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National Geographic spotlights biologist's work

by Jeanne Baron

April 26, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of male and female Danaus plexippus, the northern monarch species.
Northern monarchs
Photo by Lincoln Brower, Sweet Briar College
KALAMAZOO--The National Geographic Society is tracking the research of a Western Michigan University chemical ecologist on its News Watch blog.

Work on the migration of southern monarch butterflies in Bolivia and Argentina by Dr. Stephen B. Malcolm, WMU professor of biological sciences, is featured in an April 6 post on the blog, which explores "our changing world and what we can do about it."

The question-and-answer story, titled "Monarch Butterflies: Miles to Go Before They Sleep (and Lay Eggs)" was posted by Barbara  S. Moffet and includes several photos.

It provides answers to several common questions about the monarchs that are passing through many people's gardens this spring. It also and sheds light on some of their mysterious South American cousins and describes some steps that can be taken to protect Monarchs and their habitat.

Ever wonder where the northern and southern varieties of those butterflies overwinter? Want to plant a garden that will help sustain monarchs? Would you like to see a photo of a monarch caterpillar or the milkweed plant they love to chow down on?

Visit to find out. Readers can interact with Malcolm by posting their own questions or comments.

Malcolm has been studying monarch butterflies in the field for 28 years, recently with support from National Geographic's Committee for Research and Exploration. His research primarily focuses on chemically mediated interactions among plants, herbivores and natural enemies.

Of particular interest to Malcolm is how cardiac-active steroids vary in milkweeds in response to insect herbivore attack, how these steroids are handled by the herbivores, and how they impact parasitoids and predators. In addition, he works on ways to measure the ecological risks associated with widespread agricultural use of genetically modified plants.

For more information, contact Stephen Malcolm at or (269) 387-5604.