Caterpillar Shelter Ecology & Natural History
Insect Shelters & Climate Change
Herbarium Ecology
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MOBOT herbarium image Vargas Ramirez 359
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I'm interested in the natural history, ecology, and evolution of insects' interactions with plants, animals, and changing environments. Much of my research focuses on shelter-building caterpillars in both the United States and Costa Rica, but I also study insects that find shelters rather than building them. I'm currently investigating how invertebrate communities that live in shelters will respond to warming temperatures. I'm also interested in how herbarium specimens can be used to investigate plant-insect interactions.

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Tropical Arthropods & Global Warming




Many tropical arthropods from different groups, including beetles, spiders, flies, and true bugs, live inside the naturally rolled leaves of heliconias and other plants in the order Zingiberales. These inquline communities provide unique opportunities to test how arthropod communities will be affected by global warming. I study how arthropod thermal traits vary with elevation, feeding guild, and evolutionary history. I also use field heating experiments to test how these communities will respond to warmer temperatures.




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Tens of thousands of caterpillar species build shelters worldwide, ranging from shelters barely big enough for a single caterpillar to ones built by hundreds of cooperating caterpillars. My research questions include:

How diverse are caterpillar shelters?

What functions do caterpillar shelters serve?

How do shelter differences affect those functions?

How do caterpillar shelters affect the invertebrate community as a whole?



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Shelters, including those used by insects, often provide important protection from unfavorable temperatures, humidities, or weather. As the global climate continues to change, these functions may become even more important:

How do insect shelters change abiotic conditions?

When are these altered conditions important for insect survival?

Can insect shelter-builders alter their shelters in response to environmental conditions?



MOBOT herbarium image Vargas Ramirez 359

Herbarium specimens are unexpectedly rich sources of information about herbivores, especially shelter-building ones. They also cover wide stretches of space and time. I've used them to fill in range records and infer host species in areas where adult moths have been observed but no caterpillar records have been reported. I'm also interested in using them to answer larger questions, such as how different types of herbivory respond to latitude, environmental conditions, or historical changes.