visiting assistant professor
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
Field of Interest
Community ecology, phenology and climate change, predator-prey interactions and predator-free space on chemically defended plants.
My doctoral work was conducted under the advisement of Dr. Daniel Janzen at the University of Pennsylvania. My research focused on the protective coloration of caterpillars from visually-orienting predators in forest and old field habitats. This work also examined caterpillar mimicry complexes involving the monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) and the field-testing of predator-free space on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).
My interests currently are focused on the role of citizen scientists in ecological inquiry and conservation biology specifically relating to studies of phenology/climate change as a model for inquiry learning by non-science majors. My work in the greenhouse and the field continues to be dominated by my interest in caterpillar ecology and the ecology of milkweed communities.
Caterpillar Ecology Research
My research on caterpillar ecology focuses on two areas. The first is the study of the ecology of milkweed communities, specifically investigations of the above and belowground interactions that affect monarch caterpillars and their milkweed hosts. The second area investigates the synchrony of budburst and caterpillar emergence through manipulations of plant-herbivore communities in the field. Both research areas are the inspiration for projects with students involved in my advanced experience labs.
Campus Tree Phenology Project
Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events. Phenological evidence provides a tangible example of the effects of climate change on species. Regional and global studies of phenology have documented the earlier timing of many phenological events today compared to the past. In 2010, the Campus Tree Phenology Project was initiated as a means to engage non-science majors in BI147 Biodiversity Connections (part of the Core Curriculum). Since that time the project has evolved to also involve student volunteers who monitor the phenology of 50 campus trees and contribute this data to the National Phenology Network’s nationwide database. The phenology project is an opportunity to engage students in original inquiry outside of the lecture hall and model the application of citizen science research in answering large-scale ecological questions. Documenting phenology increases bio-literacy (the reading of the natural landscape) of undergraduate students. More information about this project and phenological monitoring can be found at the Boston College Phenology project page.
Campus Tree Inventory
Campus trees are an invaluable resource for ecology students at Boston College. The taking of a campus tree inventory began in 2008 under the supervision of BC’s Office of Sustainability. This student-collected project continues today under my direction and currently is comprised of an inventory of 4800 individual trees representing 98 species on the Brighton and Main campuses. The data is housed in an ArcGIS database and includes information regarding the location, dimensions, health and taxonomic name for individual trees. Through the generous support of an ATIG grant I am currently developing a web-interface of the Campus Tree Inventory that will link to our campus tree phenology project. The goal is this data will be available for student research focused on our campus trees.
Polgar, C., Primack, R., Williams, E., Stitcher, S., Hitchcock, C. 2013. Climate effects on the flight period of Lycaenid butterflies in Massachusetts. Biological Conservation. 160: 25-31.