Active Research Projects

Summer research students conducting a butterfly survey in the Decorah Community Prairie
Luther Entomology Research Laboratory


Mission: The mission of the entomology research laboratory at Luther College is to provide students meaningful research experiences in insect ecology and opportunities to explore entomology as a subdiscipline of biology, while contributing to our knowledge of and the conservation of insect diversity in northeast Iowa.

Overall Research Question: How does habitat and habitat management affect insect biodiversity in northeast Iowa native ecosystems?


1.   To document insect diversity in northeast Iowa through surveys of selected taxa in native habitats and maintaining a research insect collection.

2.   To communicate our research findings with the broader entomological and scientific community through presentations at scientific meetings, publications in primary research journals, and reports to conservation agencies.

I have an active ongoing research program on insect biodiversity of Northeastern Iowa and insects of tallgrass prairies that typically involves 1-3 students per year, with at least one summer research student (sometimes several) paid to spend the summer performing entomology research.  If you are interested in one or more of these projects, please contact Dr. Larsen.

A Comparison of Native Bee, Ground Beetle, and Butterfly Diversity and Floral Resources of Remnant and Planted Tallgrass Prairies. In 2015, the Luther entomology lab performed a survey of four remnant and four planted tallgrass prairies in NE Iowa.  The specific goals of this project are to compare the abundance and diversity of bees, ground beetles, butterflies, and flowers which they pollinate between remnant and planted prairies.  We predicted that the diversity (species richness) of these insect groups would be greater in remnant prairies than in planted prairies, and that species richness will be related to plant species richness, and pollinator abundance (bees and butterflies) related to floral nectar availability.   If prairie plantings are successful in restoring prairie function and structure, we expect there will be no difference in insect or plant abundance or species richness between remnant and planted prairies.

Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium.  The Luther entomology lab is an invited founding member of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, and in collaboration with Iowa State University has been involved in several studies relating to milkweed use and nectar sources for monarch butterflies in Iowa.  The goal of this project has been increasing suitable monarch reproduction habitat in the Upper Midwest.  On campus this includes research plots with nine species of Iowa-native milkweeds to compare egg laying and larval development, along with six species of nectar plants, and a 2 acre prairie planting near Aikman Prairie which nectar sources are monitored for adult monarch use.

Students have also had summer research experiences in entomology at:

  • Iowa State University, Department of Entomology
  • University of Hawaii
  • Blandy Research Farm, University of Virginia
  • University of Minnesota, Department of Entomology
  • US Forest Service in Black Hills N.F.
  • Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, University of Minnesota, Bethel, MN
  • University of Puerto Rico
  • Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia (in Mongolia)
  • Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
  • Minnesota Zoo Butterfly Conservation Lab
  • Montana State University, Montana Department of Agriculture
  • Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

The Luther entomology research lab is also the organizers of Luther's certification by the Xerces Society Bee Campus USA program.