"Ants are the most successful group of social insects on the Earth," says Branstetter, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. and a UC DAvis alumnus. "They occur in almost all terrestrial habitats and are often numerically dominant and ecologically important. Furthermore, ants are diverse. There are likely to be more than 20,000 species worldwide and among these species there is a staggering amount of morphological and behavioral variation."
"It's not just the red ant and black ant. Some species are predatory and have large trap-jaw mandibles. Some are farmers, growing fungus gardens inside their nests. Some are parasites of other ant species, living in host nests and taking advantage of a tricked worker force. And some have huge migrating colonies that go on massive raids to collect food. The list goes on..."
Branstetter is also intrigued by the diversity and is devoted to discovering and describing species and behaviors. "Most of my work focuses on using morphology and genetic data to determine what species are, but I also spend lots of time in the field making direct observations about behavior and ecology."
Branstetter, who received his doctorate in entomology in June 2012 from UC Davis (major professor Phil Ward), will speak on ”Uncovering the Origins of a Middle American Ant Radiation: Insights from Natural History, Biogeography and Molecular Data” from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 16 in Room 1022 of the Life Sciences Addition, corner of Hutchison and Kleiber Hall drive. His seminar will double as his exit seminar.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Branstetter grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich. "It was not until I entered college at The Evergreen State College in Washington state that I became interested in science and eventually entomology," he says. His passion for entomology ignited in a class on "Insects and Plants of Washington" taught by Jack Longino.
That prompted Branstetter to specialize in myrmecology, the scientific study of ants.
He was hooked. Next: Graduate school at UC Davis.
The ants (genus Stenamma) that Branstetter studies are "special because they are an example of a group that originated in the temperate zone and later dispersed into the tropics. Within the tropics they have radiated in mid- to high-elevation wet forests, sometimes becoming the most dominant ant. This is in contrast to most other ants, which usually peak in diversity and abundance in the lowlands."
"It is my hope that studying Stenamma diversity and ecology will yield insights into the factors that have helped ants become so successful," Branstetter says. "Also, the genus has many undescribed species in Middle America. Describing these species and making identification keys will allow others, such as ecologists or conservation biologists, to identify them in their work. Of particular importance are the montane species, which may be in danger of extinction due to climate change."
If you miss Branstetter's seminar, not to worry. It will be recorded for later viewing on UCTV.
At first glance, we thought "Strawberry blossoms!"
Not strawberries, though.
The white-floral ground cover at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park is Sutera cordata or bacopa, as identified by Missy Gable, program manager of the California Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of California, Davis.
As historians know, the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park was the site of the state capital back in 1853-1854. Then Sacramento claimed the title.
And bacopa? "I’ve used bacopa quite a bit in hanging baskets but have honestly never tried it in the landscape," Gable said. "It’s a pretty short lived perennial and in my experience dies at the first frost BUT it’s an awesome bloomer!"
That it is. We spotted the bacopa the first day of the year. It was a lukewarm 55 degrees in Benicia but the honey bees were out, out of their dark hives and into the sunlight to start gathering nectar and pollen for their colony.
Interestingly enough, both the honey bee and bacopa are natives of Africa. European colonists brought the honey bee to what is now the United States in 1622 (to the Jamestown colony, Va.)
Honey bees did not arrive in California until 1853 (the same year that Benicia claimed the state capital). California's first beekeeper, Christopher A. Shelton, established a 12-colony apiary just north of San Jose. According to the UC ANR book, Beekeeping in California, authored primarily by UC Davis bee scientists: "Of the 12, only one survived, but it cast three swarms that summer and by 1858 there were at least 150 colonies directly descended from the Shelton hive."
Bacopa could be another suitable plant for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee friendly garden that doubles as demonstration garden on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. Missy Gable plays a key role in making the garden as beautiful as it is.
Meanwhile it's Benicia, bees and bacopa! And awesome bloomer!
An international research team has been researching honey bee pollination of almonds in the three-county area of Yolo, Colusa and Stanislaus since 2008, and what these scientists have discovered is astounding.
The bottom line: Honey bees are more effective at pollinating almonds when other species of bees are present.
The research, “Synergistic Effects of Non-Apis Bees and Honey Bees for Pollination Services,”published in the Jan. 9th edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society, could prove invaluable in increasing the pollination effectiveness of honey bees, as demand for their pollination service grows.
So when honey bees are foraging with blue orchard bees and wild bees (such as bumble bees and carpenter bees), the honey bee behavior changes, resulting in more effective crop pollination, says lead author Claire Brittain, a former post-doctoral fellow from Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany and now associated with the Neal Williams lab at the University of California, Davis.
“These findings highlight the importance of conserving pollinators and the natural habitats they rely on,” Brittain says. “Not only can they play an important direct role in crop pollination, but we also show that they can improve the pollination service of honey bees in almonds.”
Where did this project originate? In the UC Berkeley lab of conservation biologist/professor Claire Kremen, recipient of a MacArthur Foundation (Genius) Award. Also an associate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, Kremen works closely with the department's bee scientists at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Brittain, Kremen, Klein and pollination ecologist Neal Williams, assistant professor of entomology at UC Davis (he joined the team in 2010), co-authored the research.
“This is one of our first demonstrations on how to increase the efficiency of honey bee pollination through diversification of pollinators,” Williams said, pointing out that “With increasing demands for pollination-dependent crops globally, and continued challenges that limit the supply of honey bees, such strategies to increase pollination efficiency offer exciting potential for more sustainable pollination in the future.”
Yes. California’s almond acreage is rapidly increasing. Seems like only a few years ago it was 600,000 acres and now it totals 800,000. Each acre requires two bee hives for pollination, but honey bee-health problems have sparked new concern over pollination services.
As Kremen says: “Almond is a $3 billion industry in California. Our study shows that native bees, through their interactions with honey bees, increase the pollination efficiency of honey bees--the principal bee managed for almond pollination--and thus the amount of fruit set.”
What's next? “The project is ongoing and we plan to investigate further the mechanism behind the increased effectiveness of honey bees when other bees are present,” Brittain says. “We are also going to be looking at how to enhance floral resources for wild bees in almond orchards.”
Meanwhile, watch Professor Klein's UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar, presented in February 2010, when she lectured on “Can Wild Pollinators Contribute, Augment and Complement Almond Pollination in California." It drew widespread interest and a capacity crowd. Click on this link: https://admin.na4.acrobat.com/_a841422360/p37649788/ to hear more.
Talk about an early bloomer!
At least one almond tree was blooming in California on the first day of the year. In the Benicia State Recreation Area, to be exact.
We spotted the almond tree flowering on Jan. 1 near the entrance to the state park. The delicate white blossoms poked through a rusty fence as they were dignitaries at a meet-and-greet reception.
From the looks of the blossoms, the buds had probably opened in late December, maybe shortly after Christmas.
We're accustomed to seeing wild almond trees flowering in mid- to late January as we drive along Interstate 80, Solano County. But not this early! Jan. 1?
California's commercial almond trees usually begin blooming around Valentine's Day, Feb. 14. Our state has about 800,000 acres of almonds, each acre requires two hives for pollination. The buzzing bees are trucked here from all over the country. Indeed, California's $3 billion-almond industry--the state's largest export--is pure gold.
Meanwhile, it's too bad that there's no contest for finding the first almond tree blooming. Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolution at UC Davis, sponsors a contest for anyone collecting the first cabbage white butterfly in the three-county area of Yolo, Solano and Sacramento. The prize he offers is a pitcher of beer.
Maybe there should be beer for a bud?
There's only one thing wrong with the bucolic scenes below: no foraging bees. But there will be.
Sometimes we divide insects into "the biggest and the baddest."
Such will be the case Sunday, Jan. 13 when the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, hosts an open house from 1 to 4 p.m., in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building.
The theme: "Extreme Insects!" That's with an exclamation point because these insects are indeed extreme, meaning quite out of the ordinary.
The event is free and open to the public.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and a UC Davis professor of entomology, says "the biggest and the baddest" include:
- Greatest wingspan – the white witch moth from Central America (11 inches)
- Heaviest beetle – the African goliath beetle (2 ounces, and fist-sized)
- Loudest insect – the American cicada (108 decibels, as loud as a power saw or rock concert)
- Fastest flier – horseflies (more than 80 miles per hour)
- Most painful sting – the tarantula hawk wasp
- Deadliest insect – the house fly for vectoring more than 250 different human pathogens
- Fastest runner – the tiger beetle at 5 miles per hour
- Deadliest insect – the harvester ant, sting 3 times as toxic as honey bee venom
- Most beautiful moth – the moon moths and rainbow moths
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens and is the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum in 1946.
Bohart officials schedule weekend open houses throughout the academic year so that families and others who cannot attend on the weekdays can do so on the weekends. The Bohart’s regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The insect museum is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
The Bohart Museum also includes a gift shop where visitors can purchase t-shirts, sweatshirts, posters, insect nets, books and jewelry. A live "petting zoo" features Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas.
The Academic Surge building is located on Crocker Avenue, formerly California Drive.
The remainder of the open houses for the 2012-2013 academic year are:
Saturday, Feb. 2, 1 to 4 p.m.
Theme: "Biodiversity Museum Day"
Sunday, March 24, 1 to 4 p.m.
Theme: "Aquatic Insects"
Saturday, April 20: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Theme: UC Davis Picnic Day
Saturday, May 11, 1 to 4 p.m.
Theme: "Moth-er's Day"
Sunday, June 9, 1 to 4 p.m.
Theme: "How to Find Insects"
For further information, contact Lynn Kimsey at email@example.com or senior museum scientist Steve Heydon at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Bohart phone number: (530) 752-0493.