We are in the Dept of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Dept of Entomology at Cornell University. Our lab studies the ecology and evolution of plant-insect interactions, including aspects of herbivory, community ecology, defense theory, phenotypic plasticity, Chemical Ecology, and coevolution. Research projects include work on local biodiversity, milkweeds, and Monarch butterflies. See also the Cornell Chemical Ecology Group. We are especially keen to work on combining comparative phylogenetic approaches with experimental evolutionary ecology as a means to link natural history, evolutionary convergence, and strong inference towards understanding function and ecological outcomes.



Connecting seniors with monarch butterflies!

1 by Hannah Gurholt A Cornell based research group is collaborating with senior citizens and their living centers around Ithaca, NY to increase milkweed gardens for the community. The group is composed of PhD student, Hannah Gurholt, Cornell undergraduate, Retna Arun, REU student, Van Hniang Par, and Cornell lab technician, Paloma Mate-Kodjo. So far, the team has been planting the monarch’s… Read more

Two questions from Cornell Cooperative Extension: Is educational rearing of monarchs still allowed? And, how to encourage milkweed in our fields?

monarch3 Recently two folks from Cornell Cooperative Extension wrote to ask about rearing monarchs and planting milkweeds. Their questions and my answers are given below. Is educational rearing of monarchs still allowed? I am an Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension – Steuben.  I have been trying to find out more information on monarch conservation status and how… Read more

Albany Pine Barrens – a few hours of amazing natural history!

13a Although I often write about monarchs and milkweed, really I am an ecologist aspiring to study and understand the natural world, mostly in terms of the origin and maintenance of biodiversity. A long-term goal is to learn about the natural history of species, habitats, and interactions as a means to develop a view of life. It’s the interplay of our… Read more

Q&A How monarchs find milkweed

ovipn Brandon wrote in recently about a how monarchs find their milkweed host plants… below is his Q and my A: ________________________________________ Sent: Sunday, June 20, 2021 7:59:59 PM Subject: Monarch Butterfly Chemoreception Dr. Agrawal, My name is Brandon Rosenblatt, I was referred to you during a conversation I was having with Dr. Heather McAuslane at the University of Florida. I… Read more

News, outreach, and podcasts

A quick post to note some recent happenings. First off, last week I received an unexpected phone call from the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a group of elected scientists that are part of an advising body to the US Government. You can read the official NAS announcement, Science magazine article, or Cornell’s press release. Unrelatedly, we had a… Read more

3 old growth forests in 3 days (Ithaca, NY)

26 Although I typically write about monarchs and milkweed, really I am a field biologist aspiring to study and understand the natural world, mostly in terms of the origin and maintenance of biodiversity. A life-long goal is to learn about the natural history of species, habitats, and interactions as a means to develop a view of life. It’s the interplay of… Read more

Announcing! Listing the Monarch Butterfly under the Endangered Species Act? No.

11 The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), enacted under President Richard Nixon, is perhaps one of the greatest pieces of environmental legislation in the world. Six years ago, in 2014, four entities petitioned the US Fish & Wildlife Service (F&WS) to list monarch butterflies as threatened under the ESA. The groups were the Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the late… Read more

A carnivorous caterpillar in our backyard

14 It is easy to think that for fabulous, bite-you-in-the-nose, natural history, you have to go to the tropics. Not true! As a response to the covid pandemic, so many of us are spending more time outside in gardens and neighborhood parks. I have been posting (mostly on twitter, @anuragasclepias) some finds such as these two organisms below in and around… Read more

Monarch population size over winter 2019-2020 announced by WWF Mexico: not great news!

world monarchs The last 10 years have been a wild ride for the monarch butterfly population. Between 2010 and 2014 was the all-time population low, as recorded during overwintering in Mexico and reported by the WWF.  This terrible low point, something I termed in the “red zone” corresponded to the 100-year drought in Northern Mexico & Texas, and the two are most… Read more

Q&A about tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)

diabrotica Hello, I am a retired physician, neurologist and recent master gardener. I am a fellow butterfly enthusiast and have just returned from Mexico where I saw the wintering monarchs. I have been planting many types of milkweed and observing for several years. I planted tropical milkweed Asclepias curassavica and have been told it is terrible to do that because of… Read more

Q&A with a writer (Dana Church)

glauc2 Dear Dr. Agrawal, My name is Dana Church and I live in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. I studied bumble bees for my PhD at the University of Ottawa. I am also a children’s author. My upcoming nonfiction book for middle-grade readers (aged 8-12), entitled, “The Beekeepers: How Humans Changed the World of Bumble Bees” will be published by Scholastic on March… Read more

Monarchs and Milkweed in Madagascar

P1150603 I was on sabbatical the 2017-2018 academic year, seems like years ago.  We spent the fall semester in Missoula, Montana and the spring in Oaxaca, Mexico, our odyssey ended back in Ithaca.  Blog posts from that era, highlighting monarchs and milkweed are here from the west and Mexico. But, one post I never got to until now was perhaps the… Read more

Monarchs and Milkweed – Year in review & holiday blog!

DSCN2153 Greetings monarch and milkweed enthusiasts!  I am writing with a year-in-review regarding scientific findings and observations about M&M. First, it was a wonderful breeding season, with most observers in the northeast reporting many caterpillars and adults. As monarchs now complete their long flight and southern migration this fall, we are hoping for abundance in the Mexican highlands!  For more background… Read more

Reconstructing monarch’s evolutionary history in vivo using CRISPR flies!

monfly I am super proud to report that Amy Hastings and I have been part of a wonderful collaboration with Noah Whiteman’s and Susanne Dobler’s labs reconstructing the evolutionary history of genetic changes in monarch butterflies experimentally (and in vivo) using fruit flies. You can read the paper, just published in Nature here. Lots is being written about it, including the… Read more

Monarch population size over winter 2018-2019 announced, and it’s good news!

mor2 The estimates of the monarch butterfly overwintering population were announced today (Wed. Jan. 30th 2019) by WWF Mexico.  The butterflies are so dense at their dozen or so mountain-top clustering sites that overwintering butterflies cannot be counted individually.  Instead, the area of forest that is densely coated with butterflies (at about 5,000 butterflies per square meter looking up into the… Read more

Milkweeds but not monarchs in Europe: natural and cultural history (and a modest proposal)

mon ellen What to do about the decline of the monarchs?  The recent Thanksgiving count in California was dire. The spiral in eastern north America is no better.  The monarchs need many things, and milkweed is absolutely essential.  It is the only plant their caterpillars eat.  And as described in my book, Monarchs and Milkweed, the two share an intimate and antagonistic… Read more

Caterpillar’s revenge (redux)

i I study caterpillars.  But really whatever you study, if you are into it enough, becomes part of you.  And eventually, those targets of our attention and love (and well, okay, our obsession), get their revenge.  I’ve spent a lot of time on Monarchs and Milkweed, studying and contemplating their toxicity.  Milkweeds make poisons, monarchs eat the milkweed (and eat nothing… Read more

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.… Read more

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