(A) Ants, (B) Bonnie Blaimer and (C) Crematogaster.
Add a double "M" and you have a myrmecologist studying ants in Madagascar.
Bonnie Blaimer, a graduate student in entomology at the University of California, Davis, just received a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant for $13,794 to help support her doctoral dissertation research on the systematic and evolution of Malagasy ants of the genus Crematogaster in Madagascar.
Blaimer, who studies with major professor Phil Ward, a noted ant specialist, describes Crematogaster ants as "a species-rich, world-wide occurring group of ants with a notoriously difficult species-level taxonomy."
Why these ants? Blaimer said she first became interested in them when she was doing field work in Madagascar as an intern for the Cal Academy of Sciences.
“This genus fascinates me particularly because of its species diversity and dominance in tropical forests, and its intriguing natural history,” she said. “Most species are canopy-nesting in dead twigs and branches or under bark, or they make elaborate independent carton-nest from wood fibers. Some species are suspected to be temporary social parasites, and many tend scale insects or mealybugs. In short, many different aspects remain still open for investigation beyond my dissertation work!”
Blaimer, who holds a master’s degree in Forest Sciences from Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg, Germany, says she will mostly use the NSF funds to perform DNA sequencing of the Malagasy species and also a variety of species from other biogeographical regions.
"This enables me to investigate and revise species boundaries within Crematogaster in Madagascar, and to establish a framework phylogeny for the genus upon which I can explore the evolution of the genus in the Malagasy region. A smaller portion of the grant will further allow me to travel to Madagascar to do some outreach and education work.”
Blaimer is the co-principal investigator of the grant, titled "Aligning Ant Diversity with Conservation Priorities in a Biodiversity Hotspot: Systematics and Biogeography of the Arboreal Ant Crematogaster in Madagascar." Her major professor serves as the principal investigator.
Be sure to check out the Phil Ward lab website.
Ward welcomes visitors with:
"We are a group of myrmecologists who study the taxonomy, evolution, biogeography and behavior of ants.
"In many terrestrial habitats – especially those of the lowland tropics – ants rival other arthropods in numerical abundance, ecological importance and species richness. Our research is concerned with unraveling details about the evolutionary history of ants and attempting to understand the processes that have generated such an extraordinary diversity of form and function. This work entails both species-level taxonomy and analyses of phylogenetic relationships.
"Visit our research pages to learn more about current projects."
And for amazing photos of ants, check out the websites of University of Illinois biologist-insect photographer Alex Wild, former graduate student of Phil Ward's. Wild maintains http://myrmecos.net/ and http://www.alexanderwild.com/.
Dingle, an emeritus professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, recently returned to Davis after living in Australia for seven years and doing research at the University of Brisbane, Australia.
One: He's writing the second edition of his popular textbook, Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move (Oxford University Press).
Two: He's delivering lectures at UC Davis.
Three: He's granted interviews for such publications as National Geographic and LiveScience.
And, four....he continues to chase soapberry bugs.
Next? Hugh Dingle will lecture on "Crossing Taxonomic Lines to Study of Migratory Patterns,” at 1:30 p.m., Friday, March 4 in 113 Hoagland Hall (note: this is a change from the initial location).
It's the last of a nine-part series on "Frontiers in Physiology" hosted by the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. It will be podcast and archived on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
The underlying theme of Dingle's research is to understand relationships between migration and evolution of life histories. One of his many studies has focused on the rapid, contemporary evolution of the soapberry bug, Jadera hematoloma, and an introduced host plant, the golden raintree, Koelreuteria paniculata.
“Selection experiments were designed to determine genetic relationships across evolving traits (anatomical structures) required for feeding and flight, both necessary for migration,” according to a spokesperson for Frontiers in Physiology. “Dingle stands alone in his interests and academic pursuits of understanding the comparative biology of migration.”
Dingle's work drew international, national and regional attention last November.
He was featured in the National Geographic magazine's cover story, "Mysteries of Great Migrations."
He was quoted in a LiveScience news story on “Why Do Animals Migrate?”
And also in November, Dingle lectured on "And the Beak Shall Inherit: Contemporary Local and Reverse Evolution in Morphology and Life History in American and Australian Soapberry Bugs" at a UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar. You can view his webcast linked on this page.
Seems that a portion of Dingle's book title, "...Life on the Move," fits him well, too.
Cool temperatures and honey bees do not a good team make.
Since honey bees don't forage until temperatures hit 50 to 55 degrees, we haven't seen many bees gathering pollen from our nectarine trees.
If you love nectarines, there's a lot to love. California boasts some 29,300 bearing acres of nectarines, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's down slightly from the 30,300 acres tallied in 2009.
Although acreage is down, yields are up. The 2010 crop totaled 8.03 tons, up slightly from the 7.25 tons harvested in 2009.
Meanwhile, pollen-packin' honey bees turned out in force last Sunday to forage on the pink blossoms of our two nectarine trees.
It's not just honey bees that forage among the cape mallows in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis.
The brilliant magenta flowers also draw assorted other insects.
Such as flies...hover flies.
Last weekend, before the rains hit, we spotted a lone hover fly, aka flower fly, visiting the cape mallow.
The cape mallow (Anisodontea hypomadarum), a native of South Africa, is not an earlier bloomer or a late bloomer--it's a year-around bloomer. It's an evergreen shrub that holds its own.
And honey bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees, sweat bees, hover flies, butterflies, praying mantids and assorted other insects...
No thanks to the recent storms, almond orchards are encountering Nature's Extreme Makeover--from fluffy popcorn blossoms to tattered petals reminiscent of bottom-of-the-bag kernels.
Still, there's something spectacular about driving down a rural road in Dixon, Calif., and encountering rows and rows of almond trees.
Look a little closer and you'll see the bee hives. (It takes two hives per acre to pollinate California's 750,000 acres of almonds.)
Look a little closer and you'll catch a bee in the act of pollinating.
Today the cold temperature, plodding rain and incessant wind kept the bees clustered inside their hives.