Anurag Agrawal

Cornell University

Primary Section: 27, Evolutionary Biology
Secondary Section: 63, Environmental Sciences and Ecology
Membership Type: Member (elected 2021)


Anurag Agrawal is an evolutionary ecologist recognized for research on biodiversity, particularly chemically mediated coevolution between plants and their herbivorous insect pests. He uses natural history, field experiments, genetics, and comparative biology to test theory as well improve environmental and agricultural sustainability. Most recently he is known for work on monarch butterflies and their milkweed hosts. A child of immigrants from India, Agrawal earned a B.A. in Biology and M.A. in Conservation Biology from the University of Pennsylvania (1994) and a PhD in Population Biology from the University of California at Davis (1999). He held a faculty position in the Department of Botany at the University of Toronto before moving to Cornell University in 2004, where he is jointly appointed as the James Perkins Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Department of Entomology. Agrawal has received the Young Investigator and E.O. Wilson Awards from the American Society of Naturalists, Georg Mercer and R.H. Macarthur Awards from the Ecological Society of America, Founder’s Memorial Award from the Entomological Society of America, Silverstein-Simeone Award from the International Society of Chemical Ecology, and the David Starr Jordan Prize. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Anurag Agrawal works on species adaptation and community interactions. He has championed the integration of natural history and ecological analysis into evolutionary biology, with research foci that span topics in convergent evolution, chemical coevolution, biological trade-offs, and community ecology. The sessile nature of plants and their many chemical toxins has served as the basis for much of Agrawal’s research. Research for his doctoral dissertation focused on the adaptive nature of phenotypic plasticity. This classic work revealed not only costs and benefits of inducible defense, but also ecological drivers and consequences. He also pioneered the study of transgenerational induction of defenses. Agrawal later linked evolution and ecology by demonstrating that heritable variation in organismal traits can be as influential on ecological outcomes as traditionally considered factors such as competition and predation. Over the past decade, his research program has combined comparative biology—including phylogenetic approaches—with experimentation to build bridges between the study of biological mechanisms, processes, and patterns. In addition to original research, Agrawal’s career is characterized by a love for teaching and proclivity for conceptualization, which has included highly influential and provocative synthesis articles and the popular book Monarchs and Milkweed.

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