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Sharing a Love of Insects and Plants

laura russoLaura Russo, assistant professor of ecology, conducts research revolving around win-win scenarios, from the level of mutualistic interactions between microbial symbionts and insects, to plants and insects, all the way to mutually beneficial outcomes between agriculture and conservation. Within these themes, Russo has studied the impact of species invasions on mutualistic community interactions (implementing some basic network theory) coevolution between plants and their floral visitors, and the impacts of human land-use on interaction structure, including agrochemical run-off. 

“I often study interactions between individual plants and their pollinators in a variety of land-use types and lately I’ve been particularly interested in pollinator nutrition and how it relates to human nutrition,” Russo said. “I’ve implemented both empirical and theoretical methods, and I enjoy using both in complementary ways.”

Examples include using experiments to guide theory, and theory to produce predictions that Russo can test empirically. She has worked in biology, entomology, botany, and ecology departments at many universities around the world, including Penn State, Cornell, Trinity College Dublin, and the University of Queensland, Australia. Russo has also collaborated with dozens of researchers from many countries. 

“I love working and teaching in the field, and I especially love teaching field courses,” Russo said. “I’ve taught such courses in Kenya, Costa Rica, and Australia. My outreach with local communities often revolves around working with homeowners and schools who are interested in promoting pollinating insects in their gardens.”

Russo’s goal is to share her appreciation and love of insects and plants – especially the diversity of bees. One of her methods is macro-photography. 

“I grew up in a military family and moved many times since the beginning of my academic career, living a very nomadic life,” Russo said. “This has been both a challenge and a delight for me, as I must learn the ecology of each new place that I live, and to recognize the common species of the region after each move.”