The Xerces Society is happy to announce the 2019 DeWind awardees: Niranjana Krishnan, a PhD candidate at Iowa State University, and Molly Wiebush, a master’s student at Florida State University.
The Xerces Society has always been a champion for butterflies; not only are we named after a butterfly, but also butterfly conservation formed our very foundation. As a recipient of a Fulbright-Hays scholarship to Britain in the 1970s, a young Robert Michael Pyle was inspired by a talk he heard about the endangered large blue (Maculinea arion) in England. The United States had lost its own blue butterfly, the Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces), and Bob was determined to take action to ensure other butterflies did not follow the same fate. Ideas took root on a train ride following the talk, and over the next few weeks and months connections were made, plans developed, and the Xerces Society blossomed. Over the years, the organization’s work expanded to include other terrestrial insects like moths and bees, and we now work on behalf of all invertebrates, including everything from bumble bees and other pollinators to stoneflies, fireflies, and freshwater mussels.
However, back in the 1970s, our focus was butterflies. The Xerces Society was powered in those fledgling years by an eclectic group of passionate conservationists. One of our pioneering members, Joan Mosenthal DeWind, was an avid butterfly gardener and accomplished amateur lepidopterist. A psychiatric social worker by day, in her spare time Joan championed butterfly conservation and strove to engage the next generation of butterfly enthusiasts. Joan and her husband Bill DeWind—a New York activist attorney—played an integral role in Xerces’ early years as a developing organization, with Joan serving as secretary, Bill providing legal advice, and both of them joining fundraising fieldtrips. Joan was also a talented artist and writer, and she and Jo Brewer, one of Xerces’ cofounders, often conspired together on early publications.
Throughout her life, Joan was known for her generosity. After she passed away in 1997, Bill established a research endowment fund in her name and asked Xerces to manage a grant program that would support student research to advance the conservation of butterflies and moths around the world. This grant—the Joan Mosenthal DeWind Award—has been given to at least two students every year since the program launched in 1999. In total, 44 students have been recipients of Bill and Joan’s generosity.
The requirements for the DeWind award are broad: applicants must be engaged in research leading to a university degree related to Lepidoptera conservation, with the intention to continue in this path after graduation. The proposal period opens around the beginning of November each year and closes two months later. During this time, applications come in from all over the world for a wide variety of projects. Our DeWind committee, made up of university professors and researchers who work closely in the Lepidoptera conservation world, reviews each of the proposals and ranks them based on quality of science and impact on Lepidoptera conservation. Award winners are selected and notified in the spring.
Previous DeWind awardees have studied everything from climate change effects on geometrid moths to mutualistic relationships between ants and blue butterflies. Research projects may take place in the field, the lab, or a combination of the two. Funded work has taken place across a broad geographic and ecological scope, as awardees have hailed not only from the U.S. and Canada but from Brazil, Singapore, and the Czech Republic. It is exciting to review the breadth of proposed projects each year, to see trends in research topics and integration of new techniques and information. Our hope has always been that the work supported by the DeWind award will have broad implications for Lepidoptera conservation—students tackling big questions with real-world solutions.
The DeWind committee has wrapped up their reviews of this year’s proposals, and the Xerces Society is happy to announce the two recipients of our 2019 awards.
Niranjana Krishnan, a PhD candidate at Iowa State University, will receive an award for her project “Assessing the risk of insecticides to monarch butterflies.” Monarch butterfly populations have declined precipitously in the last few decades, resulting in a nationwide call to action to protect monarch resources and plant additional milkweed (the monarch’s host plant) in important breeding areas. Agricultural regions of the Midwest have been identified as particularly important breeding grounds for the monarch’s eastern population, yet relatively little is known about how agricultural pesticides affect monarchs. Knowing where and how to incorporate milkweed in this landscape will be a critical component of this species’ recovery plan. Krishnan will use funds from the DeWind award to evaluate the toxicity and exposure of agricultural insecticides to various life stages of monarch butterflies, using the information gleaned to help identify ideal locations for plantings.
Our second awardee, Molly Wiebush, is a master’s student at Florida State University. Wiebush’s project, “The importance of small-scale fire refugia for butterfly communities in an old-growth longleaf pine savanna,” examines how these butterfly communities respond to unburned patches within prescribed burns. Do unburned patches (i.e., fire refugia) contribute to the persistence of butterflies in fire-adapted landscapes? How important is small-scale heterogeneity for butterfly survival under different fire scenarios? This project also has broad conservation implications, since it can inform best management practices for using prescribed fire as a conservation tool for Lepidoptera.
The Xerces Society is proud to support young and early career researchers through Joan’s legacy. As a science-driven conservation organization, we take pride in engaging students in the scientific process while advancing our collective knowledge in support of Lepidoptera conservation efforts. It is our hope that the data collected for these projects do not end with the student’s thesis or dissertation; but rather that awardees will go on to publish their research in peer-reviewed journals, share and apply this knowledge where applicable, and pursue a career that continues to support conservation of this incredible group of animals.
If you are a student, or know a student who might be interested in this award, we encourage you to look out for our annual announcement, which goes out in late October or early November every year. This is posted on both the Xerces website and social media outlets, as well as on listservs such as Ecolog-L. To date, all but one recipient have been graduate students, but we encourage motivated undergrads whose studies could have broad impacts on Lepidoptera conservation to apply.
DeWind awardees often go on to publish their research in peer-reviewed journals including Conservation Biology, Ecology, Evolution, and the Journal of Insect Conservation. A growing list of publications by DeWind recipients is also available on our website.
Learn more about the Xerces Society’s Endangered Species Program.