La Frontera


Cowboy boots for sale in Leon, Mexico

La Frontera

After Mexico became a Spanish colony, the Spanish brought cattle over from Spain in the mid-1500s to establish the ranching industry. At that time, cattle were valued for their hides rather than their meat, during this period, leather was the equivalent of plastics today (See Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange). The ranching industry started near D.F. (Mexico City), and spread northwards. At one point the frontier was from Guadalajara eastward. The picture above was taken in Leon, which is now known for its leather products.

We are currently studying how the Colorado potato beetle evolved to become a major pest of potatoes. The beetle feeds on buffalo burr, Solanum rostratum, in the Central highlands of Mexico. It is thought that the expansion of the ranching industry helped to spread the beetle’s host plant northwards into the plains of the US. It is also possible that the “consquistador”, Juan de Onate, helped to bring horses and cattle into the Southwestern US. There are accounts that he brought about 100 or so soldiers and their families, horses, and 7000 head of cattle into New Mexico. It is interesting to note that buffalo burr is now a noxious weed throughout the US.

Although, there were no historical observations on the beetle’s expansion, the beetle was first found feeding on S. rostratum west of Omaha, in 1821 close to 40 years before it shifted onto potato and become a global scourge of potatoes. Potatoes took a very different course-the Spanish brought it to Europe and the English brought potatoes to the US. The potato was brought westward as English settlers set up new settlements as part of the westward expansion from 1830-1870. After the beetle was first reported as a pest of potato in 1859, its populations exploded. There are historical accounts of the huge beetle outbreak that stopped trains, caused people to flee the beaches, and caused devastating crop losses.

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Yolanda to spend next year at Langebio

I am heading to Mexico for a sabbatical! I will be based in the lab of Dr. Angelica Cibrian-Jaramillo at LANGEBIO. I am excited to look into different domestication systems and to develop new collaborations with Mexican researchers.

For fun, I will be blogging about my meals. I am particularly interested in doing for fun is to look at the how the cuisine has been shaped by native and introduced crops.


20150808_173644Fish and shrimp tacos in San Miguel de Allende.

Fish and shrimp- unknown?

Avocado (Persea americana, Lauraceae; Mexico)- Probably derived from the Nahuatl word āhuacatl [aːˈwakat͡ɬ]. The oldest remains are from Puebla (Wikipedia entry)

Lime – (Citrus x latifolia, Rutaceae; SE Asia?) – Limes are hybrids with varied genetic backgrounds. The domestication history of citrus looks complex.

Maize – (Zea mays mays, Poaceae; Mexico!)- Maize originates from the Balsas River Valley.




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USDA Exploratory grant – CPB resequencing study

A postdoctoral position will be available in Dr. Sean Schoville’s lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in collaboration with Dr. Yolanda Chen (University of Vermont) and Dr. David Hawthorne (University of Maryland).



Understanding the mechanisms underlying rapid evolutionary change, particularly at the scale of the whole genome, is an important challenge for both theoretical and applied evolutionary biology. This project focuses on the Colorado potato beetle, and its relatives, to understand the structural and functional genomic changes associated with the beetle’s host range expansion onto potato, the colonization of novel climatic regimes, and the rapid development of insecticide resistance (to over 50 classes of insecticides!). With a dataset comprising 100 whole genomes, this is an excellent opportunity to publish a number of high-profile research papers.


Position Responsibilities:

The post-doctoral associate will have the opportunity to analyze whole-genome resequence data to assess the population genomics and structural genomic changes across a diverse sample of Colorado potato beetle genomes. This project will provide training opportunities in bioinformatics analysis, population genetic modeling and phylogenomic analysis. Desirable skills for this project include familiarity with Linux operating systems and computer programming (Perl, Python, and/or R), as well as previous experience analyzing population genetic data.


How to Apply:

Funding for this position is available for 1 year with the possibility of extension. The annual salary will range from $36,000 – $42,000/year, depending on experience, and health insurance benefits are provided. To apply, please send a single pdf with a cover letter, a CV, 1-2 representative publications, and names and contact information for 3 references to Dr. Sean Schoville, email:, by December 21, 2015. The start date is flexible but preference will be given to candidates that can begin early in 2016. The University of Wisconsin is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.


For more information about the research in our groups, please go to:

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On Relocalizing Vermont – hosted by Carl Etnier on WGDR

Yolanda was a guest speaker on WGDR on Carl Etnier’s radio show called “Relocalizing Vermont”

A streaming broadcast can be found here.


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New paper in a special issue of Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata

Chase and Kristian helped to co-author a paper with my collaborators, Rieta Gols and Betty Benrey. It is featured in a Special Issue of Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata featuring speakers from the 15th Society for Insect-Plant Interactions, held last year in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

This was Chase and Kristian’s first paper!

Chen, Y. H., R. Gols, C. A. Stratton, K. A. Brevik, B. Benrey. 2015. Complex tritrophic interactions in response to crop domestication: predictions from the wild. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 156(4):XX-XX.


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