Loriann Garcia — Plant-Insect Interactions
My research investigates mutualisms between ants, plants, and hemipteran insects. Several ant species in this area, including the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, tend honeydew producing hemipteran insects, such as aphids and scales. Honeydew is an important carbohydrate resource for foraging ants. In this three-species interaction, hemiptera-tending ants can have positive or negative effects on host plants. Host plants may benefit from ant presence if the ants predate other damaging herbivores, such as caterpillars. On the other hand, host plants may be negatively affected by ant presence if hemipteran populations become too large, or if ant foraging deters pollinators. Understanding how ant-hemipteran interactions affect plants in restored and remnant prairies will improve our ability to predict the outcomes of vegetation management and the success of pollinators. This summer’s research will identify ants tending honeydew producing insects and their host plants at Austin College’s Sneed Prairie Restoration Site. Then, we will conduct manipulative and observational field experiments to determine the effect of ant presence on hemipteran populations, pollinator visitation, herbivory by other insects, and plant fitness.