Vol. 63, No. 3 | Fall 2018

In Memoriam

Lincoln P. Brower, Ph. D.

Written by ABS Historian, Zuleyma Tang-Martínez, & H. Jane Brockmann. Photos from the Internet: Center for Biological Diversity/AP

Monarch butterflies lost their most ardent advocate and protector when Lincoln Brower died from complications of Parkinson’s disease, on July 17, 2018. Lincoln was born in Summit, NJ, on September 10, 1931. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 1953, and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1957. At the time of his death, Lincoln was a Research Professor of Biology at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Prior to this he had been on the faculties of Amherst College (1958 to 1980) and the University of Florida (1980 to 1997). Before moving to Sweet Briar, Lincoln retired as an Emeritus Distinguished Service Professor of Zoology at the University of Florida. He died, at the age of 86, at his home in Roseland, Virginia. He was a fellow of ABS (elected 1988) and recipient of the ABS Distinguished Animal Behaviorist Award for Lifetime Achievement (1996).

Lincoln Brower was a world-acclaimed expert on butterflies who spent more than 60 years studying his favorite species, his beloved monarch (Danaus plexippus). His interest in butterflies began at the age of 5 when he first spotted an American copper butterfly. Relating this experience, he later told NPR, “I just stared at that tiny butterfly, and it was so beautiful to me. And that was the beginning.”

Starting in the 1950s, Lincoln studied all aspects of the monarch’s behavior, physiology, chemical ecology, and life cycle. He was perhaps best known for his early behavioral research, which established the basis for the warning coloration of monarch butterflies. In a series of experiments, he fed adult monarchs, that had fed on milkweeds as caterpillars, to naïve blue jays. A few minutes later the blue jays vomited up the butterfly – and never again would eat another monarch. His photos of “barfing blue jays” and their subsequent rejection of monarchs as food, while accepting other butterflies, were unforgettable. He won the ABS Film Award (1984) for Strategy for Survival, which described this research. He went on to study the evolution of warning coloration, mimicry and the advantages and costs of sequestering toxic compounds for monarchs and other butterflies.

When the monarch migration from North America to their wintering grounds in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico was discovered, Lincoln was fascinated. He paid his first visit to the wintering trees in 1998 and subsequently described his experience: “For the first time in my life, I saw millions of monarch butterflies right in front of me. They were covering the trees, they were all over the boughs. They were on the trunks. They were on the limbs. They were on the bushes. They were everywhere. It is one of the most marvelous sights you can behold in the biological world.”

However, during repeated visits to their wintering sites, Lincoln noticed that monarch numbers were rapidly declining. This observation led him to become an impassioned champion for the monarchs and an advocate for their protection. He argued that the iconic butterflies, as well as their spectacular migration should be considered as biologically endangered phenomena. For Lincoln, the reason for preserving the monarchs was crystal clear: In 2005, he stated in an interview with the Washington Post, “Why should we care? For the same reasons we should care about the Mona Lisa or the beauty of Mozart’s music.”
In addition to his endless quest to save the monarchs and the many organizations he founded or co-founded to ensure their preservation, Lincoln was also a prolific and world-renowned academic and scholar. He edited Mimicry and the Evolutionary Process in 1988, and co-edited a second book with Japanese colleagues (Ae et al. 1996. Decline and Conservation of Butterflies in Japan III). He published more than 200 papers on various aspects of the biology and evolution of monarch butterflies, as well as on several other butterfly species.

His numerous exceptional and vital contributions to behavior, evolution, and conservation resulted in many prizes and awards. Among them are the E.O. Wilson Award for Outstanding Science in Biodiversity Conservation (2016), the Harris Center Conservation Action Prize for past and ongoing efforts to preserve the migration of the monarch butterfly from the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis (2014), the Royal Entomological Society of London’s Marsh Award for Lifetime Contributions to Insect Conservation and for Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Entomology (2007), and the Linnean Society of London’s Linnean Medal for Zoology (1993). In 2008, the Mexican Federal Government also recognized his efforts for conservation of the monarchs and their Mexican wintering habitat with the Premio en Reconocimiento a la Conservación de la Naturaleza (Award in Recognition of the Conservation of Nature). Lincoln was particularly pleased with the opportunity to present a private lecture on monarch butterflies and their migration to former President Jimmy Carter during their visit to one of the monarch wintering areas (2013).

Throughout his life, Lincoln Brower was an active member of many different scientific societies. He was president of the Society for the Study of Evolution (1979), the Lepidopterists' Society (1981), and the International Society of Chemical Ecology (1984). Among several foundations and funds dedicated to saving the monarch butterfly, he helped to establish, Lincoln was a founding board member and Chairman of the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation.

Aside from his scholarship and accolades, Lincoln Brower was much loved and appreciated as a kind and warm-hearted human being who cared deeply about colleagues and friends. When he visited St. Louis to receive the Harris Center’s Conservation Action Prize, his delightful and seemingly boundless enthusiasm for nature and for his monarch butterflies was evident throughout his superb acceptance lecture. But what was most striking was his complete lack of pretentiousness. His modesty and humility were apparent as he eagerly agreed to meet with both faculty and graduate students and showed genuine interest in finding out about their research and lives. After his visit, Zuleyma Tang-Martínez described him to a friend as, “everyone’s idea of what a wonderful and perfect grandfather should be!”

Other colleagues echo these same sentiments. H. Jane Brockmann, from the University of Florida, who knew his family well and was a close friend, observes: “Lincoln was such a gentle and generous colleague and friend who loved natural history. He was always trying to think of new ways to improve his students' and the public's understanding of natural history, and especially of his beloved monarch butterflies.” John Morrissey, another colleague, from Sweet Briar College, stated in a different obituary, “I knew him for two to three years before I realized that he was the Lincoln Brower who had authored all those amazing papers that I read as a student! He was simply too warm, too generous, too gregarious, and too thoughtful to be that famous!”

Survivors include his wife, Dr. Linda Fink, a professor of ecology at Sweet Briar College and a frequent collaborator on the monarch research; his son, Andrew (also a biology professor and butterfly expert); his daughter, Tamsin Barrett; two grandchildren, a brother, and several much-loved pets. The ABS community conveys deep sympathy to his family and friends. Lincoln Brower, his groundbreaking research, and his gentle humanity will not soon be forgotten.

The Monarch Butterfly Fund, of which Lincoln was a founding board member, has established the Lincoln P. Brower Award, an annual grant of $3,000, to support undergraduate or graduate research on the conservation of monarch butterflies and their habitats. To donate funds to this fund, visit monarchbutterflyfund.org. To make sure your donation is credited to the Brower Award, please send an email to Karen Oberhauser ([email protected]) with information on your donation. To donate by check, please indicate that it is for the Brower Award, and mail to: Monarch Butterfly Fund, c/o Karen Oberhauser, 4013 Yuma Drive, Madison, WI 53711.

Additionally, to carry on Lincoln Brower’s legacy (and make him smile from Monarch Heaven), please plant lots of milkweed plants along the monarch’s migration routes - and help out with any local projects aimed at restoring or improving monarch habitats. It surely would make him very happy! And whenever you see a migrating monarch, wish it luck and think of Lincoln Brower.


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