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
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
US agriculture is based on ideas that make me scratch my head. We typically grow plants that are not native to North America, we grow them as annuals, and we usually only care about one product from the crop, like the tomatoes that give us ketchup and pizza.
And we don’t like weeds. Why would we? They take resources… Read more
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
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
See new op-ed article posted on Scientific American: Monarchs in Peril… Read more
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
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… Read more
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 events are the “A” and “B” exams, for passing the qualifying exam (to become a PhD candidate, typically at the… Read more
Thanks to all for another great semester of the plant-interactions group!
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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. It has become a tradition for the President of Cornell University to be a judge in the competition, and this year was no different with our new Prez, Martha Pollack, in attendance.
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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
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… Read more
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
The following is a Q&A just posted to the Princeton University Press website and blog.
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 evolved, and very picky eaters indeed.… Read more
Check out the spectacular new hiking trail guide to the Ithaca area! https://ithacatrails.org/map
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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
On Friday March 24, we had our third winter walk… after a mostly snow-free and rather warm winter, last week we got well over a foot of snow in Ithaca. Schools (including Cornell) were closed for 2 days, and we all did a bit of skiing. The ground has retained more snow cover from this storm than it had all… Read more
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… Read more
By Lina Arcila Hernández and Katie Holmes
In recent conversations mulling over the history of science, we’ve talked about a shift in the social environment that scientists experience. It seems that historically, scientific knowledge has been built by highly creative individuals driven by an acute desire to understand the world around them. And still today, scientists spend a big part… Read more
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 specialists and generalists fundamentally different in their ecological and evolutionary relationships with plants? Is this an… Read more
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
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 earliest spring in recent decades. In 2012, I watched a monarch butterfly lay an egg on… Read more
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
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
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 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 (taught in the fall), as students wanted to continue Friday afternoon outings in the “spring” semester. So while many animals are dormant, gorges are icy,… Read more
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
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