Brief history of the cabbage butterfly’s evolving tastes

By Talia Ogliore  August 11, 2021

The cabbage butterfly, voracious as a caterpillar, is every gardener’s menace. Turns out, these lovely white or sulfur yellow butterflies started trying to take over the planet millions of years before humans ever set foot on it.

To respond, plants threw resources into self-defense. Proto-broccoli and other brassicas got more bitter. Yet even as plants changed to deter chomping larvae, the Pieridae family butterflies were one of few insect groups that evolved to tolerate these new chemical defenses.

Research from biologists at Washington University in St. Louis uses statistical methods to trace the path of ancient pierid butterflies as they diversified and their plant hosts fought back over and over again, a battle repeated across evolutionary history.

“Our study provides some of the first evidence that the structure that we observe in butterfly-plant networks today — that is, the way the species interactions are organized — is stable over millions of years, even though the species-level interactions change,” said Mariana Pires Braga, a postdoctoral research associate working in the laboratory of Michael Landis, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences. Braga is the first author of the new paper in Ecology Letters and Landis is the senior author.

To model how butterfly-plant interactions evolve, Braga and Landis used previously published time-calibrated phylogenies for 66 Pieridae genera and 33 angiosperm (flowering plant) families that are known to be hosts of this kind of butterflies. The Washington University scientists collaborated with researchers from Stockholm University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

“Butterflies depend on host plants as their only food source when they are caterpillars, and caterpillars of different species are able to eat different plants,” Braga said. “These ecological interactions can be represented by a network — similar to a social network — that encodes which species interact. 

“We also know that many of these relationships resulted from a long coevolutionary history shared between plant and insect lineages,” she said. “But without a time machine, we can’t directly observe who interacted with whom, what those interactions were and when they were gained or lost.”

To get around this time-machine problem, statistical models can be used to reconstruct, or infer, coevolutionary history that occurred millions of years ago.

A major challenge is that there are billions and billions of histories that could have generated the complicated network of insect-plant interactions that are known to biologists. The new computational and statistical techniques that Braga and Landis developed assign probabilities to each history of network evolution so that the scientists can find the most probable ones. 

What Braga and Landis discovered with butterflies and the plants they choose to eat is somewhat akin to the “clumping” one might observe within a social network in a college or university, Braga explained. 

Most interactions between people likely happen within departments. Biologists talk with biologists. This is true over a long time period, even though the individual people working and studying within each department changes over time. 

“Pieridae-plant relationships might similarly be resilient to changes in species composition, but larger structural changes might destabilize the whole network,” she said.

Taking another bite

Another important finding from the new paper is that butterflies often regain hosts they haven’t used for millions of years. 

“This means that they likely have a kind of ‘memory’ mechanism that increases the number of host plants they can choose from, which in turn increases their chances of survival,” Braga said.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

The method that Braga and Landis developed for this research could prove useful for other scientists interested in investigating coevolutionary systems.

“A major component of our work involved the development of new computational tools that can be used by other researchers who study different types of ecological interactions,” Landis said. “Even though we developed these methods to understand how networks of interaction between butterflies and their host plants evolve, the same methods can be applied to a variety of biological systems.”

Examples include other kinds of crop pests and their hosts, or parasites responsible for spreading infectious diseases. Or systems that people consider more positive, like plant-pollinator networks.

In the case of cabbage butterflies and their hosts, these interactions have been happening for millions of years. This research work was only possible thanks to records that people have been writing down since Charles Darwin’s days. 

“Much of our data concerning ecological interactions comes from centuries of field observations that have only been digitized in recent decades,” Braga said. “Approaches like ours are important to link the future of biology to its past.”

In search of refuge..

Researchers look at whether Ozark oases at Tyson Research Center — climate change refugia — could help species persist in spite of rising temperatures. Read more …

Great video on Saint Louis’ efforts to link sustainability and environmental justice featuring LEC Fellow Catherine Werner

From strawberry poison dart frogs to Trinidadian guppies

By Erin Gerrity
10.30.20 | RESEARCH

Postdoctoral fellow Yusan Yang shares her path to Washington University and her belief that biology is not simply a formula or rule set to be followed.

Yusan Yang recently joined the Biology Department as a Living Earth Collaborative Postdoctoral Fellow. She is originally from Taiwan where she completed her undergrad education. Her focus shifted from physics and chemistry to biology in high school and college. The discovery that biology was not simply a formula or rule set to be followed, but rather a discipline that allowed room for change, was an inspiration point for that transition of interest.


“Early on, in middle school and high school, people often think biology is a subject of pure memorization, but I think actually there is a lot of logic behind the phenomenon that we see even though there is always exception in biology. I think that is really beautiful. This realization attracted me to dig deeper into why things are the way they are and why things evolved this way,” explained Yang.

Yusan began graduate school at Tulane University in New Orleans, but after one year, the Richards-Zawacki lab moved to the University of Pittsburgh, where Yusan completed her PhD dissertation on sexual selection and phenotypic divergence in the polymorphic strawberry poison dart frog (Oophaga pumilio).

“You don’t always find things that are the same as your hypotheses and that’s okay because that’s sometimes how you find new things or new directions in your research. For example, poison dart frogs have really strong color biases in terms of their behavior, so when the female is choosing a mate, she pays attention to color, and when the males are fighting, they pay attention to color, too.”

“We actually discovered that this behavior did not come from their genetics but instead comes from learning. So when the tadpoles are being fed by their mother, they imprint on their mother’s color, and that’s how they learn their color biases. I think that’s one of the things that is surprising but also really cool,” said Yang.


As an LEC postdoc at WashU, Yusan has 4 different mentors, with disciplines spanning ecology, evolution, neuroscience and economics. The collaborative nature of the program and opportunities to learn new things from a variety of people attracted her to the WashU community.  Yusan’s interest mainly lies in the evolution of animal coloration and the evolution of their mating behaviors. 

She is currently exploring how genetic and environmental influences on mating behavior modulate ecological and evolutionary processes in Trinidadian guppies in collaboration with ecologists Swanne Gordon and Andrés López-Sepulcre, neuroethologist Bruce Carlson, and economist Paulo Natenzon.

“I’m an evolutionary biologist, interested in how evolution works. When we are first learning about evolution, this is the general introduction we usually get: there are variations in the populations and because of environmental pressure on different phenotypes, some die, some survive, some reproduce more, and these variations are passed on to the next generation and so we get evolution. We had this non-spoken assumption that only traits that are inherited mattered in evolution, but we are starting to realize more and more that things that change within the organism’s lifetime also impact evolution.”

“I am trying to fundamentally add to what we understood about the evolution process by looking at how experiences that one organism or one individual or different individuals have in their lifetime change the evolutionary trajectory of that population,” Yang explained.

Yusan’s proposed research had both field and lab components. Plans to test some of the field components last May were canceled due to COVID restrictions, so she started with the lab component instead. Hopefully next year or next season, this research will resume at Tyson Research Center, using the mesocosm stream that Swanne Gordon and Andres’ López-Sepulcre are building. Yusan hopes to do onsite fieldwork in Trinidad as well at some point to study the guppies in their natural environment.

From pigeon stalker to squirrel chaser: Elizabeth Carlen studies urban wildlife in St. Louis

By Erin Gerrity
7.9.21 | RESEARCH

Elizabeth Carlen is a Living Earth Collaborative postdoc and NSF postdoctoral fellow working in the Losos lab at Washington University.

Photo by Vincent Tullo

She completed her PhD in Jason Munshi-South’s Lab at Fordham University in New York City. Munshi-South is at the forefront of the field of urban evolution, which examines how organisms evolve in response to urbanization.

“We previously assumed that evolution was a really slow process, taking millennia to occur. What we’ve been finding recently is that it can actually happen very quickly. The relatively new concept of urban evolution allowed me to bring all these parts of my life together— my love of cities and people, and my desire to study animals—and work in this really cool new field,” Carlen said.

Fordham University’s location was the perfect place for Carlen to start her urban evolution career. Carlen remarked that New Yorkers would walk right by her on the street, without even noticing that she was catching pigeons with a net gun and taking blood samples because it was “guaranteed not the weirdest thing they had seen that day!” While the average New Yorker may have passed her by, she became known as the “Pigeon Stalker” a title bestowed upon her by the New York Times and Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update even featured her research.

Carlen’s work in St. Louis and the surrounding area will focus on squirrels and how they may be evolving and adapting to urbanization. She will compare a variety of urban squirrel populations to squirrels in more suburban and rural areas, including Tyson Research Center.

“Across St. Louis, I’ll be looking at how environmental racism influences the population structure of squirrels. We know that St. Louis has this long history of racism which impacts where illegal dumping occurs, where pesticides are sprayed, where parks are taken care of, and where street trees are planted. All of these features influence the physical environment, and subsequently, the flora and fauna of that area,” Carlen explained. In a short time, she’s already made connections with community members who are recommending neighborhoods and places for her to find squirrels.


One thing that Carlen enjoys about working as a biologist in cities is providing opportunities for spontaneous learning. “One of the best things about studying urban ecology and evolution is when you’re working in the city, people end up getting these impromptu science lessons where they get to really see, hands on, how we’re doing science. It can be powerful watching someone in your city demonstrating that there’s still many questions, even on common animals, that we don’t have answers for yet.”

In future research, Carlen plans to continue to ask questions about urban evolution in different taxa to understanding whether or not certain patterns are universal. Ultimately, she hopes to work with city planners and policy makers to design cities that address the needs of both people and animals.

“I want to understand fundamental truths about ecology and evolution. Cities are great places to live. You get all these interactions with people that are honestly more sustainable than having us spread out across a bunch of land where we’re all driving cars. I really enjoy cities. And I want to make them great spaces for humans and animals,” Carlen said.

To learn more about Elizabeth Carlen’s research, visit

Living Earth Collaborative announces 2021 seed grant recipients

Photo: Joseph Steensma

The Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University in St. Louis announced the recipients of its fourth round of seed grant funding.

“This is a great set of projects,” said Jonathan Losos, the William H. Danforth Distinguished Professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and director of the Living Earth Collaborative. “We’re particularly thrilled at the institutional diversity of the recipients, spanning the breadth of Washington University and many local institutions beyond the Living Earth Collaborative’s three partner institutions.”

The 2021 seed grant investigators come from eight St. Louis area institutions, including researchers from six different departments or programs in five schools at Washington University. The projects and local recipients are:

  • Biodiversity of freshwater mussels of the Upper Sangamon River (Illinois): Community science in action. Danelle Haake (National Great Rivers Research and Education Center); Sarah Douglass (Illinois Natural History Survey); Christy Edwards and Bob Coulter (Missouri Botanical Garden); Edward Spevak (Saint Louis Zoo); and Bruce Colravy (Upper Sangamon River Conservancy)
  • Expanding the toolset for chelonian conservation: Understanding the diversity, distribution and dynamics of Terrapene microbiomes. Fangqiong Ling (Washington University, McKelvey School of Engineering); and Maris Brenn-White, Kathleen Apakupakul and Sharon L. Deem (Saint Louis Zoo)
  • Forest Park Living Lab: Exploring the biodiversity and natural history of one of the world’s great parks. Joseph Steensma (Washington University, Brown School); David Webb (Washington University, Environmental Studies program in Arts & Sciences); Anthony Dell (National Great Rivers Research and Education Center); and Amy Witt (Forest Park Forever)
  • Origin and diversification of the flowering plants of the Gulf of Guinea archipelago.Patricia Barberá and Tariq Stévart (Missouri Botanical Garden); Joan Garcia-Porta and Michael Landis (Washington University, Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences); and Nathan Muchhala (University of Missouri-St. Louis)
  • Páramo biodiversity farms: A collaborative conservation project (Colombia). Iván Jiménez (Missouri Botanical Garden) and Derek Hoeferlin (Washington University, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts)
  • Socio-economic and cultural adaptation to biodiversity loss and climate change: Analysis and intervention efficacy study in three Madagascar subsistence communities. Armand Randrianasolo, Nivo H. Rakotoarivelo and Fortunat Rakotoarivony (Missouri Botanical Garden) and Judi McLean Park (Washington University, Olin Business School)

Learn more about the seed grant projects here.

(Photo courtesy of Danelle Haake)

The Living Earth Collaborative is a center for biodiversity built from a partnership among three leading institutions in the study of plant and animal science — Washington University, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo.

Its mission is to celebrate the diversity of living organisms and promote further understanding of the ways humans can help preserve the varied natural environments that allow plants, animals and microbes to survive and thrive. The center exists as a hub that facilitates interdisciplinary research among scholars across a wide range of fields.

In four years, the Living Earth Collaborative has funded 29 projects involving collaborators from 11 local institutions. Within Washington University, investigators hail from six schools: Arts & Sciences, the Brown School, the McKelvey School of Engineering, Olin Business School, the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and the School of Medicine.

If I never knew you

Australian reptiles highlight urgent need for taxonomic research in the fight against biodiversity loss

Ctenophorus mirrityana
The barrier range dragon (Ctenophorus mirrityana), described in 2013, is restricted to rocky ranges in western New South Wales, Australia, and is listed as endangered. (Photo: S. Wilson)

New research published in PLOS Biology emphasizes the importance of prioritizing taxonomic research in conservation, with biodiversity loss greater than realized due to the high number of unknown and undocumented species.

Jane Melville, senior curator of terrestrial vertebrates at Museums Victoria and associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University, led the collaborative research effort as part of a Fulbright Fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. 

The study establishes a new return-on-investment method of determining species that are a priority for closer scrutiny: undescribed species that are likely already threatened.

Implementing this method on 870 Australian snakes and lizards — a highly diverse group of vertebrates — Melville and her colleagues identified 282 reptiles needing taxonomic research. Of these, 17.6% comprise undescribed species of conservation concern, and 24 species are in need of immediate taxonomic attention, as they are likely already threatened or at risk of extinction.

“There are many species that we haven’t yet discovered, and until a species is known to science, we can’t evaluate its status, much less take action to preserve it. The question is: where do we devote our efforts?” said Jonathan Losos, director of the Living Earth Collaborative and the William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University.


Read more…


A seedy slice of history: Watermelons actually came from northeast Africa

Just in time for picnic-table trivia, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences rewrites the origins of domesticated watermelons.

Using DNA from greenhouse-grown plants representing all species and hundreds of varieties of watermelon, scientists discovered that watermelons most likely came from wild crop progenitors in northeast Africa.

The study corrects a 90-year-old mistake that lumped watermelons into the same category as the South African citron melon. Instead, researchers, including a first author now at Washington University in St. Louis, found that a Sudanese form with non-bitter whitish pulp, known as the Kordofan melon (C. lanatus), is the closest relative of domesticated watermelons.

The genetic research is consistent with newly interpreted Egyptian tomb paintings that suggest the watermelon may have been consumed in the Nile Valley as a dessert more than 4,000 years ago.

tomb paintings
In the inset, a painting shows the distinctive stripes of a watermelon-like fruit. (Courtesy of the researchers)

“Based on DNA, we found that watermelons as we know them today — with sweet, often red pulp that can be eaten raw — were genetically closest to wild forms from west Africa and northeast Africa,” said Susanne S. Renner, honorary professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University.

Renner is an evolutionary biologist who recently joined Washington University after 17 years working as a professor at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, where she also served as the director of the Munich Botanical Garden and Munich herbarium.

Her lab has long focused on honey melons and cucumbers, but for the past 10 years she has turned to watermelons and bitter gourds.

The genetic information published in the new study — completed with colleagues from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Ithaca, New York; the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London; and the University of Sheffield — could be useful for developing a more disease-resistant watermelon crop, Renner said.

Susanne Renner

“Today’s watermelon comes from a very small genetic stock and is highly susceptible to diseases and insect pests, including various mildews, other fungi, viruses and nematodes [worms],” Renner said. “So far, we found variation in three disease resistance genes between the Kordofan melon and the domesticated watermelon. Breeders might use these and other insights from the genome.”

But some of the greatest takeaways from this study, Renner said, are related to the mobility of people and their cultural connections.

“It was the Egyptian tomb paintings that convinced me that the Egyptians were eating cold watermelon pulp,” Renner said. “Otherwise, why place those huge fruits on flat trays next to grapes and other sweet fruits?”

“Melons, cucumbers and watermelons were domesticated several times” across human history, she said. “But to place these domestications in space and name is much more difficult than I thought 10 to 15 years ago. DNA from ancient seeds is already beginning to help.”

Watermelon on a mobile fruit shop in Hurghada, Egypt.(Photo: Shutterstock)


By Talia Ogliore  May 24, 2021

Jenny Price, “Stop Saving the Planet!: An Environmentalist Manifesto”

Virtual Video premiere: Monday, June 21, 7:00 p.m. on

We’ve been “saving the planet” for decades while accomplishing little to nothing–and low-income communities continue to suffer the worst consequences. St. Louis author and artist Jenny Price presents an environmentalism that is hugely more effective and a whole lot fairer. Concise, funny, and radical in the truest sense. “Stop Saving the Planet!” dissects our failures, posits solutions, and offers concrete actions we can take to mend our planet.

Books available from Novel Neighbor. Curbside pick-up and shipping available.

Brood X cicadas emerge in a rapidly changing world

Talk about a rude awakening. Brood X cicadas are coming of age in world that is drastically altered from the one their ancestors knew.

“Brood X cicadas, like all periodical cicadas, are a Rip Van Winkle story,” said Brett Seymoure, the Grossman Family Postdoctoral Fellow with the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University in St. Louis. “They live underground for 17 years, and then come up to a completely different world due to human-induced rapid environmental change, or HIREC.”

Read more …

Rooted in St. Louis: The Elizabeth Danforth Butterfly Garden

There is a lot to look forward to this summer, and Washington University’s Butterfly Garden should be on that list. Come the imminent summer planting, the garden transformation will be almost unbelievable. A plethora of vibrant blooms will pop up, making the garden the perfect peaceful resting place for students on campus. 

Read more …

A tale of two forests could reveal path forward for saving endangered lemurs

Black-and-white ruffed lemur (Image: Shutterstock)

Read more…

By Talia Ogliore 

Yes, spring flowers are blooming earlier.
It might confuse bees.

But change is even more challenging for plants that need help with pollination

“Climate change is altering when plants are blooming, and it’s disrupting the historic relationships between plants and their pollinators,” said Matthew Austin, an ecologist and biodiversity postdoctoral fellow with the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University in St. Louis. “But we know remarkably little about what effect that has on how plants interact with one another and the evolutionary consequences of altered plant-plant interactions.”

Read more…

By Talia Ogliore 

Peter Raven autobiography just released!

Driven by Nature: A Personal Journey from Shanghai to Botany to Global Sustainabilityby Peter H. Raven
It’s safe to say that few people have lived lives as thoroughly devoted to plants as Peter H. Raven has. The longtime director—now president emeritus—of the Missouri Botanical Garden, author of numerous leading textbooks and several hundred scholarly articles, Raven has been a tireless champion of sustainability and biodiversity, earning him the plaudit of “Hero for the Planet” from Time.

Driven by Nature is the first chronicle of this prominent scientist and conservationist’s life. Moving from his idyllic childhood in the San Francisco of the 1940s to his four decades leading the Missouri Botanical Garden, Raven’s autobiography take readers across multiple continents and decades. Driven by Nature follows the globetrotting botanist from China to the American Midwest as he works to foster concern for a changing planet, further the cause of biological education, and build the Missouri Botanical Garden into the world-renowned haven for plant life it is today. Raven brings his story into the twenty-first century with a timely epilogue that reinforces the crucial importance of scientific learning, active conservation, and committed activism in the face of a rapidly changing natural world.

Featuring an introduction by the Pulitzer Prize-winning naturalist E. O. Wilson, this beautifully illustrated book should thrill nature lovers, plant enthusiasts, and environmentally-conscious readers looking to take action to preserve our planet’s biodiversity.

Click here to place your order

As revenues slide amid pandemic, scientists warn of ‘orphaned’ plant and animal collections

By Bryce Gray Dec 6, 2020

Climatron Celebrates 60th Birthday at Missouri Botanical Garden
Horticulturist Susie Ratcliff waters plants in the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Today, the Climatron celebrates its 60th birthday. In 1960, the Missouri Botanical Garden opened the Climatron, a domed conservatory packed with orchids, palms, and other tropical plants. Today, more than 2,800 plants, including 1,400 different tropical species, grow inside the Climatron. Photo by Cheyenne Boone,

Read more …

Secrets of the ‘lost crops’ revealed where bison roam

By Talia Ogliore  November 23, 2020theSOURCE

American bison at the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma. (Photo: Natalie Mueller)

Read more…

What cold lizards in Miami can tell us about climate change resilience

By Talia Ogliore  October 20, 2020theSOURCE

Basiliscus vittatus
Central American brown basilisks (Basiliscus vittatus) are among the members of a lizard community that converged on a lower temperature tolerance after a cold snap in Miami. (Photo courtesy Day’s Edge Productions)

Read more …

by: Angela Hutti / FOX2NOW
Posted: Oct 15, 2020 / 05:16 PM CDT / Updated: Oct 15, 2020 / 05:16 PM CDT

Winners of ISME/IWA BioCluster Award 2020 announced …

CONGRATULATIONS … to LEC Biodiversity Fellow, Fangqiong Ling


Sicker livestock may increase climate woes

Viscous cycle: More parasites means higher emissions of potent greenhouse gas
Climate change is affecting the spread and severity of infectious diseases around the world — and infectious diseases may in turn be contributing to climate change, according to a new paper published Oct. 7 in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.


Read more: Infectious Diseases, Livestock, and Climate: A Vicious Cycle?

Elderly ball python lays eggs ‘without male help’

The female ball python is thought to the oldest snake living in a zoo

With travel limits and labs closed,
MoBot researchers struggle to name,
catalog new species

By Max Kozlov St. Louis Post-DispatchSep 3, 2020

Flowers bloom along the wooden walkway over the pond in the Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden as seen on Monday, June 15, 2020. MoBot is reopening to the general public on Tuesday, June 16th. Before arriving, visitors will need to buy timed tickets online or by phone for entry to the garden and everyone will be required to wear a face mask. To ensure social distancing some narrow paths through the garden will be closed. Photo by David Carson,

Read more

Once infected, twice infected

Prior exposure to powdery mildew makes plants more vulnerable to subsequent disease

By Marta Wegorzewska  August 31, 2020

Powdery mildew infection is a big problem for crops and other plants worldwide. An innovative study shows that wild plants infected early in life are more vulnerable to subsequent disease. The research from biologist Rachel Penczykowski in Arts & Sciences is published Aug. 31, 2020, in Nature Ecology & Evolution. (Photo: Penczykowski lab)

Read more…

PBS News Hour program on Wildlife Trafficking includes our LEC Fellow, Odean Serrano

Lifestyle trumps geography in determining makeup of gut microbiome

Captive apes’ microbiomes more similar to some humans’ than to wild apes’

Read more

April 1, 2020


A bird’s-eye view of global health

By Christian Fogerty

As a science communications fellow at Tyson Research Center, Christian Fogerty embedded with the tick and wildlife ecology team to document their summer fieldwork. Here, he reflects on his experience and explains how it impacted his perspective on global health.


Read more …

Postdoctoral Fellowships in Restoration

Ecology at the Missouri Botanical Garden

The Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development (CCSD) at the Missouri Botanical Garden seeks to hire two full-time postdoctoral scholars. The candidates will 1) develop and implement collaborative research project(s) that advance restoration science in woodlands, grasslands, and glades at MBG’s Shaw Nature Reserve and the broader region; 2) train and mentor undergraduate and graduate students; 3) assist MBG scientists with coordinating grant-funded activities including recruitment and mentoring of students, organizing and participating in outreach events and workshops, and presenting lectures to professional organizations and the general public; 4) prepare and submit manuscripts for publication; 5) build relationships with SNR staff and collaborative partners; and 6) actively participate in events with the St. Louis Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation community.

MBG’s Shaw Nature Reserve contains over 2,000 acres of fire-maintained woodlands, grasslands, and glades. Three decades of ecological restoration (i.e., selective tree thinning, removal of invasive species, prescribed fire, seeding of native species) has resulted in a chronosequence of restored natural areas at SNR. As part of this grant-funded project, new sites will be restored over the next three years. The successful candidates will be expected to develop new research projects related to their subject of interest, but focusing on past and/or future restorations at SNR. Research projects may also include other field sites and natural areas in the region. We anticipate hiring one postdoctoral fellow whose research focuses on the population genetics of restored populations (in collaboration with the lab of Dr. Christy Edwards) and another whose research focuses on any of the following (in collaboration with the lab of Dr. Matthew Albrecht Lab): plant community ecology, seed-based restoration, plant-soil interactions, and/or biological invasions. Floristic knowledge of Midwestern plant communities is desirable, but not required. The successful candidates will have opportunities to collaborate with MBG scientists active in conservation genetics, reintroduction biology, restoration ecology, global change biology, and community ecology.

Candidates with a completed Ph.D. or that will soon graduate with a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Botany, Restoration Science, Environmental Science, Conservation Biology, or a related field are encouraged to apply.  Ideal start time is before summer 2020, but this is negotiable.  The term for this grant-funded position will be up to 3 years, with renewal each year contingent on satisfactory performance.  Salary will be commensurate with experience, and this position includes a comprehensive benefits package.

The position will be based in St. Louis, where a vibrant community of ecologists, conservation practitioners, and evolutionary biologists that interact through partnerships among MBG, Washington University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Saint Louis University, plus other area institutions. The position will be seated in the CCSD, which explores and implements new, science-based approaches to the conservation and sustainable use of plant diversity. CCSD’s strategies for conservation are based on a sound, scientific understanding of the occurrence and distribution of plants. CCSD applies the knowledge of plant diversity accumulated by Missouri Botanical Garden researchers over many years, making that knowledge usable for conservation planning and decision-making. Operating under the auspices of the Garden and as part of its division of Science and Conservation, CCSD builds upon the Garden’s institutional expertise, scientific programs, influence and resources.

For more information and to apply:


Thursday, February 6  4:00-7:00PM

Join us for a free reception at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art to celebrate the opening of Too Hot to Sing.

Too Hot to Sing is the result of Kasey Fowler-Finn’s research of how global warming directly affects the abilities of insects to find suitable mates. Her study focused on the treehopper. For this exhibition she collaborated with sound artist Stephen Vitiello whose recordings show how vibrational signals sound at different temperatures, and with Impact Media Lab, a creative agency for scientists.

Fowler Finn’s study shows how climate change can impact mating success and, ultimately, survival of species that communicate through vibrations. It is important to note that more than 90% of insects use vibrations to communicate within and between species.

Vitiello and Fowler-Finn used a specialized laser recording device to record the sounds of insects as they moved on the stems and leaves of plants. Vitiello then manipulated the sound recordings to make them audible to humans.

This exhibition, a collaboration between a scientist and an artist brings climate change into sharp focus as one of the existential challenges humanity faces.

Saint Louis University Museum of Art
3663 Lindell Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63108


Parking will be available at the lot located at the intersection of Lindell and Spring Avenue.

The museum is free and open to the public.

Museum Hours: 
11 a.m. – 4 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday

Researchers say goodbye to Georgette — A Very Tough Turtle

While part of the St. Louis Box Turtle Project, Georgette survived a serious bacterial infection and an animal attack. She died during the polar vortex at approximately age 15.
– Jamie Palmer | St. Louis Zoo Institute of Conservation Medicine


St. Louis Wildlife Project captures the day-to-day of region’s wild animals

A domestic cat and a red fox face off in a photo captured by a St. Louis Wildlife Project camera.
– Credit St. Louis Wildlife Project

Read more….

Bat poop may give Missouri researchers clues about historical changes to climate, vegetation

A cluster of hibernating gray bats (Myotis grisescens) (Ann Froschauer/USFWA/via Flickr)

Read more….

Four ways to curb light pollution, save bugs

Insects have experienced global declines.  Flipping the switch can help.

Artificial light at night negatively impacts thousands of species: beetles, moths, wasps and other insects that have evolved to use light levels as cues for courtship, foraging and navigation.

Writing in the scientific journal Biological Conservation, Brett Seymoure, the Grossman Family Postdoctoral Fellow of the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University in St. Louis, and his collaborators reviewed 229 studies to document the myriad ways that light alters the living environment such that insects are unable to carry out crucial biological functions.

“Artificial light at night is human-caused lighting — ranging from streetlights to gas flares from oil extraction,” Seymoure said. “It can affect insects in pretty much every imaginable part of their lives.”



The air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat all rely on biodiversity, but right now it is in crisis – because of us. What does this mean for our future and can we stop it?

by Environment editor, The briefing

Read more….

LEC Welcomes the arrival of our first group of LEC Post-docs

Read more….

Mosquitoes push northern limits with time-capsule eggs to survive winters

New research from Washington University in St. Louis shows that invasive mosquitos at the northern limit of their current range are successfully using time-capsule-like eggs to survive conditions that are colder than those in its native territory. (Photo: Shutterstock)


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Big Brains or big guts:  Choose one

The ptarmigan is a small-brained bird that thrives in colder, high latitude regions. A global study in the journal Nature Communications compares more than 2,000 birds and finds that, in highly variable environments, birds tend to have either larger or smaller brains relative to their body size. (Image: Shutterstock)


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Caught on camera

Wildlife of greater St. Louis area comes into focus in new biodiversity project.

St. Louis Wildlife Project / Washington University

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Missouri Botanical Garden and St. Louis Zoo win award for Madagascar conservation

A community garden with vegetable crops is part of a Missouri Botanical Garden program in Madagascar to help local community members diversify agricultural production and improve nutrition.  (Photo by Pete Lowry)

Two Malagasy women vaccinate a chicken as part of a project with the St. Louis Zoo to support poultry farms in Madagascar.  (Photo by Fidy Rasambainarivo/Madagascar Fauna Group)

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Peacable bonobos, violent chimpanzees and the evolution of human behavior

Tuesday, August 27, 2019 / 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm /

Anheuser-Busch Theater / The Living World

FREE ADMISSION – No reservations needed

Featured speaker: Richard Wrangham, PhD, Professor of Biological Anthropology, Harvard University.

Dr. Wrangham, a primate behavioral ecologist, has studied wild chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda, since 1987.

Domesticated animals such as dogs, pigs and horses often sport floppy ears, patches of white hair, and other features that are rare or unknown in their wild ancestors.  These traits – collectively referred to by scientists as a “domestication syndrome” – are found when selection favors reduced aggression.

Drawing from his new book, “The Goodness Paradox, “Richard Wrangham will show that our cousin apes, the bonobos, also exhibit domestication syndrome, and he will suggest why they do so.  Self-domestication is likely a widespread phenomenon in the wild.  It even appears responsible for the origin of our own species, Homo sapiens.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Living Earth Collaborative.

Africa’s vultures fighting for survival – and winning?

Thursday, August 15, 2019 / 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm /

Anheuser-Busch Theater / The Living World

FREE ADMISSION – No reservations needed

Featured speaker: Darcy Ogada, Assistant Director of Africa Programs, The Peregrine Fund Based in central Kenya, most of Darcy’s work focuses on the conservation of vultures and ending the scourge of wildlife poisoning.

Africa’s vultures are in trouble; they have declined by 80 percent or more over three generations.  Four species are listed as critically endangered, and two species are endangered.  In Kenya, the biggest threat is poisoning, which is linked to 0 to human-carnivore conflict. In northern Kenya, Darcy’s team is reducing vulture poisoning and the conflict that triggers it through intensive community coexistence trainings.  Those trainings have had impacts far and wide, and in ways the team never imagined.

Learn about how the team is monitoring the region’s vulture champions and tackling regional issues associated with rampant wildlife poisoning.

Long live the long-limbed African Chicken

But researcher has bone to pick with modernization: Chickens are losing diversity

Domesticated chickens, first introduced to Africa thousands of years ago, continue to be an important staple item in the diets of rural villages across the continent. A new study from Arts & Sciences reveals much about the history of the selection process, and its role in African poultry development. (Photo: Helina Woldekiros)

Pick your chicken wisely. The choice could make or break your marriage.

St. Louis researchers receive funding for new biodiversity projects

Researchers Kevin Krause, left, and Megan Pagliaro, shown sampling fish in the Meramec River, were part of a recent biodiversity project led by St. Louis University biology professor Jason Knouft. Knouft received funding this week from the Living Earth Collaborative. Photo by Allison Davis.

Bison overlooked in domestication of grain crops

New research from Washington University in St. Louis shows that several key small-seeded plants evolved to be dispersed by large grazing animals, like this bison, before humans eventually adopted them for food. (Photo: Carol Gray/Shutterstock)

Success of conservation efforts for important Caribbean Reef fish hinges on climate change

University of Texas at Austin, published in ScienceDaily

Tropical Forests Suffered Near-Record Tree Losses in 2017

By Brad Plumer, The New York Times

2017 was the second-worst year for tropical tree cover loss in the satellite record, just below the losses in 2016.

Oil palm and biodiversity

A situation analysis by the IUCN Oil Palm Task Force

Can a DNA Database Save the Trees? These Scientists Hope So

By Sandra E. Garcia, The New York Times

A World Resources Institute project aims to collect DNA samples from tree leaves and use it to help track illegal logging

To plant or not to plant?

By Leighton Reid, Natural History of Ecological Restoration, Missouri Botanical Garden

What we think we know about how to restore tropical forests is getting a second look. 

What is biodiversity and why does it matter to us?

by Damian Carrington, Environmental editor of The Guardian

The air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat all rely on biodiversity, but right now it is in crisis – because of us. What does this mean for our future and can we stop it?