Sharon Strauss is an evolutionary ecologist recognized for her work in community ecology, especially focused on native plants and their interactions with each other and other organisms. She is known for her contributions to plant interactions with herbivores and pollinators and how multiple community members exert complex selection on plant traits. More recently, Strauss has been studying the evolution of the ecological niche, recently focusing on a group of native mustards that grow in CA deserts to moist northern CA habitats. Strauss is also interested in the mechanisms allowing closely related species to coexist, despite strong ecological similarity that leads to intense competition. Strauss was born and raised in New York City to German-Jewish immigrants; she received her A.B from Harvard University in Biology, and M.Sc. in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior from U Minnesota with a minor in Statistics. She got her Ph.D. at Florida State University with Daniel Simberloff. Strauss has been President of the American Society of Naturalists, and is a member of the National Academy of Science, The California Academy of Science and American Association of Arts and Sciences.

Research Interests

Strauss' career began with work on the evolutionary ecology of plant interactions with herbivores and how plants evolve under attack from multiple herbivore species. She went on to relate how defense traits against herbivores might influence plant interactions with pollinators and the joint selection of herbivores and pollinators on floral traits. Most recently, her focus has shifted to understanding the evolution of drought tolerance and soil specialization across a clade of native mustards using an explicit phylogenetic approach. Serpentine soil specialization has arisen multiple times, each time preceded by adaptation to barren habitats. Adaptation to drought arises from rapid growth rates and early reproduction. Species that can tolerate a range of habitats and water availability are comprised of individuals with broad tolerance to a range of water conditions. Plasticity of individuals in response to water availability is reflected in the geographic range size of species. Recently, Strauss has developed an interest the evolution of coloration in larvae and adults of Lepidoptera and their relationships to host plant defense traits.

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Election Year


Primary Section

Section 27: Evolutionary Biology

Secondary Section

Section 63: Environmental Sciences and Ecology