Research - Overview We use manipulative field experiments and to study the interactions between plants, arthropods and insectivorous birds in both ecological and evolutionary contexts. Traits of plants (e.g. defensive chemistry, morphology) influence whole communities of arthropods from the ‘bottom-up’, while predators influence the same communities from the ‘top-down’. These two influences have traditionally been considered separately. Plant defense theory has been bi-trophic in nature, focusing on the pairwise plant-herbivore interaction without explicitly addressing the community context in which the interaction is embedded. At the same time, community ecology has addressed the top-down effects of predators without considering how plant traits affect food web structure.
The goal of our research is to conceptually unite community and evolutionary ecology. To do this, we ask how heritable plant traits influence interaction networks among herbivores, herbivore mutualists, and predators, and in turn how such networks drive the evolution of plant defense. Methodologically, we model the results of long-term and large-scale field experiments using a combination of quantitative genetic and multivariate statistical techniques. By incorporating complex dynamics into our experiments, we rigorously test theory while simultaneously collecting detailed natural history observations as the basis for refining and pushing forward those same theories.