Remembrances of the last ESA meeting (2017)

2 I am sorry to miss this year’s Ecological Society of America meeting, currently ongoing in New Orleans. I lieu of ESA, next week I will be presenting at the International Society of Chemical Ecology meeting in Budapest. In addition, I am happy to report that Paul Metzler has produced a comic about last year’s meeting… one highlight is below.… Read more

On the gift of sabbatical – A view from final days studying monarchs and milkweeds in Mexico (Part V)

bvine3 Sabbatical is one of those remarkable gifts of the academy. At Cornell University, after 12 semesters of service on campus, one can apply for 1-2 semesters off campus, free from most administrative and teaching duties to focus on scholarship.  This year has been my third sabbatical, and every one seems better than the last.  I was unquestionably able to commune… Read more

Monarchs & Milkweed in Mexico – Part IV

aFrida Art, biodiversity, chilies, Danaus, and extremes… that’s what I’ve found on sabbatical here in Oaxaca.This is Part IV in my series from Mexico where I am based on sabbatical leave from Cornell (click here for the 3rd post). I’m following up on my recent book Monarchs and Milkweeds: A migrating butterfly, a poisonous plant, and their remarkable story of coevolution. … Read more

Monarchs & Milkweed in Mexico – Pt III

alban 1 Greetings monarch and milkweed enthusiasts from Oaxaca! This is Part III in my series from Mexico where I am based on sabbatical leave from Cornell (see the second post here). This post follows up on observations here that are laying the foundation for my next research and writing projects, continuing on from my recent book Monarchs and Milkweeds.
I recently
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Q&A about research funding to study monarch butterflies

blip Continuing with Q&A from insightful readers: Chris Padgett of Louisville, KY, recently wrote: “Hello, I recently read your book. I’m curious, is Monsanto or a think tank funded by their industry funding your work? I ask because I find it interesting you suggest GMOs and pesticides are not harming the Monarchs. Hearing you say this in various interviews on YouTube,… Read more

Q&A with a textbook author

c Every couple of weeks I get a very interesting email message from somebody out there who has thought deeply about monarchs and milkweed.  Especially since these exchanges can be insightful and relevant to questions others may be asking, I have decided to start sharing some of these exchanges. Below is a wonderful message from a freelance writer, William Hoover, of … Read more

Monarchs and Milkweed from Mexico Part II

Ornament
Monarch and Milkweed Ornament, by Cornell University undergraduate: Shujie (Silvia) Li
Hello from Oaxaca!  A few updates on monarchs and milkweed, February 2018… Click here for my photo blog on Monarchs and Milkweed in Mexico Part II Listen to this new podcast and interview about monarchs and milkweed on Brad Grim’s Grow Milkweed forum. See this great book review in… Read more

Monarchs & Milkweed in Mexico – Pt 1

diabrotica I am getting settled in Oaxaca, on sabbatical leave from Cornell studying milkweeds and monarchs in Mexico. Here is my initial report on plants and insects from the first couple of weeks. The people, culture, food, and biodiversity have all met my expectations so far. What a great country!  This is providing inspiration for the next chapter of what I… Read more

Monarchs and Milkweed – update

NOBAWin250  
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… 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

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… 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

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… 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

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

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

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