Dr. Conrad C. Labandeira, ESA Fellow (2021)

Conrad Labandeira

Dr. Conrad C. Labandeira is senior research scientist and curator of fossil arthropods in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C. Labandeira is a paleoecologist internationally known for his work on insect fossil history and their ecological relationships with other organisms, particularly plants, and how insects have responded to major biotic and abiotic events of the deep past.  

Labandeira was born in Hanford, California, and grew up on a small farm near Fresno. His early years were spent attending to his family’s ranch that initially supported cattle, and later crops such as cotton, alfalfa, maize, and wine grapes. He was a drywall finisher, a trade used to put himself through school. He received a B.A. in biology, geology, and anthropology from California State University Fresno in 1980. For his M.S., he attended the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee from 1980 to 1982, where he completed a thesis on Cambrian trilobite systematics. He attended the University of Chicago from 1983 to 1989, where he completed a dissertation on a phenetic analysis of modern insect mouthpart structure and their representation in the fossil record. Postdoctoral research at the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign, from 1989 to 1992, involved examination of arthropod feeding damage and fecal pellets in exquisitely preserved 315 to 300 million-year-old coal-ball floras from the Illinois Basin. Labandeira joined the NMNH Department of Paleobiology in 1992 and was chair from 2007 to 2010. 

Labandeira, with colleagues, has published 183 peer-reviewed and 23 non-peer-reviewed papers on the systematics, ecology, diversity, functional morphology, and food webs of fossil arthropods, principally insects. Perhaps his best noted work is fossil plant–insect interactions, focusing his efforts on herbivory, pollination, and mimicry. His early career examined detritivory, herbivory, and pollination of Paleozoic arthropods on mostly spore-bearing, coal-swamp floras, and later on mesic seed-plant floras occupying sediment substrates. Recently, he studied the effects that a transition from a gymnosperm-dominated to angiosperm-dominated global flora had on pollinating insects. 

While at NMNH, Labandeira presented 244 oral presentations on his research at universities, museums, meetings, symposia, and other academic venues. He became Fellow of the Geological Society of America (2017) and the Paleontological Society (2014). With coauthors, he was awarded the year’s best paper from the Society of Sedimentary Geology in Palaios (1997); from NMNH in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (2009), Ecological Monographs (2010), Naturwissenschaften (2013), Proceedings of the Royal Society B (2016), and Nature Communications (2019); and from the Natural Science Award of Yunnan Province of China in Nature Communications (2017). He mentored and advised seven undergraduate students (senior theses), five master’s students, 20 doctoral students, and four postdoctoral students. He was a member of an ESA advisory board that interviewed editorship candidates for the new journal, Insect Systematics and Diversity. He is also subject matter editor for Ecology, Ecosphere, Palaeontology, and Palaios

Labandeira lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife, Maria, and son, Robert, who is engaged in film studies and the dramatic arts.