High Honor for Cornell Professor Anurag Agrawal, UC Davis Alumnus

Congratulations to UC Davis doctoral alumnus Anurag Agrawal of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.,  a newly elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

It's one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. Members are elected to NAS in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Agrawal received his doctorate in population biology in 1999 from UC Davis, working with major professor Richard "Rick" Karban, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.   

"Anurag is an inspiration as a scientist and as a person," Karban said. "I've learned a lot from him."

At Cornell, Agrawal is the James A. Perkins Professor of Environmental Studies in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He researches the ecology and evolution of interactions between wild plants and their insect pests, including aspects of community interactions, chemical ecology, coevolution and the life cycle of the monarch butterfly.


Agrawal is the author of the celebrated book, Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution, published in 2017 by Princeton University Press. The book won a 2017 National Outdoor Book Award in Nature and Environment and an award of excellence in gardening and gardens from the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. It was also named one of Forbes.com's 10 best biology books of 2017. Read a review of his Monarchs and Milkweed book from the journal Ecology and read the first chapter here. (You can order the book here.)

As Agrawal said in a Cornell news release, “It's a tremendous honor and totally unexpected. I look forward to representing Cornell and also playing a part in the NAS role of advising the U.S. government on science policy.”

"A key research focus for Agrawal's Phytophagy Lab is the generally antagonistic interactions between plants and insect herbivores," according to the Cornell news release. In an attempt to understand the complexity of communitywide interactions, questions include: What ecological factors allow the coexistence of similar species? And what evolutionary factors led to the diversification of species? Agrawal's group is currently focused on three major projects: the community and evolutionary ecology of plant-herbivore relationships; factors that make non-native plants successful invaders; and novel opportunities for pest management of potatoes. Recent work on toxin sequestration in monarch butterflies was featured on the cover of the April 20 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

Agrawal holds two degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in conservation biology. He joined the Cornell faculty in 2004 as an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, with a joint appointment in the Department of Entomology. He advanced to associate professor in 2005, and to full professor in 2010. He was named the James A. Perkins Professor of Environmental Studies in 2017.

A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2012), and recipient of the American Society of Naturalist's E.O. Wilson Award in 2019, Agrawal won the Entomological Society of America's 2013 Founders' Memorial Award and delivered the lecture on Dame Miriam Rothschild (1908-2005) at ESA's 61st annual meeting, held in Austin, Texas. 

Agrawal was at UC Davis in January of 2012 to present a seminar on "Evolutionary Ecology of Plant Defenses."  His abstract: "In order to address coevolutionary interactions between milkweeds and their root feeding four-eyed beetles, I will present data on reciprocity, fitness tradeoffs, specialization and the genetics of adaptation.  In addition to wonderful natural history, this work sheds light on long-standing theory about how antagonistic interactions proceed in ecological and evolutionary time."

Members are elected to NAS in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Among those previously elected to NAS: Bruce Hammock, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. He was elected to NAS in 1999.