Ciara Nutter, 2018, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

I researched the mechanisms that influence herbivore coexistence and plant-herbivore interactions. Understanding these mechanisms could allow for a better grasp of threatenedecosystem conservation. My project investigated the factors that influence dietary-niche overlaps and the structure of the plant-herbivore interaction network at the continental scale. Both are strong indicators of system stability, which is especially important at a time when global defaunation is a critical issue. I was heavily engaged in identifying, collecting and processing fecal samples from large herbivores in each country we visited. I was instrumental in extracting the DNA used to determine the plant species contained within each sample. My summer internship inspired me to explore a future in research and gave me insight into the life of a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology. I also was reminded of the importance of intertwining ecological research with community development, as much of our success at each field site hinged on collaboration with local communities.

* This internship is connected to the PEI Development Grand Challenges project, “Ecosystem Spatial Pattern and Development Opportunities in African Rangelands.”