Cataloging the Interactions of Insects and Plants
By Thomas Kursar, Department of Biology
For our NSF-funded project, “Dimensions: Coexistence, Herbivore Host Choice, and Plant-Herbivore Evolution in the Recently Radiated and Speciose Neotropical Tree Genus, Inga," we developed a data repository that is based at CHPC. Our NSF project addresses critical, long-standing questions in tropical ecology, the origin and maintenance of diversity. We focus on the herbivorous insects that consume leaves and the defenses of plants against these invertebrates. We hypothesize that the diversity among plant species of their anti-herbivore defenses is exceedingly high. If it is the case that each species has a distinct defensive niche, this could explain how tropical forests maintain an exceedingly high number of coexisting species. Additionally, we hypothesize that the arms race between plants and herbivores may drive divergence and speciation, thus explaining the origin of diversity in tropical rainforests. Our repository supports this project by storing data and images on plants, herbivores, and the toxic metabolites that plants make in order to defend themselves.