Insects have been eating plants for around 400 million years. Over the past 12,000 years, humans have disrupted relationships between plants and plant-eating insects (herbivores) by building cities, domesticating plants, and changing global climate. I study the ways plant-insect herbivore relationships respond to this disruption. To understand how plant-insect herbivore relationships are changing, I have developed two novel study systems:
Cities as laboratories for understanding effects of urbanization and future effects of climate change
Within some cities, land cover such as asphalt, sidewalk, and vegetation create cool and hot zones, resulting in thermal mosaics. I developed a system to use this variation to determine how warming affects insect pests, street trees, and ecosystem services.
Historical specimens as temporal records of changing plant-herbivore interactions
Records of species interactions over the period of anthropogenic change are incredibly rare. I developed a system for tracking historical herbivory on pressed, preserved plant specimens called herbarium specimens. This system allows us to assess effects of climate change and urbanization on herbivory by a diverse suite of insects over the past century and across continents.
Photo by Aimée Classen