Karen M. Kester

Karen M. Kester, Ph.D.


(804) 828-0103

Trani Life Science Building, 1000 W. Cary St., room 033

Karen Kester, Ph.D., is principal investigator and program director of VCU Bridges to the Baccalaureate.

Research Interests

Kester's research passion is the behavior and ecology of tritrophic interactions involving parasitic wasps, caterpillars, and plants. Although I have worked with several parasitoid-herbivore-plant systems, my favorite is the braconid wasp, Cotesia congregata, the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), and tobacco and other solanaceous plants, and other sphingid caterpillars and their food plants. Her research approach is integrative and includes field work, behavioral and feeding studies in the laboratory, and (through collaborations) the ecological genetics and genomics of C. congregata and other Cotesia species. A secondary research interest is the use of indigenous and released arthropods for environmental surveillance of biothreats, including human pathogens, explosives materials, and human DNA. Also, she leads an NIH-funded research training program for students from underrepresented groups.

Select Publications


  • BIOL 309 Entomology
  • BIOL 475 Capstone Seminar (Biology & Society, Sustainable Agriculture)
  • BIOL 480 Animal-Plant Interactions
  • BIOL 498 Insects & Plants Service-Learning
  • BIOL 693 Current Topics in Biology


  • VCU University Distinguished Faculty Award in Teaching, 2019
  • 2019 Programs That Work Award (for VCU Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program), Virginia Mathematics & Science Coalition, 1/15/2019
  • J. Shelton Horsley Research Award, Virginia Academy of Science, 5/19/2016 (with Justin Bredlau, graduate advisee)
  • Distinguished Teaching Award (Science & Math), VCU College of Humanities & Sciences, 5/2015