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Abigail Kula, Ph.D.

Abigail Kula, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Environmental Science

Department of Science

Coad Science Building
Room 302

+ (301) 447-6863

Dr. Kula's interest in ecology began in the Sand Hills of western Nebraska when she was a rising sophomore in college. After that, she studied plant-insect interactions in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas during graduate school. Her dissertation research was conducted in the Allegany Mountains of centralwestern Virginia. Since then, she has focused her research within the Chespeake Bay watershed in open meadows and eastern deciduous forest.

  • PhD, 2012, University of Maryland; Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
  • MS, 2003, Kansas State University, Biology
  • BS, 2000, Texas A&M University, Entomology

Ecology, Plant-insect interactions, Pollination, Mycorrhizal symbiosis, Plant and insect diversity

Research interests

The Plant Ecology Lab focuses on plant ecology and ecological interactions that impact plant growth, reproduction and survival. Students explore the effects of competition, pollination, herbivory and mycorrhizal symbiosis, as well as several of these interactions simultaneously. We ask questions like, do phenotypic traits affect the outcome of competition, how does plant density impact pollination and seed set, and what are the impacts of insect herbivory for plant populations? Primarily our work is experimental, and projects take place in the lab or greenhouse and in both open meadow and forested field sites on campus, at off-campus field stations or within state and national parks. The overarching goal of our research program is to explore basic ecological questions that may be used to support problem solving in conservation and agriculture.

Grants funded

  • Lilly Faculty Fellowship from the Lilly Network of Church-Related Colleges and Universities, with Dr. Layton Field. Funding to develop and pilot a faculty fellows program at the Mount. 2024-2026 ($16,000)
  • Washington Biologist’s Field Club Research Award, with Dr. Eric Sakowski. “Plant and Microbiome Changes across the season and in response to management,” 2023-2024 ($3000)
  • Marion I. & Henry J. Knott Foundation Award, with Dr. Rachel Hartnett and Dr. Eric Sakowski. "Advancing Environmental Stewardship through Research and Education: Environmental Chamber to Support Study in theEnvironmental Sciences at a Catholic Undergraduate University," 2022-2023 ($60,000)
  • Maryland Native Plant Society Award, with Dr. Eric Sakowski. "Plant-microbial interactions across the season and in response to management," 2022 ($2992)
  • Daughters of Charity, "A project to document biodiversity at the Daughters of Charity Emmitsburg Campus," 2021-2022 ($12,125)
  • Washington Biologist’s Field Club Research Award, “Management timing affects milkweed growth, reproduction, and population dynamics,” 2020-2023 ($3568)
  • National Science Foundation, DEB-1936621, “BEE: RUI: Complementary approaches investigating local adaptation in common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, using research and education networks,” 2020-2022 ($1,037,237; MSMU subcontract $17,000)
  • Niacet Contract Research, Ancillary role, “CaP Turfgrass Phytopathogens Study,” 2017-2020 ($76,000)
  • Mount St. Mary’s Summer Faculty Development award, 2017 ($2510)
  • Washington Biologist’s Field Club Research Award, “Impacts of Deer Herbivory on Understory Herbaceous Plant Community Diversity and the Potential to Recover via Seed Bank,” 2017-2018 ($2660)
  • Clare Boothe Luce Scholarship and WSTEM mentoring program, co-author with P Kreke and J Hook, 2015 ($175,000)
  • Mount St. Mary’s Summer Faculty Development award, 2015 ($2084)
  • Washington Biologist’s Field Club Research Award, “The Interplay of Density and Insects as Drivers of Milkweed Population Dynamics,”2013-2014 ($4978)

Buffington, ML, A Garretson, RR Kula, M Gates, R Carpenter, D Smith and AAR Kula. 2021. "Pan trap color preference across Hymenoptera in a forest clearing.” Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata. 169(3): 298-311

Kula, AAR, MH Hey, JJ Couture, PA Townsend and HJ Dalgleish. 2020. Intraspecific competition reduces plant size and quality and damage severity increases defense response in the herbaceous perennial, Asclepias syriaca. Plant Ecology. 221: 421-430.

Kula, AAR, and DC Hartnett. 2015. “Mycorrhizal symbiosis affects insect herbivory in tallgrass prairie as mediated through plant community changes.” Plant Ecology. 216(4): 589-597.

Kula, AAR, DM Castillo, MR Dudash and CB Fenster. 2014. “Interactions between a pollinating seed predator and its host plant: the role of environmental context within a population.” Ecology and Evolution. 4(14): 2901-2912.

Castillo, DM, AAR Kula, S Dotterl, MR Dudash and CB Fenster. 2014. “Invasive Silene latifolia may benefit from a native pollinating seed predator, Hadena ectypa, in North America.” International Journal of Plant Science. 175(1): 80-91.

Kula, AAR, MR Dudash and CB Fenster. 2013. “A nursery pollinator as a selective agent on floral traits through oviposition behavior.” American Journal of Botany. 100(6): 1148-1154. doi:10.3732/ajb.1200636

Castillo, DM, AAR Kula, KAD Fenster, CB Fenster and MR Dudash. “Specialist pollinating seed predators exhibit oviposition strategy consistent with optimal foraging and optimal oviposition theories.” Ecological Entomology. 38: 164-172. doi: 10.1111/een.12003

Reynolds, RJ, AAR Kula, CB Fenster and MR Dudash. 2012. “Variability in nursery pollinator importance and effects on plant reproductive success.” Oecologia. 168: 439-448. doi: 10.1007/s00442-011-2095-9.

Louda, SM, TA Rand, AAR Kula, AE Arnett, NM West and B Tenhumberg. 2011. “Priority resource access mediates competitive intensity between an invasive weevil and native floral herbivores.” Biological Invasions. 13(10): 2233-2248.

Dalgleish, HJ, AR Kula, DC Hartnett and BK Sandercock. 2008. “Responses of two bunchgrasses to nitrogen addition in tallgrass prairie: the role of bud bank demography.” American Journal of Botany. 95(6): 672-680.

Kula, AAR, DC Hartnett and GWT Wilson. 2005. “Effects of mycorrhizal symbiosis on tallgrass prairie plant-herbivore interactions.” Ecology Letters. 8(1): 61-69.

Lab Members

  • Julia Baer
  • Val Bakly
  • Jessica Bauer
  • Nikole Blandon
  • Cole Burrows
  • Vanessa Cadevilla-Peano
  • Christina Carroll
  • Nataly Cisneros-Huacacolqui
  • Holly Click - Honors thesis advisor
  • Sam Dainton - Honors thesis advisor – Chesapeake Conservation Corp (Nature Conservancy)
  • Rachel Day - Honors thesis advisor
  • Rachel Delbo – Chesapeake Conservation Corp (American Chestnut Land Trust)
  • Sasanthi Fernando
  • Mike Flyte
  • Skylar Guthrie-Pimpine
  • Emily Hall
  • Makala Harrison
  • Janai Heise – pursuing a master's degree at Frostburg State University
  • Shurell Hester
  • Emily Kiger
  • Latoya McGlorthan - Honors thesis advisor
  • Mercedes Nield&
  • Myriam Oumarou
  • Adria Pirozzi – Honors thesis advisor
  • Lincoln Queale
  • Celine Rosenwald
  • Kristina Winkeler - Honors thesis advisor
  • Katherine Wu - Honors thesis advisor