Dr. May Berenbaum has had an unparalleled impact on the environmental sciences through a rare combination of path-breaking scientific discovery and influential public engagement. Berenbaum’s research transformed the field of chemical ecology with discoveries that provided a genetic basis for the theory of coevolution. Her investigations have encompassed elegant ecological experiments, elucidated proximate physiological mechanisms, included chemical and genetic analyses, and clearly showed the evolutionary consequences of an “arms war” that exists between plants and insect herbivores. Her research has also provided a clear paradigm for understanding the evolution of insect resistance to insecticides. Her work gives a vivid example of how studies in the basic realm of chemical ecology can inform agricultural practices.
Berenbaum has also had a major impact on the environmental sciences through her public engagement work. She is the leading public intellectual for information on insects in the country. She has taken leadership roles in dealing with major insect-related problems that confront us: insects and GM crops, pollinator declines, invasive species, pesticides and resistance, and insect conservation. Her preeminent status in this realm derives in part from her extensive service to the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.
Berenbaum’s writing for the public is prolific and highly acclaimed. Berenbaum has written a torrent of lively magazine articles, columns, and three books about insects. Berenbaum is also a very popular and innovative teacher, for which she was recognized by ESA. Berenbaum is a person of remarkable scientific accomplishment, boundless energy, brilliant creativity, and passionate dedication to public understanding of science. She is also inspirational up close as a charismatic, warm, and accessible public figure.
ESA Vice President-Elect Narrative:
In 1980, as a newly-minted assistant professor of entomology, I joined the Entomological Society of America, thinking it would be useful. I was absolutely right; the benefits of membership remain legion for any insect biologist. ESA is uniquely useful because it reflects the discipline of entomology—inherently integrative, encompassing all hierarchical levels of biology, and embracing basic and applied dimensions. This multidisciplinary approach has become nationally the “new” model for meeting 21st-century scientific challenges. Many of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, including climate change, emerging infectious diseases, invasive species, and accelerating biodiversity losses, involve arthropods, and entomological expertise should become increasingly valuable for American science competitiveness. Thus, ESA should continue its efforts, independently (as exemplified by the new Science Policy Committee) and in partnership with other scientific societies (as recently implemented with AIBS), to increase its national impact on science policy. With the entomologist pipeline constricting and science literacy unstable, ESA should also consider organizing efforts within its membership to enhance inquiry-based entomology instruction for K-12 through graduate education. As well, in an increasingly globalized science community (and as the first International Congress on U.S. soil in 40 years approaches), ESA should expand its use of traditional and new social media in communicating science globally, with scientific colleagues and the public. As ESA VP, I would be honored to help ensure that ESA serves as an effective voice of entomology as a science, and that ESA remains uniquely useful to all insect biologists.