Title of Abstract: Understanding the Role of Cardenolides in Milkweed Nectar
Name of Mentor: Patricia Jones
Mentor’s Organization or Department: Department of Biology, Bowdoin College
Research Abstract: Toxic secondary compounds are commonly present in the leaves of plants to defend against physical damage by herbivores, but can also be found in nectar, presenting flowering plants with a trade-off between the benefits of deterring antagonists and the costs of reduced visitation by pollinators. Plant population size has been found to cause significant changes in specialist herbivore demographics, potentially altering chemical plant defense mechanisms. To assess whether there are differences in herbivore and pollinator visitation on populations of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) of differing size, observations of insect visitors to flowers were conducted over the course of six weeks at nine field sites across central North Carolina. Continued research could provide important information regarding herbivore population dynamics, plant chemical defense, and pollinator preference.