Southwest Research Station, Arizona, U.S. — Surrounded by the Arizona desert, the Chiricahua Mountains host a unique array of caterpillar and plant species in a riverside forest. These caterpillars have elaborate defense mechanisms to fend of parasites—such as altering their chemical make-up so they’re unpalatable-- and survival strategies to let them feast on plants. The relationships between predator and prey are complex, and sometimes it can be tough to distinguish between diner and dinner. To examine how these intricate relationships are affected by changing climates, Dr. Lee Dyer compares data collected in Arizona with data from sites in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nevada, and New Orleans.
Meet the Scientists
Dr. Lee Dyer
University of Nevada, Reno
Dr. Lee Dyer is an ecologist who has worked with a variety of organisms in the tropics and in temperate areas for approximately two decades. He received a B.S. in biochemistry and English from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Colorado, Boulder where his thesis work examined interactions between plants, herbivores, and their natural enemies. Lee was a professor for five years at Mesa State College in Colorado where he established the Western Colorado Center for Tropical Research. He is now a professor in the Biology Department at the University of Nevada, Reno. Lee spends his free time hanging out with his son, rock climbing, listening to music, and reading books. He is in charge of all aspects of the project, and his specialties relevant to the project are statistical modeling, community ecology, caterpillar natural history, and basic natural products chemistry.
Dr. Angela Smilanich
University of Nevada, Reno
Dr. Angela Smilanich is an ecologist who has worked with lepidopteran larvae (caterpillars) for the past 10 years. Starting as an undergraduate majoring in biology at Mesa State College in Colorado, she has pursued a career studying how and why a caterpillar chooses to eat certain plants and not others. She received her Ph.D. in 2008 from Tulane University in New Orleans. Her dissertation work focused on the causes of variation in the caterpillar’s immune system. Her most recent research as a postdoctoral scholar at Wesleyan University in Connecticut focuses on the self-medication behavior of woolly bear caterpillars. In her free time, Angela enjoys running, reading, traveling, and eating delicious chocolate. Angela will be in charge of team activities, field work, and lab work on the caterpillar immune system.
Dr. David Wagner
University of Connecticut
Dr. David Wagner is an insect taxonomist and ecologist who has worked with caterpillars for the past 30 years. He is an expert in larval lepidopteran systematics and has published several key books on caterpillar identification, most notably Caterpillars of Eastern North America (Princeton University Press). Dr. Wagner received his B.S. in plant pathology with a minor in entomology from Colorado State University. He performed his Ph.D. work at UC Berkeley on the biosystematics of ghost moths. He is currently a full professor at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, where he continues to identify and catalog the diversity of life in places such as the Northeast, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and on our project here in Arizona. In his free time, Dr. Wagner enjoys playing volleyball, biking, fishing, watching UConn basketball, spending time with his family, macrophotographing and traveling.