B.5 Ecological Interactions in a Warming World: How will Climate Change Affect Relationships Between Plants and Insects?Meera Lee Sethi

Grasshopper feeding on a lupine leaf

Relationships are at the heart of ecology. From birth to death, all organisms are caught up in a complex network of interactions—both positive and negative—with other living things. For some, these relationships are important enough to play a role in determining vital outcomes like survival, reproductive success, and distribution range limits.

This class will explore the effects of climate on one of the most ubiquitous sets of species interactions in terrestrial ecosystems: those between plants and insects.

We will start by laying out the major ways in which climate factors like temperature and precipitation affect the overall physiology of plants and insects, to build an understanding of why these groups are likely to respond differentially to the effects of climate change.

Then we will use active learning techniques to work through how these differences in responses could impact species interactions. We will focus on a couple of case studies, at least one of which will be based on research done in the subalpine habitat on the slopes of Mt. Rainier.

Participants will learn about the importance of plant-insect interactions in shaping ecosystem functions in our mountain regions, and come away with a greater appreciation for some of the little-noticed dramas that take place literally under our feet.

Photograph: Cascade Timberline grasshopper feeding on a lupine leaf