As a chemical ecologist, I study how plants cope with stresses, especially insect pests. Plants mostly respond chemically by producing distasteful or toxic chemicals, many of which are important to humans as flavors, aromas, preservatives or medicines. My work in chemical ecology, much of it done in collaboration with Jack Schultz, uses approaches ranging from gene expression to phytochemistry and insect response to understand how plants tell pests apart and defend appropriately. Some insects manipulate plant genes to defeat defenses and improve the plant as food. Insects that cause galls on plants are extraordinary examples of this and another current project in the Schultz / Appel lab. More recently, I discovered with collaborator Rex Cocroft that plants can detect and selectively respond to the feeding vibrations of insect pests, providing the first example of a sense of 'hearing' in the plant world.
A strong proponent and active practitioner of science communication, I'm a veteran of many successful efforts in public outreach while at PSU. At MU, I focused on providing student journalists with an understanding of the nature of science, and teaching science communication to science and journalism students.