Ryan O’Connell, 2017, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

This summer I had the opportunity to work on a research project at Mpala Research Centre in Kenya. This region is a semi-arid ecosystem that is home to many herbivores. The project that I worked on focused on the strategies that different plant species employ in order to defend themselves against herbivory. More specifically, we examined the abundance of physical defenses, such as thorns and spines, on plants of the same species that were found in different local environments including glades (areas of open grass), bush (areas of dense trees and shrubs), and herbivore exclusion plots. We used this data to determine whether the level of grazing pressure a plant experiences corresponds to the investment that the plant makes in defending itself. The surveys and experiments that we conducted provided us with insight into the multitude of factors that shape the array of defenses that plants have developed in the savanna ecosystem. My work typically consisted of experimental setup, data collection, and analysis. Later in the summer I was given the opportunity to research and design preliminary studies on a system that I found interesting, a project that has the potential to develop into independent work or a senior thesis.