Milkweeds (and monarchs) across the middle of America

29 IO On July 24th 2017, I set out with my family from Ithaca, NY, for year-long sabbatical leave from Cornell University.  Our destination for the fall semester is Missoula, Montana, but our first major stop was a family visit in Urbana, IL.  Given my travel companions, especially the kids Jasper (12) and Anna (8), we decided to take our time driving… Read more

Summer in the milkweed patch

11 It’s peak season for milkweed and the village of insects that make milkweed its home.  In my book on Monarchs and Milkweed, I devote an entire chapter to these diverse and fascinating other milkweed insects.  Below are photos from two days last week (July 6 and 7th), one set from my front yard and the other from Shawangunk National Grassland Preserve, both… Read more

A conversation with Paul Feeny

paul I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Paul Feeny, one of the all-time great scientists who studies plant-herbivores interactions.  Paul has been at Cornell since 1967, and was one of the founders of the discipline of chemical ecology.  Over the years Paul has had many successful students, he taught a range of courses, and contributed to the communal… Read more

Popping the cork!

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Marc Lajeunesse – Dissertation cork, 2008.  In introducing Marc at his defense talk, I referred to him as my Dick Cheney.
A long-held tradition in E&EB at Cornell (and probably at most institutions) is that of popping a cork when graduate students meet particular milestones. The bubbly can take many forms, from Champagne to sparkling water.  For us, the most familiar… Read more

The last “winter” walk

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The Virginia waterleaf, Hydrophyllum virginianum, in the Boraginaceae, named for its spotted leaves. We discussed the unknown “how” and “why” of the spotting.  Is their function related or unrelated to the mottling of trout lily?   
  We embarked on our final winter walk of the season on April 28th, immediately after the 7th annual HW Greene Grilled Cheese Challenge in Corson Hall.  … Read more

A primer on coevolution: monarch & milkweeds

Asclepias spp seed diversity (ellen woods) Coevolution is a special kind of evolution. And monarchs and milkweeds exemplify this special process. In particular, what makes coevolution special is reciprocity. In other words, coevolution is one species that evolves in response to the other, and the other species evolves in response to the first. Thus, it is a back-and-forth that has the potential to spiral out of… Read more

Outreach: from elementary schools to diversity in graduate school

DSC 0068 Folks in the lab are frequently engaged in outreach activities, ranging from visits to elementary schools to high school teacher training. In the past year, we have visited South Seneca and Belle Sherman elementary schools in Ithaca, and the Lincoln Street Elementary School in Waverly, NY.  We also participate in Expanding Your Horizons events, Cornell Entomology’s Insectapalooza, Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers, the Diversity… Read more

Monarch remigration, book festival, and breakfast tacos

1 I recently returned from a spring trip to the Austin, TX area in search of re-migrating monarch butterflies: 8-month old animals weighing less than a dollar bill, that had traveled for thousands of miles, rested in Mexico for 5 months, and crossed the border again.  A postdoc in the lab, Patty Jones, joined for the trip, which auspiciously started with… Read more

Q&A: Monarchs and Milkweed

welshii2 The following is a Q&A just posted to the Princeton University Press website and blog.
Asclepias welshii, Coral Pink Sand Dunes
What makes monarchs and milkweeds so special? AA: Monarchs and milkweed are remarkable creatures, they’re on a wild ride! From the monarch’s perspective, its only food as a caterpillar is the milkweed plant. This makes them highly specialized, highly… Read more

Early reviews & events: Monarchs and Milkweed

Monarchs and Milkweed is now available, although the official release date from Princeton University Press in April 11. On Saturday April 8th, I will be participating in the San Antonio Book Festival.  Early reviews have been positive (thank you!), including a whirlwind summary in the Washington Post, which emphasizes conservation issues and my argument that milkweed limitation is not driving the decline of monarchs.  On the left… Read more

Gordon Conference – Cornell connections

The women of Cornell’s plant-herbivore group (Jennifer, Natasha, Zoe, Katja, Katie, Lina, and Aino) recently returned from the plant-herbivore interactions gordon research conference. Pictures below by Jennifer Thaler.  As usual, Jennifer described the GRC as a love-fest, seeing old friends and meeting new colleagues.  Especially fun for those in attendance (I was home looking after the family) were all of the… Read more

Jigsaw #3 – Specialists vs. Generalists

Paul Feeny visiting our lab group meeting in the Fern Room, 4th floor of Corson hall.
Last week in the Plant-Interactions-Group we had our 3rd JIGSAW session. Our topic was specialists vs. generalists in plant-herbivore interactions.  I was inspired to cover this topic because it is a persistent issue, one that has been discussed widely in ecology for decades. Are… Read more

The oldest butterfly?

It’s unclear when humans became humans.  Presumably it was a gradual growth of our consciousness over the eons.  There are some things, however, that appear to distinguish us from most other animals.  For example, our artistic depictions.  From the deepest, darkest caves have emerged pictures of humanity from thousands of years ago.  And in an Egyptian tomb, that of Nebamun,… Read more

Winter Walk 2017 #2

Cold and crisp among the antique hemlocks. Over a hundred years old and certainly over a 100 ft tall.
Last week, late in February, it was nearly 70F in Ithaca, NY.  Buds were breaking, as were temperature records.  I heard a lecture yesterday that projected that this spring would be 2-3 weeks early compared to 2012, which previously held the record as the… Read more

Monarch population size over winter 2016-2017 announced!

The estimates of the monarch butterfly overwintering population were announced Thursday February 9th by WWF Mexico.  The butterflies are so dense at their dozen or so mountain-top clustering sites that overwintering butterflies cannot be counted.  Instead, the area of forest that is densely coated with butterflies (at about 5,000 butterflies per square meter looking up into the canopy) is estimated… Read more

PIG: The jigsaw experiment

Cornell’s Plant-Insect Group, affectionately known as PIG, has been meeting for weekly discussions every semester for at least 12 years.  In the old days, Paul Feeny and Dick Root would join us for inspiring discussions, merging the past with the future.  These days, the Ithaca group, digitally connected with folks in Geneva, NY, is frequently a gaggle of over 30… Read more

Where do monarch butterflies come from?

The plight of monarch butterflies is often in the news and many scientists around the world are working hard to understand their annual migratory cycle.  How do the monarchs produced during summer in the northern reaches of America contribute to the overwintering population in Mexico?  The origins of monarch butterflies that make it to Mexico has been hotly debated and… Read more

Winter Walks 2017 #1

Eurosta solidaginis, the goldenrod gall fly, a tasty treat for vertebrates, made sweeter by the winter cold — sugar is the anti-freeze. Photo by Katie Holmes.
Winter Walks are a tradition of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at Cornell University, started by Professor Peter Marks in the 1970s.  Winter walks grew out of the teaching of Plant Ecology field labs… Read more

Monarch book!

My new book, Monarchs and Milkweed, a highly illustrated popular science book will be available in late March from Princeton University Press.   Here is what Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, says: It’s impossible to imagine the world without monarch butterflies. But they face mounting challenges. This clear, fact-packed book looks at this astonishing and… Read more

Welcome to the new lab page!

Hi folks! Welcome to the revised landing page, with the added benefit of blog posts.  You’ll see posts related to interesting ecology and evolutionary biology, monarch butterflies, and and our plant-insect interactions weekly discussions here.  For this first post, I simply want to let you know that past “Lab News” back to 2009 can be found here.… Read more