Published: April 6, 2017

As a kid, I loved to collect cicada exuviae and search milkweed for Monarch caterpillars in my backyard.  Overtime, my passion for ecology increased, leading me to choose a degree in EBIO.  My classes at CU encouraged me to pursue research.  I worked in Deane Bowers’ Lab for about a year before beginning my own project where I gained experience in the lab, greenhouse, and field.  My honors thesis research focuses on the effects of host plant and developmental stages on immune response in a Nymphalid caterpillar, Junonia coenia.

Junonia coenia, commonly referred to as the Buckeye, has recently been observed feeding on Plantago lanceolata, an introduced weed that contains iridoid glycosides, a secondary plant metabolite.  However, one of the Buckeye’s native host plants, Mimulus guttatus does not contain iridoid glycosides.  I am investigating whether feeding on P. lanceolata or M. guttatus affects the Buckeye’s immune response, in addition to looking at whether different instars affect immune response.  I can measure immune response using encapsulation, a hemocyte count assay, and gas chromatography to measure the iridoid glycosides.

Considering the Buckeye caterpillar faces different ecological pressures at different developmental stages or instars, the immune response should vary.  Measuring how their immune response varies on each host plant will also provide insight into the effects of introduced weeds.  

While my project has proved challenging, it has also confirmed my interests in plant-insect interactions and chemical ecology.  As I finish my final semester, I am waiting to hear from graduate schools, as I plant to continue this research as a graduate student.