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Students present at entomology conference

Laurie Adrian ('16), Elizabeth Glennon ('19), and Anna Li Holey ('18) present their poster at the Enomological Society of America's annual meeting.

Laurie Adrian ('16), Elizabeth Glennon ('19), and Anna Li Holey ('18) present their poster at the Enomological Society of America's annual meeting.

Photo courtesy of Kirk Larsen

Photo courtesy of Kirk Larsen

Laurie Adrian ('16), Elizabeth Glennon ('19), and Anna Li Holey ('18) present their poster at the Enomological Society of America's annual meeting.

Martel DenHartog, Staff Writer

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Luther students Shannon Meehan (‘18), Anna Li Holey (‘18), and Elizabeth Glennon (‘19) attended the Entomological Society of America’s (ESA) annual meeting in November of 2017 in Denver, Colorado. Meehan, Holey, and Glennon were accompanied by graduates Brian Gerike (‘12) and Laurie Adrian (‘16), and Professor of Biology Kirk Larsen. The group presented two posters on the research they conducted during the past two summers.

One of the posters placed second in the Plant-Insect Ecosystem Undergraduate Research Poster Competition. The poster, titled “Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) oviposition and larval feeding preferences on five species of milkweed (Asclepias sp.) in Northeast Iowa,” was led and authored by Meehan.

The award-winning project investigated whether monarch butterflies prefer any of the five species of milkweeds native to Northeastern Iowa. During the summers of 2016 and 2017, these students and graduates conducted a variety of research projects on monarch butterfly growth patterns in the region. Meehan observed patterns of caterpillar  and milkweed species in the Luther gardens, where data was collected.

“We would go out once a week and turn over every single leaf on the milkweeds looking for eggs and caterpillars,” Meehan said. “It was fun to watch. One day you would have a plant where there was an egg, then the next week you see a small little caterpillar, and then a couple weeks later maybe it would be on a different plant, but now there’s a larger caterpillar.”

They concluded that monarchs did not prefer any one species over another, but swamp milkweed did show a greater presence of eggs and caterpillars. Though the plots were only planted three years ago, monarchs have already begun to use this habitat, which is good news for the species.

“In the plight of the monarch story, that was encouraging,” Meehan said. “If you plant milkweed, monarchs will come”

Luther was one of few undergraduate liberal arts institutions that attended the national conference. During their poster presentation at the ESA meeting, students got the chance to interact with fellow researchers and judges.

“It was nice to be able to answer people’s questions because it wasn’t so much about just telling them our research; it was very interactive,” Glennon said. “I was able to work out things I hadn’t thought about before.”

Another project focused on adult monarchs. The researchers conducted butterfly surveys observing adult butterfly populations planted and remnant prairies in Northeastern Iowa.

Larsen highlighted the importance of studying monarchs throughout their life cycles, especially in Iowa.

“It’s all part of trying to understand how milkweeds are serving as hosts for the monarch butterfly and how populations are doing because monarch butterflies are in trouble right now,” Larsen said. “The ultimate goal is to increase milkweeds on the landscape and to increase monarch production here in Iowa because Iowa is really an important area for monarch population growth in the summertime.”

The third project involved rearing monarchs in the laboratory in order to learn more about their life cycles, growth, and eating patterns. Adrian now uses skills from this aspect of the research in the third-grade class she now teaches in Postville, Iowa. According to Holey, all of the Luther students and graduates benefited from collegiate-level research.

“It was interesting to go through the whole research process, from writing a grant proposal, to getting it approved, conducting the research, creating a poster, and presenting our work in a concise manner,” Holey said.

These research projects also enabled Luther students to experience a large-scale scientific conference. Over 3000 professionals, academics, graduate, and undergraduate students attended from all over the world, all of whom added to the value of the experience for Glennon.

“I enjoyed seeing how research can happen outside of a school system and how you can apply that to different areas like agriculture or medicine,” Glennon said. “It was nice to see the real-world implications of entomological research.”

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1 Comment

One Response to “Students present at entomology conference”

  1. russell stubbles on March 4th, 2018 11:44 am

    Great story about the young scientists and the monarchs. Their work is important in so many ways.

    Perhaps it is time for Luther Collage to become the first higher ed. institution to become a MONARCH SCHOOL USA and the city of Decorah to become a MONARCH CITY USA. Check us out:

    Email or call: 605-691-1074. We would love to chat about it. It is a win-win situation for everyone. Wings up!

    Yes, we are a non-profit corp. registered as such in Washington state. Call anytime.

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