Researching Pollinators

Researching Pollinators

UNT Diving Eagle
March 19, 2020
Elinor Lichtenberg


There's a new ecology faculty member in the College of Science, and she's serious about pollinators. Elinor Lichtenberg is a behavioral and community ecologist interested in how plant-pollinator interactions change with the biological community under global change. Her research aims to help humans better understand how to conserve species that help ecosystems thrive, which requires understanding everything from how pollinators and other flower-visiting insects interact to studying how bees make decisions about which plants to visit for food. 

"It is also important to determine how various human activities, including urbanization and farming practices, alter biodiversity of pollinators and other beneficial insects," says Lichtenberg, who was previously conducting her research at UT Austin. With its institutional focus on conservation research and other environmental issues, UNT's Advanced Environmental Research Institute (AERI) offered the perfect fit in support of her research interests, and she began her first semester here in January.

"According to the USDA, pollinators increase US crop values by more than $15 billion every year, not to mention the role they play in maintaining all plants," says Roberts, Director of AERI. "Dr. Lichtenberg's research informs how we can better manage landscapes to conserve pollinators and maintain their benefits, both ecological and economic. This is a really great opportunity for UNT students to engage in science that has real-world applications and benefits."

Many AERI scientists work with local initiatives and organizations in the area that facilitate wildlife and conservation science. "My research expertise on (and a personal interest in) pollinators and plant-insect interactions is an exciting fit with UNT's Bee Campus and Denton's Bee City statuses," Lichtenberg says. "I also look forward to utilizing UNT's Pollinative Prairie and the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area in my teaching and research."

The Lichtenberg Lab in AERI combines ecology and animal behavior to study plant-animal interactions, insect foraging and insect biodiversity. There is also a significant focus on land use, and land management practices affect these phenomena. Using basic and applied sciences, the lab aims to conduct research that will help conserve and restore functional ecosystems, while providing fundamental understanding of the processes and outcomes of interactions among species.

"I was impressed by the Biological Sciences Department's emphasis on integrating basic and applied research, and collegiality. Many of the faculty here are studying not only fundamental biology, but they're also doing research with tangible benefits for humans and wildlife," Lichtenberg says. "AERI held particular draw for me, since it brings together researchers from many disciplines who study how humans are impacting the environment, and how we can mitigate that impact to help conserve wildlife and natural processes."

Prior to attending grad school and earning her Ph.D. at the University of California, Lichtenberg served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, West Africa where she taught math to middle school students and organized events such as an International Women's Day celebration. Her advice to young people interested in pursuing a future in ecology is, "Take time to slow down and observe the natural world around you. Even in urban areas, living organisms are doing very interesting things! Sometimes science can be frustrating and require a lot of patience, but the joy of discovery pays off in the end."