Alan joined the Institute in 1960 as a research assistant, with a degree in chemistry from Dundee, Scotland. While working in the laboratory of Robert G. Owens, he continued with graduate study at City College in New York, where he received his MA in chemistry. His strong interest in chemical aspects of biological interactions soon led him to join the Institute’s research program in forest entomology. As a result, he received his Doctor of Forestry degree from the University of Göttingen, Germany, and quickly became a specialist in the chemistry of bark beetle pheromones. As a member of a very successful research team, led by Pierre Vité, he was involved in the development of the basic principles that are now used in the worldwide application of pheromones to control bark beetles.
When the Institute moved from Yonkers to Ithaca, New York, in 1978, the Institute’s Forest Biology Program was discontinued, and Dr. Renwick embarked on a new research effort to study the factors involved in host selection behavior of crucifer insects. This program resulted in many significant discoveries about the role of plant chemistry in mediating oviposition and feeding by these insects. Dr. Renwick was soon recognized as an authority on the oviposition behavior of lepidopterans and made a significant contribution to the overall understanding of plant-insect relationships with relevance to both agricultural and natural ecosystems.
Subsequent research of Dr. Renwick’s team provided key information linking plant chemistry, insect behavior and sensory physiology to explain oviposition and feeding patterns of adults and larvae of several butterflies. In addition to studies on pests of brassica crops, Renwick’s team examined the chemical basis for recognition of host plants by monarch butterflies and successfully identified the oviposition stimulants from milkweed. Dr. Renwick’s later discovery, that sensitivity of lepidopterous larvae to feeding inhibitors may be controlled by the action of dietary constituents, is likely to have far-reaching consequences in the study of plant resistance to insects and related aspects of plant-insect interactions. In addition, this unexpected revelation of acquired sensitivity to phytochemicals has provided a base for biochemical studies to elucidate mechanisms of habituation and addiction in animals, including humans.
Dr. Renwick has published over 140 research publications, including many book chapters. His efforts have aimed to demonstrate the value of chemical ecology in the improvement of crop plants and in expanding our knowledge of factors that determine host ranges of phytophagous insects in both natural and agricultural settings. He retired from BTI in 2004.