Name(s) of Faculty Adviser/Mentor
Many species of Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars) build structures of leaves and silk, commonly referred to as “shelters”. These shelters are constructed in one of several different ways, including rolling the leaf edge, folding the leaf over itself, or tying two or more leaves flat together. This study was conducted to first determine seasonal abundance of these shelters in a temperate oak forest. The second goal was to determine the influence of host plant identity, season, and topography on the abundance of these shelters, and their secondary occupancy by arthropods other than those that made them. The study site was the forest at Cuivre River State Park, near Troy, MO. Three permanent transects, each 50 m long, were established and then censused three times during the growing season, May, July, and September, 2018. All shelters encountered on woody plants in a 1 m wide strip and within 2 m from the ground were counted, the inhabitants censused, and the host plant on which they were found identified. The frequency of shelters on host plants and variation of shelter types across seasons and tree species will be tested against several hypotheses involving biotic and abiotic factors that affect caterpillar survival. Abiotic factors that may influence shelter building include avoidance of heat and desiccation, which would select for increased shelter production in late summer. Biotic factors that may affect the frequency and type of leaf shelters constructed include predator and parasitoid avoidance as well as several factors of leaf type, including the toughness, size, and leaf chemistry of the host plant. Additionally, biotic factors related to leaf type may also change across host plant species and thus result in different preferred shelter types and building seasons for Lepidoptera on different host plants.