Lauren is a PhD student with Dr. Susan Whitehead in the Department of Biological Sciences. In the broadest sense, she is interested in species interactions: how plants, animals, and humans intertwine to form intricate communities. She is currently studying the chemical ecology of seed dispersal and fruit defense, as well as the multi-trophic interactions among plants, insects, and bats.
She earned a B.S. in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology from North Carolina State University. During her undergraduate career, she completed two National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) Internships with the University of Costa Rica and the Smithsonian Institution. Additionally, she completed an undergraduate capstone research project, graduating with membership in the University Honors Program. After graduation, she traveled while working as a field technician before conducting post-baccalaureate research at Archbold Biological Station. Her past research topics include invasive species, trophic cascades, sustainable agriculture, and urban greenspaces.
During her first year at Virginia Tech, she was awarded the Dean’s Diversity Assistantship. Lauren’s first research projects took place at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, where she began an integrative examination of the role of plant secondary metabolites in seed dispersal and fruit defense. Specifically, she is providing the first description of the natural variation of a diverse group of secondary metabolites, alkenylphenols, across plants and ontogenetic stages in a Neotropical shrub, Piper sancti-felicis. To understand the functional significance of these compounds, she is examining their role in seed germination, fungal growth, and disperser preferences. Her next project will examine herbivore-induced volatiles in plants and explore their role in insectivorous bat foraging. She hopes the results from this project will inform both bat conservation and sustainable farming practices.
With the Interfaces of Global Change program, Lauren hopes to contribute to the local and global community through undergraduate student mentoring, service and outreach, and effective science communication.