Paleobiologist and Curator of Fossil Insects

Wide shot of Dr. Conrad Labandeira in jeans, shirt, and hat searching for fossils in the grass and rock bush in South Africa
Dr. Conrad Labandeira searching for fossils in South Africa. Courtesy of Smithsonian.

Dr. Conrad C. Labandeira is a research scientist and curator of fossil arthropods at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Conrad’s interests include the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems revealed by the fossil insect record and the deep-time feeding relationships of insects with plants. His interest in insects and plants began on his father’s small farm in California’s Central Valley, where he observed the way aphids were consumed by ladybug beetle larvae. As an undergraduate, he became fascinated with plant and insect fossils. For his master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he worked on Cambrian trilobite taxonomy. For his doctoral program at the University of Chicago, Conrad evaluated insect feeding styles for the past 410 million years by examining the fossil insect record in the context of modern insect mouthparts. As a postdoctoral scholar (or "postdoc") at the University of Illinois, he studied insect-caused damage in petrified peat tissues of ancient swamp deposits.

Conrad joined the Smithsonian in 1992, and has research programs on every continent except Antarctica. They include responses of insects and plant associations to major crises such as extinction events and global climate change (South Africa, western North America); origins of ecological and evolutionary diversity in the Neotropics (Argentina); evaluation of insect herbivory, pollination and mimicry of mid Mesozoic  ecosystems (northeastern China); and comparisons of modern insect herbivory with the fossil record (Panama, western Europe).