Benjamin Culver, 2016, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

This summer, Katie Grabowski and I were interns for Professor Rob Pringle. We primarily worked with one of his graduate students on research for his doctoral dissertation. We studied three species of plants in the Kenyan rangelands within a genus called Barleria. Our main focus was to attempt to see if there were noticeable differences within each of the same species when they were growing unassociated (isolated, at least 1m from other plants) versus associated (growing in association with another larger plant that provides extra protection). We found that associated plants seem to invest less in plant defense and more in height and leaf area. The data collection is ongoing; we set up a number of manipulation experiments to determine the mechanism by which this observation is produced (shade, water loss, herbivory, etc.). Some of these manipulations include trimming larger trees growing in association with a Barleria species to remove the association and create an unassociated plant, and cutting off all of the spines on Barleria to determine their effectiveness in defending against grazing. This experience helped introduce me to the ecological research career path; however, I learned that I would like to be involved with more policy-associated areas.