Matt Forister: Melissa Blue Butterfly and Colonization of Alfalfa

Want to learn more about the Melissa blue butterfly and its colonization of alfalfa?

UC Davis alumnus Matt Forister, McMinn Professor of Biology at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), will return to UC Davis campus on Wednesday, April 25 to discuss the research he and his lab are accomplishing on the "colonization of alfalfa by a focal butterfly (the Melissa blue) as well as other arthropods and microbes."

Forister has titled his seminar, set for 4:10 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, "Understanding Host Evolution: A Case Study of Alfalfa Colonists Across the Great Basin." This is part of the weekly spring seminars hosted on Wednesdays by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

"Host range dynamics are central to issues that include diversification, specialization and persistence of populations in the Anthropence," Forister writes in his abstract. "Outstanding questions in this area include the relative importance of different host traits in the colonization process, as well as the underlying genetic architecture associated with the use of alternative host plants. I will cover our attempts to understand the colonization of alfalfa by a focal butterfly (the Melissa blue) as well as other arthropods and microbes. Results will include a detailed look at genetic architecture in the Melissa blue as well as ongoing work on alfalfa phytochemistry to understand how the plant manages host-associated communities." (See his lab research website)

Forister is the co-principal investigator of a 2016-2021 grant from the National Science Foundation to study "Dimensions: Collaborative Research: The Evolution of Novel Interactions within a Network of Plant, Insect and Microbial Biodiversity." The UNR portion of the $1.9 million grant is $540,000.

Keenly interested in monarch butterfly research, Forister also holds a $25,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant titled "Western Monarch and Milkweed Habitat Suitability."

Among his research publications: "The Global Distribution of Diet Breadth in Insect Herbivores," published in 2015 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; and "Global Weather and Local Butterflies: Variable Responses to a Large-Scale Climate Pattern along an Elevational Gradient, published in 2015 in the journal Ecology.

Forister received his doctorate in ecology from UC Davis in 2004, studying with major professor Art Shapiro,  distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. He then worked as a post-doctoral research associate from January 2005 to July 2006 at Stony Brook University, New York, and then headed to the University of Nevada to accept a position as research assistant professor from September 2006 to July 2008 with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.

Forister joined the UNR Biology Department faculty in July 2008 as an assistant professor and was promoted to associate professor in July 2013. His research interests include plant-herbivore interactions; specialization; speciation; hybridization; co-evolution; evolution of diet breadth; niche shifts in herbivorous insects; global change and adaptation to anthropogenic change; analyses of long-term ecological datasets; and monitoring and conservation of insects. His teaching expertise targets ecology, biodiversity, molecular ecology, biodiversity, and biostatistics.

Highly honored by his university, Forister was named the McMinn Professor of Biology in 2015, and selected the recipient of the Hyung K. Shin Award for Excellence in Research in 2014; Regents' Rising Research Award in 2013; the Mousel-Felner Award for Excellence in Research in 2012; and the Stephen Jenkins Mentorship Award in 2012.

The Entomological Society of America honored him in 2005 with the George Mercer Younger Investigation Award for "the most outstanding paper in ecology by a scientist under 40."

Forister made his mark at UC Davis, receiving a $10,000 Faulkner Fellowship, a $11,000 Zolk Fellowship, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship of $86,418. 

He and Art Shapiro continue to collaborate on multiple projects.

(Editor's Note: This lecture will be recorded)