Nicole Soper Gorden

Nicole Soper Gorden

Ph.D. Candidate in Plant Biology

I am broadly interested in botany, field ecology, and plant-insect interactions. Recently, I have been most intrigued by how some insects that interact with plants alter subsequent plant-insect interactions, and the consequences these interactions have on plant fitness. I am intrinsically fascinated by floral defenses, conditional mutualisms (and conditional antagonisms), geographic mosaics, and top-down vs. bottom-up effects.

Specifically, my current work focuses on several interrelated questions:

(1) How do flowers defend against floral antagonists while still attracting pollinators? While some flowers are able to deter antagonists using defenses, those same defenses may also deter pollinators. Similarly, the traits that attract mutualists, such as pollinators, may also attract antagonists. I am interested in how plants balance these trade-offs in terms of allocation, fitness, and evolutionary consequences.

(2) Do the many insects that use flowers compete for flowers as a resource? In some plant species, there are several kinds of insects that all want to use flowers as a resource: pollinators, nectar robbers, nectar thieves, florivores, flower bud gallers, etc. Some of these insects are mutualists while others are antagonists. It is possible that these many flower-users compete for floral resources, and if they do there should be consequences for plant resource allocation, fitness, and (co)evolution.

(3) How do flower bud gallers affect other plant-insect interactions? Some of my earliest interests were in flower bud gallers, insects which lay their eggs in flower buds, causing the buds to grow into insect nurseries instead of flowers. I have been investigating an observed correlation that plants with many flower bud gallers also have more pollinator visits. Additionally, I have a small project on tissue switching by flower bud gallers to leaf tissue, which is very unusual.

(4) How do bottom-up effects change multiple antagonistic and mutualistic plant-insect interactions? Although we know a lot about how abiotic factors affect individual (or a few) plant-insect interactions, it can be more informative to study effects on entire interactions webs. Besides the shifts in strength of individual interactions, an interaction web-based approach allows for measuring total mutualist - antagonist shifts, understanding geographic mosaics, and deconstructing total effects on plant fitness.

In addition to research, I am very interested and invested in teaching and mentoring undergraduate students. I have experience in teaching beginning when I served as a tutor in high school and an undergraduate TA in college, and have mentored students in everything from field practicum work to independent studies to teaching. I hope to continue spending time in undergraduate training in parallel to my research throughout my career.

Flower and bud gall

Bumble bee pollinator

Bumble bee robber