Labandeira, Conrad Senior Research Geologist and Curator of Fossil Arthropods

Positions

Interactions between plants and insects in the fossil record; terrestrial fossil arthropods, particularly insects; evolution of insect mouthparts; fossil insect diversity.

Geographic Focus

Professional Biography

  • The research program of the Labandeira Laboratory encompasses diverse approaches involving an investigation of the fossil record of insects, plants, and their associations. The principal directions of this research are: (1) the role that the origin and radiation of novel plant groups and attendant trophic resources had on plant-dependent insects; (2) the short-term to long-term impact that instantaneous extinction events had on the associations between plants and insects; (3) the consequences that more geochronologically prolonged changes in global climate had on insect herbivory patterns and strategies via changes in vegetation composition and structure; and (4) documentation of the dynamics of specific associations between plant-host species and their dependent insect-herbivore species during long stretches of geologic time. These data are being integrated with complementary studies by evolutionary biologists for formulating a more complete, historical perspective regarding how the two most diverse terrestrial groups of organisms have associated in time to generate the bewildering diversity of associations we see today

Public Biography

  • The fundamental question that encompasses my research is the following: How is it that insects and vascular plants have come to dominate virtually all land and freshwater environments? Specifically, how is this 420-million-year-old pattern of terrestrial monopolization reflected in the historical record of plants, insects, and their associations? The answer involves a fossil record that provides valuable information for long-term trends regarding feeding (trophic) structure in fossil assemblages, associational trends among trophically linked plant and insect lineages, the development of component communities (that is, a plant host and all of its dependent species), and ultimately ecosystem evolution. However, this line of investigation is quite new and is rooted in two different, albeit complementary, approaches. The first is examination of the evolutionary biology among extant plants and their associates, either at the ecological level of examining trophic interactions, or at the evolutionary level of documenting phylogenetic patterns in associated lineages of plant and insect species. Such actualistic studies have made considerable strides in revealing long-term evolutionary processes and often have generated insights into processes inherent in true coevolution. 

awards and honors