Author: ECWG_Admin

2017 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

2017 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

David S. De La Mater, III (M.S.), Biology Department, The College of William and Mary, “Biogeographic variations in common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) functional and defensive traits, and their effect on monarch (Danaus plexippus) fitness”, Virginia.
Plants play an important role in structuring ecological communities; however, there is insufficient understanding of how infraspecific biogeographic variations in plant traits affect communities through interactions with herbivores. This research lies at the interface of biogeography, plant traits, and herbivore development, and its purpose is to elucidate the ways in which plant traits affect communities through plant-herbivore interactions. We achieve this by focusing on a model plant-herbivore system: common milkweed (Ascelpias syriaca) and the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). We first quantified the variation in milkweed traits across its entire North American range through field sampling and multivariate statistical techniques. Preliminary data show statistically significant differences between populations, and suggests that as latitude increases, plant height, foliar carbon, chlorophyll, lignin, and herbivory seem to decline while cardenolide concentrations seem to increase. Root stock was harvested from each population to create a common garden of milkweed from across its range. In order to determine how observed variations in milkweed traits affect monarchs, a bioassay will be conducted in which monarch larvae will be fed on milkweed from each sampled population. Differences in monarch development and performance will provide insight into how plant trait variation affects herbivores.

S. Augusta Mccracken (Ph.D.), Anthropology Department, University of Maryland, “Ancient latitudinal diversity gradients of insect herbivory: Exploration of the Cerro del Pueblo Formation”, Mexico.
Plants and insects have an extraordinary evolutionary history, which has led to their unprecedented diversity and abundance in modern terrestrial ecosystems. The ability to predict how plant and insect communities respond to anthropogenic climate change is vital to construct appropriate management strategies. One of the best sources of information on how organisms contend with climate change is in the deep geologic past, such as during the Cretaceous, when the Earth was much hotter than today (tropical to sub-tropical). This research project focuses on the biogeography of fossil plant and insect interactions, specifically looking at how these interactions change across latitude during the Late Cretaceous of North America. The object is to understand how this latitudinal diversity gradient compares to that of today so predictions can be made of changes in plant-insect interactions in the coming decades. Museum collections provide tens of thousands of fossil specimens for this research, but the Cerro del Pueblo Formation in Coahuila, Mexico, must be further excavated in order to obtain a sufficient number of specimens for analysis of insect-damaged leaf fossils.

Enquye Wondimu Negash (Ph.D.), Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, George Washington University, “Modelling vegetation structure in modern ecosystems: Implications for hominin landscape dynamics”, Rwanda.
Understanding parameters of vegetation structure, composition and distribution in contemporary ecosystems is crucial for interpreting past ecological conditions. As fossil soils (paleosols) are well-preserved in the fossil record and are commonly used in reconstructing past ecosystems, a detailed study and a comprehensive understanding of modern soils at a high spatial resolution is important in establishing a baseline for interpreting paleosols and their associated vegetation structure. The proposed work uses a multi-proxy approach to calibrate a model of estimating vegetation structure in modern ecosystems to apply the model produced in reconstructing vegetation proportion, distribution and woody cover from paleosols. To do this, phytolith and stable isotopic analysis of soil samples collected from national parks in eastern Africa along varying altitudinal and climatic gradients will be used. This will help better characterize the relationship of each proxy to the vegetation structure in various habitat types and offers a quantitative approach of estimating vegetation structure. The proposed work is part of a project aimed at applying the model produced from this study on paleosols from the Shungura Formation, a hominin bearing fossiliferous site in Southern Ethiopia, which will help in making more precise and accurate interpretations of hominin environments.

Brandon Semel (Ph.D.), Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech, “Advancing Effective Lemur Conservation in the Face of Global Change”, Madagascar.
Primates face an increasing number of threats to their survival (e.g. forest loss, hunting). Despite the mounting threat to countless other taxa, how primates will respond to climate-induced environmental change remains poorly understood. This project will assess the adaptive potential of Madagascar’s critically endangered golden-crowned sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli) in response to anticipated climate change and other proximate threats. Four objectives will be completed to meet this goal: 1) update population estimates and establish a population monitoring program, 2) relate abundance to nutritional properties in different forest types, 3) investigate genetic diversity and adaptive genetic potential across species’ range, and 4) predict land cover change, and relate back to variance in nutritional properties and genetic connectivity, in response to human use and climate change scenarios. Population estimates also will be obtained for endangered crowned (Eulemur coronatus) and Sanford’s brown (E. sanfordi) lemurs in northern Madagascar’s Daraina region. Partnering with Malagasy conservation initiatives will ensure that species monitoring continues long-term and that conservation activities are undertaken that will best promote species persistence in the face of climate change and other threats.

Trevor Wallace Presentation Hosted by Phil and Natalia Stephenson

Trevor Wallace Presentation Hosted by Phil and Natalia Stephenson

On May 24, 2018, Phil and Natalia Stephenson and the Stephenson Foundation hosted a cocktail buffet and wine tasting featuring a presentation by filmmaker Trevor Wallace about 3,000 year old Scythian tombs recently discovered in Siberia.

Trevor and his expedition partners
Trevor and his expedition partners

The Scythians were nomadic horse warriors who predated the Mongols by 2,000 years, famous for their gold ornaments and iconic artistic style. Trevor and his expedition partner Dr. Gino Caspari discovered the oldest, largest Royal Scythian tomb in Siberia last summer and will be returning shortly to unearth precious artifacts and mummies preserved in the permafrost — very cool stuff. They received the ‘New Explorer of the Year Award’ presented at the Explorers Club Annual Dinner in New York City for documenting the tomb and investigating the illegal antiquities trade.


ECWG thanks to the Stephensons. It was a great evening!

Mayflower Hotel Contract Signed for 2019 Lowell Thomas Dinner

Mayflower Hotel Contract Signed for 2019 Lowell Thomas Dinner

Following extensive negotiations, on Thursday, 29 March 2018 ECWG signed a contract with the Mayflower Hotel for LTAD 2019 in Washington, DC – 11-13 October 2019.

The contract team: Jay Kaplan, Lonnie Schorer, Susan Sawtelle, Bruce Blanchard, Debbie Bell


Treasurer Bruce Blanchard presenting the deposit check to Ron Kee.


Jay Kaplan, signing the contract with Mayflower’s Director of Sales & Catering, Ron Kee, Jr.

Barring unforeseen schedules and circumstances, TEC Honorary Chair Kathy Sullivan has agreed to be our speaker at the gala on 12 October!

Onward together!
Chair, ECWG

2019 Lowell Thomas Annual Award Dinner Memo

2019 Lowell Thomas Annual Award Dinner Memo

March 2018 Memo to Explorers Club Washington Group Members, Associates, & Friends

Save the dates: Columbus Day Weekend, Friday, October 11 – Sunday, October 13, 2019

In 2013, ECWG became just the second chapter outside of NY to host the Explorers Club Lowell Thomas Annual Award Dinner and Weekend. The ECWG event was highly successful and achieved our primary goal of replenishing funds for our Student Grants Program.

To ensure ECWG can continue to help young explorers complete their scientific fieldwork, ECWG applied for—and was recently awarded—the honor of hosting the Lowell Thomas Annual Dinner and Weekend in 2019. So please mark your calendars now for what will be a wonderful weekend of camaraderie and fantastic events, as well as a chance to bolster the ECWG grants program.

The weekend will feature multiple outstanding events:

  • Dinner Friday at a Washington, DC Embassy;
  • An awards ceremony on Saturday morning;
  • The gala dinner Saturday evening at the historic
    Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue, with a
    speaker and live and silent auctions;
  • Sunday brunch at a beautiful venue; and
  • Local excursions on both Saturday and Sunday.

To organize and carry out these events will require many willing hands, and we are asking for your help. The members listed below have already volunteered to play significant roles, but we need your assistance. Please review the following list of anticipated areas of assistance and advise where you are available to assist. Whatever time you are able to give will be much appreciated. We also need your help to spread the word and generate excitement! Participation by our Members, Associates, and Friends is critical to the effort and to the success of Lowell Thomas Annual Dinner Weekend 2019!

With appreciation and thanks from the Lowell Thomas 2019 Chairs,
Lonnie Schorer/Chair
Debbie Bell, Jay Kaplan, Susan Sawtelle/Vice Chairs

LTAD 2019 preliminary planning – as of March 20, 2018 Anticipated areas of Assistance


  • Live
  • Silent
  • Setup/display
  • Online
  • Auctioneer
  • Packing, shipping arrangements

Audio Visual (AV)

  • Awards program
  • Gala


  • Memo of Understanding with NY – who is responsible for what?
  • Mayflower Hotel, Embassy, National Geographic, Cosmos Club, AV (2)

Transportation, Valet parking company at Mayflower


  • Choice of 3 (?) Saturday afternoon destinations
  • Directions, maps, logistics


  • Refer to Contracts/Agreements/Legal
  • AV contracts (Awards and Gala)
  • Bus/van contract
  • Other contractual commitments
  • RSVPs and ticket payments
  • Gifts, awards
  • Comp tickets for gala
  • Hotel rooms for speakers and awardees
  • Auction/winning bidder payments
  • All financial transactions and final accounting with NY (with Legal)


  • Check-in, registration (Saturday evening Awards and Gala; possibly Embassy dinner)
  • Coffee, doughnuts (Saturday morning awards program)
  • Coat check
  • VIP Liaison, upgrades, gifts (Mayflower book)
  • Board room
  • Parking

Liaison with NY, Mayflower, embassy (to be determined), National Geo (tent.), Cosmos

Main Events

  • Friday evening Embassy dinner
  • Saturday morning Awards program (National Geographic?)
  • Saturday and Sunday excursions
  • Saturday evening Gala
  • Saturday evening Auction
  • Sunday Brunch (Cosmos Club?)


  • Save the date: postcards, e-mails, website, mailings
  • Media
  • Photographers (event and wildlife)

Menus & Table settings; related matters

  • Embassy dinner, gala, brunch
  • Wine selection
  • Table linens
  • Table décor
  • Table assignments (ECWG handle!) – coordination with NY
  • Gift for the Ambassador

Printed material: design & production

  • Save the date
  • Menus
  • Programs
  • Table charts
  • Table numbers
  • Registration lists
  • Name tags (?)
  • Signage
  • Table place cards


  • Access control
  • Bracelets/gala

Speaker; Gala MC

  • Coordinate speakers’ topic with theme
  • Hospitality for speaker.


  • Personal
  • Corporate

Theme development

  • Coordination with NY


  • Bus/Van transport to Embassy, Cosmos Club and excursion destinations
  • Valet parking at Embassy dinner
  • Valet parking at Mayflower
  • Airport information (distances, Metro access)


  • Eagle Scouts
  • Others


  • Certificates of Insurance
  • Permits
  • Access control
  • Birds, snake, cheetah?
  • Dedicated photographer
ECWG Dinner: Curt Westergard Pictures

ECWG Dinner: Curt Westergard Pictures

A few pictures from our enjoyable dinner with speaker Curt Westergard

Curt Westergard

Board Member Ken Kambis

Dave and Lonnie Schorer (Board Chair) at ECWG event

Board member Susan Sawtelle and Membership Director Debbie Bell

Michael J. Manyak, MD, MED’92 (L)Timothy Manyak (student member pending), Ian Iraola, Susanna Manyak (SM’05).