Erika V Iyengar
I love sharing the amazing interconnections of the surrounding natural world with students. By understanding more about the processes in action, they notice more and are intrigued. That interest leads them to learn more and care more. A wonderful positive feedback loop is created in which suddenly so many parts of everyday life are interconnected; you start to notice organisms and ecology in news items, movies, political issues, novels and interactions with others (human and non-human).
I am particularly interested in helping students see why the natural world is relevant to them, specifically the “spineless wonders,” which are my particular favorites. It is relatively easy to convince someone to care about a furry mammal with large eyes. It is much harder to intrigue them with flatworms, slugs, oak trees, bacteria, ferns and fungus. Some of my proudest moments have been when students tell me, “I can't believe it, but all my friends are calling me a ‘science nerd’ now because I am continually pointing things out and explaining them as we walk across campus. I never thought I’d be like this. It is great!” Ecological interactions among all organisms and their evolutionary trajectories (past, present and future)—what could be more exciting?
Research, Scholarship or Creative/Artistic Interests
I am passionate about the ecology of invertebrates, with a particular focus on interspecies interactions, especially involving feeding and defense. I am particularly excited about marine organisms but I also study streams and ponds near campus. I use an understanding of the present-day ecology of organisms to shed light on evolutionary questions. My summer research often occurs at the Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island, Washington, where numerous Muhlenberg students have accompanied me to perform research. Other students conduct research with me on campus.
In one project, I examine marine snails that live on other organisms. I examine the species-specificity of these interactions and the benefits and costs incurred by each player. In a second project, I study the impacts on the surrounding environment of an invasive species of terrestrial slug compared with a native species, and how impending climate change may affect both. My projects in my lab on campus also involve the behavioral ecology of freshwater (stream and pond) arthropods and snails.