As a first-year PhD student, I am exploring the ecological implications of complex trichome cover in the Loasaceae.
The Loasaceae, also known as the stick-leafs or blazing stars, are covered with incredibly complex trichomes (hairs). Members of the family may bear stinging hairs, barbed hairs, glandular hairs, branched hairs, and more. The size, type, and distribution of these trichomes varies across the family.
Many hypotheses have been proposed for the ecological role(s) of complex trichomes in Loasaceae, but very few of these have been tested. Different trichome types have been implicated in defense, dispersal, UV protection, water regulation, and more.
I am interested in exploring the evolution and functional role of Loasaceae trichomes through the lens of plant-herbivore interactions. How does the presence, length, and color of stinging hairs vary across species? Does insect capture via barbed trichomes increase plant fitness? How do members of this family balance defense and recruitment of mutualists?
Image: insects stuck on the barbed trichomes of Eucnide urens. Grand Canyon, AZ.