Dr. Nicole L. Soper Gorden
Postdoctoral Associate
University of Minnesota Duluth
Department of Biology
1035 Kirby Drive, 207 SSB
Duluth, MN  55812

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) Do floral antagonists and/or floral defenses follow geographic patterns?  While it is well known that leaf herbivory is more common at lower latitudes, and many leaf defenses are similarly found at higher levels at lower latitudes, no one has tested the geographic patters of floral defenses and antagonisms.  Since flowers are frequently play an important role in plant reproduction, understanding patterns of damage to flowers and resources spent on floral defense is an interesting problem.

(2) 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.

(3) 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.

(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 have served as the primary instructor for upper-level biology courses, and designed a course proposal for a new class.  I hope to continue spending time in undergraduate training in parallel to my research throughout my career.

Subpages (1): Curriculum Vitae