Members:  Dr. Jingchun Li and Dr. Christy McCain

For my master’s thesis, I studied the White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae), a common butterfly of the Southeastern United States, which recently was observed to use Narrowleaf Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) as a host. I was interested to see the impact of a novel host plant on caterpillar defensive behavior since White Peacock caterpillars regurgitate as a defense when handled.  In previous studies, regurgitation had been shown to affect development so I also wanted to examine if there was interaction between a novel host and defensive behavior on the caterpillars’ development.  I found that White Peacock caterpillar defenses are mainly influenced by caterpillar age and not by host plant. Caterpillars which regurgitated regularly had decreased pupal weight regardless of plant species they were reared on. Caterpillars reared on Plantago had longer development time and higher pupal weights than those reared on the normal host Water Hyssop (Bacopa monnieri).  I also collected regurgitant for chemical analyses and found that regurgitant from caterpillars reared on Plantago contained low levels of iridoid glycosides.

Previous Research

Description of New Eadya (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) Species
University of Central Florida, Sharanowski Lab, Department of Biology

This project was focused on the description of several cryptic species of Eadya, an Australian braconid wasp genus that is being pursued as a biological control in New Zealand. It was discovered that Eadya paropsidis is an cryptic species complex through molecular data (Peixoto et al., 2017) which poses several problems for the release of these wasps as biological control for paropsine leaf beetles. I collaborated with Ryan Ridenbaugh (UCF), Dr. Barbara Sharanowski (UCF),and Leane Peixoto (UCF) to work on elucidating the morphological differences between the cryptic species. At first it was thought there were 2 species, but as the project progressed we found a total of 4 species in the complex from Tasmanian specimens. I focused on finding characters that could be used to differentiate the wasps. Other parts of the project I was involved with included imaging of specimens, collecting measurements for morphometrics, entering locality data, and writing/editing of the species description, Description of four new species of Eadya (Hymenoptera, Braconidae), parasitoids of the Eucalyptus Tortoise Beetle (Paropsis charybdis) and other Eucalyptus defoliating leaf beetles.

Effects of Prescribed Burns on Butterfly Abundance and Diversity
Savannas Preserve State Park

I conducted this project from 2009 to 2015 at the Savannas Preserve State Park in St. Lucie County, Florida as my science fair project in high school. Butterfly surveys were conducted using a modified transect method outline by 4-H Project Butterfly WINGS, a citizen science program I had participated in middle school first weekly then eventually to monthly after I started my undergraduate degree at University of Central Florida. The first phase of this project in 2009-2010 focused on the differences of butterfly abundance and diversity in disturbed and undisturbed habitats. In 2010, The Savannas Preserve State Park burned one of my study sites as part of their prescribed burn program and I switched gears quickly. The outcomes of this project were species lists of butterfly and plant species for the state park which were valuable since the insect fauna of the Savannas had not been widely studied or surveyed. I submitted 4 annual reports to the Florida DEP biologists and Savannas Preserve State park biologist and park managers. The information from this project was also used in outreach activities for the Savannas State Park including displays, summer camp programs, and special events.

I presented a poster on this project at the 2014 University of Central Florida Showcase of Undergraduate Research.