Thursday, July 5

Chemical Arms Race in Colorado: Beetles Versus Bergamot
By Kenneth Keefover-Ring, MA
Denver Botanic Gardens - Gates Hall, 6:30 - 8 p.m.

Plants and insects are locked in a chemical arms race, where plants produce chemicals to protect themselves but some insects develop the ability to tolerate these compounds and take advantage of plants. Both larvae and adults of the tortoise beetle feed exclusively on wild bergamot. The tortoise beetle larvae protect themselves by maintaining a fecal shield on a fork-like structure containing plant essential oils. While experimental results show that the beetle may be winning the arms race, the plant may also be influencing the beetle's evolution. Some plant chemicals may decrease beetle performance and the increased amount of essential oil volatiles released when beetles feed may attract more pollinators and natural enemies of the beetle.

Kenneth Keefover-Ring decided to use his chemical skills and love of natural history to study chemical ecology after a thirteen-year career as a chemist in corporate America. He specializes in plant species in the mint family that produce different essential oils and how these different compounds mediate interactions between the plant and its herbivores, pollinators and even other plants.