- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
When UC Davis emeriti professors of entomology Peter Cranston and Penny Gullan of Canberra, Australia, attended the International Conference on Natural Resources in the Tropics in late November in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) at Sibu and Kapit on the Rajang River, they weren't expecting to meet a UC Davis alumnus.
But they did.
They greeted mosquito expert/emeritus professor Abu Hassan Ahmad, who received his bachelor of science degree in entomology from UC Davis in spring 1977 and who then joined the School of Biological Sciences faculty at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang. He retired after 36 years of service, but continues to supervise mosquito research.
"He has wide experience in the Old World tropics, especially with mosquitoes in Malaysia,” Cranston noted.
When contacted by email, Professor Ahmad said: “UC Davis made me a good entomologist.” (The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is ranked as one of the top 10 entomology departments in the world, according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.)
Ahmad especially remembers Professors Robert Washino and Robbin Thorp and Thorp's teaching assistant/graduate student Lynn Siri (now Professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology).
And they remember him.
“I do remember,” Kimsey said. “Boy, that was a long time ago.”
"Yes, I remember Abu,” said Thorp, who retired in 1994 after 30 years of service. Now a distinguished emeritus professor, he continues his research and public service activities. “Makes one feel older when one learns about former students retiring.”
Said Washino: "This makes me feel old!"
The International Conference on Natural Resources in the Tropics took place at a city with a “transformed landscape of oil palm plantations (replacing a rain forest)," said Cranston, who in addition to being an emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis is an an honorary professor at Australian National University, Canberra. "Entomology was modestly represented at the meeting, although living palm weevil larvae were available in the local produce market--and soon to be available in Southern California farmers' markets?--as well as many indigenous fruits covered with mealybugs.”
The conference included a presentation on “the food of swiftlets that are the source of birds' nest soup” and then the conversation turned to entomologists. A question arose: "How many of you here are entomologists?"
One was Professor Abu Hassan Ahmad.
Over dinner, the Cranston/Gullan/Ahmad trio reminisced about UC Davis. Ahmad shared his memories of his UC Davis professors in the mid-1970s, recalling lectures by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp and legendary mosquito expert Robert Washino, now emeritus professor and a longtime former chair of the department.
“Abu enthused about the dozen or more entomological courses he took, but knew that such a diverse range --and most of those who taught them--were no longer extant," Cranston related. “We heard also of the strength of a Davis Alumni chapter in Malaysia – the more than 70 members include two vice chancellors in agriculture-orientated national universities. Professor Ahmad has been responsible for training entomologists at undergraduate and graduate level across much of Asia and always uses a contemporary textbook from us.”
That textbook: The Insects: An Outline of Entomology.”
Cranston and Gullan, who retired from UC Davis in 2010, finished the fifth edition in 2014. It is considered the gold standard of textbooks.
Following their retirement, the couple returned home to Canberra, the capital city of Australia. "Actually we are back in the house we did not sell when we left for California,” Cranston said. "We purchased a rural place where we spend much time--natural vegetation and a small but productive vegetable patch.”
Another Davis connection at the meeting was retired professor and renowned Thysanoptera (thrips) expert Laurence Mound, who also lives in Canberra. “He encouraged the Borneans to study their thrips, in like manner to his advocacy in Davis some time ago,” Cranston related.
Mound worked as “keeper of entomology, deputy chief scientific officer,” at the Natural History Museum in London from 1981 to 1992 and then accepted a two-year research contract from the British Museum of Natural History on central American Thysanoptera. In 1994, he moved to Australia where he serves as Honorary Research Fellow, CSIRO Division of Entomology, Canberra.
Four renowned entomologists at the International Conference on Natural Resources in the Tropics with links to UC Davis! A veritable who's who of entomology: systematic entomologists Peter Cranston and Penny Gullan, mosquito expert Abu Hassan Ahmad and thrips authority Laurence Mound.