Dr. Susan J. Weller, ESA Fellow (2020)

Susan J. WellerDr. Susan J. Weller, director of the University of Nebraska State Museum and professor of entomology at University of Nebraska–Lincoln, was elected as an ESA Fellow in 2020. She is internationally recognized for her research on the evolution of arctiine moths and other Noctuoidea, as well as nationally recognized for her administrative leadership to promote entomology and science education.

Weller was born in Rochester, New York. She grew up in Saratoga Springs, where her early interest in nature was piqued by the large family garden, a nearby stream, and encouragement to be a tomboy as the oldest of four children. She pursued her undergraduate degree at Grinnell College (1984) and Ph.D. at the University of Texas-Austin (1989) with Larry Gilbert and John Rawlins (Carnegie Museum). Weller received curatorial training at The Natural History Museum (London) as a Fulbright-Hayes Fellow and at the National Museum of Natural History through two Smithsonian Fellowships.

Weller's research incorporates a variety of data types and explores the landscape of systematic and comparative analyses. A classically trained lepidopteran morphologist, she cross-trained in molecular systematics with Dorothy Pashley at the Louisiana State University (LSU) and was among the first generation of insect morphologists to embrace routinely incorporating molecular data to understand phylogenetic relationships. The first molecular paper to challenge the status quo of Noctuidae as a natural (monophyletic) group (Weller et al. 1995) was written by her team at LSU. Results were not embraced initially, but now Erebidae is recognized as an independent lineage within the superfamily Noctuiodea. Although her favorite research organisms are lepidopterans, especially arctiines, she has always been interested in "comparative evolutionary questions," including the evolution of insect communication systems, mimicry, insect mouthparts, or even the evolution of rickettsial diseases. Weller seeks to answer the "why" about the diversity and success of insects.

Weller's professional accomplishments in administrative leadership are grounded in her early career focus in mentoring and teaching. Weller was hired at University of Minnesota in 1995. She taught three core courses and contributed to 39 graduate student committees in three colleges (agriculture, biology, and natural resources), and sponsored seven undergraduate honors research theses and 39 undergraduate research projects. Two-thirds of her publications have at least one student or postdoctoral researcher as lead or co-author.

Weller became the first woman director of the Bell Museum of Natural History in 2008, led its merger with the Minneapolis Planetarium in 2010, and assisted with securing state bonding for the new public museum in 2014. Weller was hired to lead the University of Nebraska State Museum in 2015, where she oversaw the major renovation Cherish Nebraska. Entomological stories are infused throughout the new galleries focused on Nebraska's natural history. Weller's record of service to ESA is extensive, including service as ESA president in 2017. To relax, she and her husband enjoy catching up with family, fishing in northern Minnesota, walking their hunting dogs, and other outdoor activities.