Monarchs and Milkweed – update

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National Outdoor Book Award!
A brief update on Monarchs and Milkweed from Montana, Dec. 2017. Monarchs and Milkweed has received the National Outdoor Book Award in the Nature and Environment Category. Here is a fabulous book review of M&M written for the scientific journal Ecology written by Kelly Nail. And finally, M&M made the top 10 list for the 2018 AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence… Read more

Different pesticides as insect killers

blip   I recently came across a new study by a group of friends and colleagues that blew me away.  Of all the environmental pollutants and nasty things we use to kill pests, who knew that fungicides (chemicals used to kill fungus) would become a problem for bumblebee pollinators. This study: McArt, S. H., C. M. Urbanowicz, S. McCoshum, R. E.… Read more

Who was James A. Perkins?

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James Perkins
I just received word from the Dean’s office in CALS that I have been appointed the James A. Perkins Professor of Environmental Studies at Cornell!  This is a huge honor, and I am thrilled and excited. Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t know who he was. J.A. Perkins, who passed away 20 years ago, was the 7th President of Cornell. … Read more

Second graders do science!

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Second grade kids at the Belle Sherman elementary school.  Learning about scientific hypotheses and data collection!
Science education should start early!  And as part of our collaborative NSF grant on milkweed genetics and ecology (with Georg Jander from BTI and Steve Broyles from Suny Cortland), we are implementing outreach projects in the K-12 Ithaca schools.  Led by research support specialist,… Read more

Monarch-milkweed happenings from Montana

1 Things are going well on the sabbatical in Missoula, MT!  On November 9th I will be speaking at a “friend-raiser” associated with the Montana Natural History Center and the Missoula Insectarium. And in December I will be speaking at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. Both talks will give an overview of monarchs and milkweed and an update on their current predicament. I… Read more

New study on monarch declines

mon ellen An excellent new study finds that climate, habitat loss (in both Mexico and the USA), disease, & insecticides contribute to decline of monarch butterflies.  Although one could quibble with the emphasis placed on discussion of various issues, what I appreciate is the quantitative nature and comprehensiveness of the study, and the attempt to include as many factors as possible.  Perhaps… Read more

Summer 2017 news & happenings

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Anurag chatting with Michael Polan after his Iscol Lecture in April 2017.
Anurag and Jennifer are off for sabbatical for the 2017-18 academic year… but science in the lab continues.  As a wrap-up, here are some news and happenings from the summer months… Congrats to Jacob and Katie for passing their A-Exams with flying colors (see previous post on their… Read more

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

New synthesis of convergent evolution!

solanum dulcamara As part of being the Vice President of the American Society of Naturalists, I had the opportunity to organize a symposium at the annual meeting in 2016 (Austin, TX).  The topic was convergence, natural history, and the big questions in biology.  The talks were great, and what I think (hope!) will really have an impact on the field is this… 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

Thanks to undergraduate researchers!

lab with undergrads 2017 Our lab always has a cadre of excellent undergraduate researchers.  This academic year was especially great as five students engaged in various projects from the study of bumble bee foraging and learning to mechanisms of toxicity in the Malagasy stem-succulent genus Pachypodium.  We are proud of and grateful to all of you… and best wishes to our two graduates, Aliya… Read more

Update: monarchs and milkweed

3 Here is an update on monarch and milkweed happenings… Over the past few weeks I have visited several natural history venues for a modest book tour — it has gone very well, with the added pleasure of meeting some well-known citizen scientists and old friends.  It started with a Chats in the Stacks at Cornell which is now online on youtube!… 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