DeWind Awards: Investing in the future of Lepidoptera conservation

The Xerces Society began as a butterfly conservation organization—hence our name—and these beautiful animals remain at the heart of who we are. We work with farmers and park managers, gardeners and agency biologists to protect butterflies and other invertebrates and ensure they have a place to live.

This work has always been rooted in science, drawing from the work of university researchers to inform projects and guide actions. The importance of science to our work cannot be emphasized enough. Sometimes, this means that we don’t react as quickly as others. Ensuring our actions are backed by evidence can take time, but it produces effective and enduring results.

As part of our commitment to supporting science, each year, the Xerces Society gives two Joan Mosenthal DeWind Awards to students engaged in research that will advance butterfly and moth conservation and which will lead to a degree. It gives us great pleasure to announce the two recipients for the 2016 awards:

Paola Olaya-Arenas, a PhD student in Ian Kaplan’s lab at Purdue University, received an award for her project “Non-target effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on monarch butterflies.” The project will study the exposure of milkweed plants to neonicotinoid insecticides when growing in close proximity to agricultural fields, and evaluating the effect of this on monarch butterflies. Paola hopes that her work will help guide restoration efforts that aim to protect monarchs and other Lepidoptera specialized on milkweed.


Milkweed growing beside farm fields can become contaminated by neonicotinoid insecticides applied to the crop. Paola Olaya-Arenas will study the potential impacts on monarch butterflies. (Photograph by Jennifer Hopwood, The Xerces Society.)

Cameron Thomas is an MS student in Cheryl Shultz’s lab at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus. His project, “Factors associated with ant tending in Fender’s blue butterfly (Plebejus icarioides fenderi): assessing an understudied and potentially significant mutualistic relationship,” will document ant tending of Fender’s blue caterpillars and measure the associated biotic and abiotic factors associated with this. Cameron intends for his work to inform habitat restoration efforts and vegetation management to ensure optimum condition for Fender’s blue caterpillars.

CC2.0 Attribution

Fender’s blue butterfly is found only in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Its caterpillars are tended by ants, a relationship to be investigated by Cameron Thomas. (Photograph by Army Corps of Engineers; used under a Creative Common 2.0 Attribution license.)

The awards are named in memory of Joan Mosenthal DeWind. In classic superhero style, Joan was a (mild mannered) psychiatric social worker by day and a (caped) crusader for butterflies at other times. She was an avid butterfly gardener, an accomplished amateur lepidopterist (with a keen interest in engaging young people), and served as the Xerces Society’s secretary in its early years. Her husband, Bill DeWind, established a student research endowment fund that continues to support two annual awards.

There is a growing list of publications in academic journals by DeWind recipients and many have continued their research or gone on to work in conservation. Supporting young scientists is one way in which the Xerces Society can help build the knowledge that will underpin butterfly conservation in coming years.

by Matthew Shepherd, Communications Director


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