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Name: Tara Latteman
Honors in: Biology
Hometown: Washington, NJ
Major(s): Biology/ Pre-med
Title of project: Herbivore defense in myrmecophytic and non-myrmecophytic species of Cecropia from the Peruvian Amazon
Abstract or brief description: Cecropia is a genus of fast growing, successional trees of the Neotropics. Most species are myrmecophytes and have a mutualistic relationship with ants in which the tree receives defense against herbivores and the ants are provided with food and shelter. A few species of Cecropia do not support ants and do not rely on ants for herbivore defense. I examined the basis for herbivore defense in two of these non-myrmecophyte Cecropia, C. sciadophylla and C. tacuna, and compared them with C. membranacea, a myrmecophyte. My results show that C. sciadophylla is defended by high concentrations of tannins and that it has tough leaves. C. tacuna grows in the cloud forest where herbivore pressure seems to come from different groups of insects than those that dominate the habitats of the other two species. Although it does not support ants, C. tacuna does have some features of a myrmecophyte suggesting that it may have once had ants but has lost them. C. membranacea is defended from herbivores by ants. No evidence was found for a role of cyanogens or alkaloids in herbivore defense.
How did you get interested in your topic? It was a continuation of the SOAR project I had participated in the previous summer.
Do you intend to research your topic further? If so, how? No
How did you benefit academically by conducting research/participating in honors? I learned that research is both a rewarding and challenging experience. I feel that by participating in honors and completing an independent research project, I have developed critical thinking skills and the ability to piece scientific data together to formulate a conclusion, even if it was different from what I was expecting.
How has the department (or faculty advisor) prepared you for the future? I had many opportunities to address problems on my own by creating my own solutions. I believe this skill is invaluable and applicable to many life experiences. I have also strengthened my time management and organizational skills, which will benefit me as I venture into medical school next year.
What advice do you have for other students interested in honors? I would tell other students that they will benefit from participating in the honors program. I would tell them to be prepared for a lot of hard work, that will undoubtedly leave them with a rewarding outcome.