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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SATURDAY SCIENCE WITH RICH WILKENS: Oh, the Gall of it! Insect Gall Diversity and Ecology

New York, NY (March 24, 2012) - There are few interactions in nature more exquisite than that between gall makers and their plants. Gall-making insects have the remarkable ability to utterly modify the genetic expression of plants. Indeed, they are able to usurp the genetic machinery of the plant and force it to construct a fully functional plant organ whose sole function is to provide protection and nourishment for the wasp. In the Long Island Pine Barrens there is a diverse assemblage of gall-makers that target mostly oaks and hickories. The gall-makers come from two groups of insects: Cynipid wasps and Cecidomyiid midge flies. That a great number of gall types exist in Long Island is well-known. We know virtually nothing else about the biology of gall-makers. In this talk, Richard Wilkens will share his work on scrub oak (Quercus Ilicifolia) in which he will sample five populations over five years for any and all gall-makers he could find. One remarkable and fortuitous discovery of this study was the utter and complete collapse of the entire gall assemblage in three of the sites after an early-season gypsy moth defoliation event in 2006. This research also shows how spatial heterogeneity strongly influence the community makeup of the gall-maker assemblage. Finally, Wilkens will present his work on the natural history and ecology of one type of Cynipid, the scrub oak gall-maker (Amphibilops Ilicifoliae). One key finding is that the rate of mortality due to attack by natural enemies is greater than 50% and, by some measures, above 70%. He will posit some possible ecological explanations for such a high mortality rate.

March 24th, Saturday at 9am
Reservation Notes: $10 for Explorers Club members and the public; free for students with ID. Reservations are suggested on a first-come first-served basis. Please call 212.628.8383, or send your email to

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