Beck Alvarez: Impact of Herbivory on Duckweed Performance

Hello! My name is Beck Alvarez and I use she/they pronouns. I am a rising senior majoring in Ecology and Evolution with a minor in Political Science. I’m from Montgomery County, PA. I like to spend my free time crocheting, hiking, and reading.

A fun fact about me is that I spent the past semester living and working on a dairy farm in Central Pennsylvania where I was able to see ecology in action. The farmers I worked alongside were able to use scientific principles in order to grow crops and produce milk in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.

While I know I am passionate about the field of ecology, I am still unsure of what direction I will take after graduation. Spending time on a farm has opened up a new potential career path, and I am excited to see what opportunities will arise in the future. My plan is to gain experience in the field before potentially returning to graduate school. Whatever I choose to do, I want to be involved in the process of creative and well-informed problem solving. I believe that this can be achieved more readily with

My Project: Impact of Herbivory on Duckweed Performance Across Genotypes

Herbivores and the plants they eat represent an important relationship in most ecosystems. These interactions have been studied extensively in a terrestrial context, but not often in an aquatic one. Although aquatic plants are common and important, we still don’t know if herbivores strongly control their densities as they can in terrestrial ecosystems. 

I will use a manipulative experiment in artificial ponds to address this gap using duckweed and two herbivores, the duckweed weevil and water-lily aphid. I will create communities in order to determine whether herbivores have an impact on duckweed performance, and if that impact can change the outcome of competition. In addition, I will assess how different duckweed genotypes may differ in their susceptibility to herbivores, a topic that has received less attention historically. This experiment will lead to a greater understanding of the impacts of herbivory on duckweed, an economically important plant for biofuels and bioremediation. I will complete this project under the supervision of Dr. Martin Turcotte from the Department of Biological Sciences.

I am excited to spend this summer not only working on my project, but also spending time learning and growing in an interdisciplinary environment. I believe that this experience will make me into a much better communicator and a better researcher in general.

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