William Wetzel

William Wetzel

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Assistant Professor
Department of Entomology


See a list of William Wetzel's publications on Google Scholar.

Wetzel Lab website



The Wetzel Lab studies the ecological interactions among plants, insect herbivores, and predators. We focus on how biological diversity and environmental variability influence the ecology of insect herbivores and their interactions with plants and predators. We strive to link patterns at population and community scales with mechanisms at the organismal scale. We do this by using mathematical and statistical modeling to integrate field and lab data across scales including plant chemistry, insect physiology and behavior, and population and community ecology. The lab also places an emphasis on using meta-analysis and synthesis to search for general answers to fundamental ecological questions.

We work in both natural and agricultural ecosystems and strive to answer fundamental biological questions that have implications for environmental problems. Our research in agricultural systems has suggested new ways to enhance agricultural sustainability and reduce reliance on pesticides. Our research in natural systems examines how climate change is influencing population dynamics and predator-prey interactions.

Current assignment: Teaching 25% | Research 75% 

Program Description


I am committed to undergraduate and graduate education in the classroom, the lab, and the field. I believe that the goal of a university education should be to give students the intellectual tools they need to make their own discoveries. To achieve this, my teaching and mentoring are guided by two principles: immerse students in active learning and teach science as a tool for understanding. I also have a deep passion for teaching quantitative methods to biologists, a passion that permeates all my teaching. At MSU, I teach Statistical Methods for Ecology & Evolution, the Ecology & Evolution of Plant–Arthropod Interactions, and other courses.


Every organism grows and reproduces best under specific biological and environmental conditions. Yet a quick look outside reveals a world that is astoundingly variable, both in biological diversity and environmental heterogeneity. Organisms face massive fluctuations in key ecological factors like temperature, food quality, and predation, and they only rarely experience their optimal conditions. The Wetzel Lab studies how biological diversity and environmental variability influence the dynamics of insect herbivore populations and their interactions with plants and predators. We work in natural and agricultural ecosystems and strive to answer questions that have relevance for agricultural sustainability and responses to climate change. We place an emphasis on using mathematical and statistical modeling to link ecological processes and patterns across scales from individuals to communities. We are currently tackling two main questions:

  1. How does plant trait diversity influence the ecology of arthropods and plant–arthropod interactions?
  2. How does temperature variability, associated with climate change, influence the interactions among plants, insect herbivores, and insect predators?


  • Population and community ecology
  • Insect ecology
  • Plant-herbivore interactions
  • Biodiversity

Professional Experience

  • 2016-Present – Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology, Michigan State University
  • 2015-2016 – Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Entomology and Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University
  • 2008-2015 – Graduate Student, Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis

Selected Publications

  • Wetzel, W.C., and M.H. Meek. 2019.Physical defenses and herbivory vary more within plants than among plants in the tropical understory shrub Piper polytrichum. Botany 97: 113-121. doi: 10.1139/cjb-2018-0160
  • Wetzel, W.C., N.C. Aflitto, and J.S. Thaler. 2018.Plant genotypic diversity interacts with predation risk to influence an insect herbivore across its ontogeny. Ecology 99: 2338-2347. doi: 10.1002/ecy.2472
  • Wetzel, W.C. and J.S. Thaler. 2018. Host-choice reduces, but does not eliminate, the negative effects of a multi-species diet for an herbivorous beetle. Oecologia 186: 483-493. doi: 10.1007/s00442-017-4034-x
  • Wetzel, W.C., H.M. Kharouba, M. Robinson, M. Holyoak, and R. Karban. 2016. Variance in plant nutritive traits reduces the performance of insect herbivores. Nature 539: 425-427. doi: 10.1038/nature20140 (Recommended by Faculty of 1000)
  • Karban, R., W.C. Wetzel, K. Shiojiri, E. Pezzola, and J. Blande. 2016. Geographic dialects in volatile communication between sagebrush individuals. Ecology 97: 2917-2914. doi: 10.1002/ecy.1573
  • LoPresti, E.F., R. Karban, M. Robinson, W.C. Wetzel, and P. Grof-Tisza. 2016. The natural history supplement: furthering natural history amongst ecologists and evolutionary biologists. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 97: 305-310. doi: 10.1002/bes2.1239
  • Wetzel, W.C. and J.S. Thaler. 2016. Does plant diversity reduce the ability of insect herbivores to defend against predators? The plant variability-gut acclimation hypothesis. Current Opinion in Insect Science 14: 25-31. doi: 10.1016/j.cois.2016.01.001
  • Wetzel, W.C., R. Screen, I. Li, J. McKenzie, K. Phillips, M. Cruz, W. Zhang, A. Greene, E. Lee, N. Singh, C. Tran, and L. Yang. 2016. Ecosystem engineering by a gall-forming wasp indirectly suppresses density and diversity of herbivores on oak trees. Ecology 97: 427-438. doi: 10.1890/15-1347.1
  • Spawton, K.A. and W.C. Wetzel. 2015. Gall-insect community on big sagebrush varies with plant size but not plant age. Environmental Entomology 44: 1095-1100. doi: 10.1093/ee/nvv087
  • Wetzel, W.C. and D.R. Strong. 2015. Host selection by an insect herbivore with spatially variable density-dependence. Oecologia 179: 777-784. doi: 10.1007/s00442-015-3378-3
  • Karban, R., W.C. Wetzel, K, Shiojiri, S. Ishizaki, S. Ramirez, and J. Blande. 2014. Deciphering the language of plant communication: volatile chemotypes of sagebrush. New Phytologist 204: 380-385. doi:10.1111/nph.12887
  • Wetzel, W.C. 2014. Density-dependent recruitment structures a heterogeneous distribution of herbivores among host-plants. Ecology 95: 2894-2903. doi:10.1890/14-0190.1 (Winner of Ecological Society of America Outstanding Student Research Award 2014)
  • Hammock, B. and W.C. Wetzel. 2013. The relative importance of drift causes for stream insect herbivores across a canopy gradient. Oikos 122: 1586-1593. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0706.2013.00319.x
  • Karban, R. K. Shiojiri, S. Ishizaki, W.C. Wetzel, and R. Evans. 2013. Kin recognition affects plant communication and defense. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 280: 20123062. doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.3062
  • Wetzel, W.C., I. Lacher, D. Swezey, S. Moffitt, and D. Manning. 2012. Survey and landscape analysis reveal potential consequences of Williamson Act for rangeland conservation. California Agriculture 66:131-136. doi:10.3733/ca.v066n04p131 (Journal cover story)