Bees and blister beetles, yes.
We remember writing about her work in April of 2013 when she addressed the Nor Cal Entomology Society (now folded) about her research on how blister beetle nest parasites cooperate to mimic the sex pheromone of a digger bee. She had just returned from the Mojave National Preserve, tracking the solitary bee Habropoda pallida and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus.
Fascinating research! Saul-Gershenz, who grew up in New York, studies the chemical ecology and parasite-host interactions of solitary native bees and their nest parasites across the western U. S., including the coastal sand dunes of Oregon and the Mojave Desert in south-central California.
"The solitary bee is the first native bee to emerge in the spring on the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve," she told us. “The adult beetles emerge on the dunes in the winter months at Kelso Dunes and feed exclusively on the leaves of Astragalus lentiginosus which leafs out in January."
The bee's emergence is generally synchronized with the onset of blooms of the Borrego milkvetch, which is the sole host plant of adults of the blister beetle at Kelso Dunes.
Basically, the larvae of the parasitic blister beetle produce a chemical signal or allomone, similar to that of a female bee's pheromone to lure males to the larval aggregation. The larvae attach to the male bee on contact and then transfer to the female during mating. The end result: the larvae wind up in the nest of a female bee, where they eat the nest provisions and likely the host egg.
Leslie is now Dr. Saul-Gershenz. She received her doctorate in entomology in May 2017. And on Wednesday, Oct. 18, she will share her research at her exit seminar, "Host Range Evolution of the Bee Parasite Meloe franciscanus," set from 4:10 to 5 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive.
"We report that different populations of M. franciscanus exhibit local adaptations that mimic both the behaviors and the chemical composition of the sex pheromones of locally available bee host species," she writes in her abstract. "We compared a population of M. franciscanus larvae, known as triungulins, parasitizing nests of Habropoda miserabilis (Hymenoptera: Apidae) from the coastal sand dunes of Oregon with a population parasitizing the congener H. pallida in the Mojave Desert in south-central California. We determined that M. franciscanus populations are the same species using molecular analyses.
Working in collaboration with the Neal Williams bee lab and the Steve Nadler molecular lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, she and chemical ecologist Jocelyn Millar at UC Riverside found that multiple populations of the blister beetle Meloe franciscanus are locally adapted to different bee hosts in different allopatric populations. (Professor Williams is a pollination ecologist, and Nadler is a nematologist and chair of the department.)
The UC Davis evolutionary ecologist also explored which functional traits of hosts are useful for predicting parasite host range. In another study, she brought together a dream team of bee biologists and received funding from the Bureau of Land Management to study the impact of utility-scale solar development on desert bees. This study documented that these landscapes are biologically rich, even in drought years, and contain a minimum of 114 species of bees including six undescribed species of bee.
The significance of her work?
"Our research has added to the understanding of the communication signals of bees in the genus Habropoda," she related. "We now know that they use long-chain hydrocarbons for the female sex attractant and vary the position of the double bounds in different components and vary proportions of these components to avoid cross attraction among closely related species. Parasites co-opt this communication channel to deceive male bees in the Meloe-Habropoda system.
"In our host functional trait research we show that annual host abundance and host abundance from year to year, as well as local temporal overlap are highly predictive of host range."
Results on the impact of utility-scale solar development on desert bees showed high bee species diversity in the Mojave and western Sonoran region. "This suggests the importance of careful regional planning and additional research to protect this area of significant floral and fauna biodiversity," she said.
Future plans? To continue her research.
Leslie Saul-Gershenz, recipient of numerous grants and author of a number of publications ranging from peer-reviewed papers to books, is the co-founder of the Bay Area-based SaveNature.Org and director of Research and Conservation (1988 to present). The international conservation consortium works with partners to protect ecosystems around the world.
She is also a 2004 graduate of The Bee Course, an intensive 10-day workshop sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. One of the instructors is Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, also one of her many collaborators.
Among her other current collaborators: scientists Lynn Kimsey, Neal Williams, Tom Zavortink, Rebecca Hernandez, all of UC Davis; Terry Griswold, USDA-ARS, Bee Biology Lab; Monica Geber, Cornell University; and John Ascher, National University of Singapore.
Her next presentations of her research will be at the Entomological Society of America's annual conference, "Ignite, Inspire, Innovate," scheduled Nov. 5-8 in Denver,Colo., and the California Native Plant Society Conservation Conference, scheduled Feb. 1-3, 2018 in Los Angeles.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology has booked associate professor of biology Tim Linksvayer of the University of Pennsylvania for a seminar on “Genomic Signatures of Social Evolution in Social Insects" on Wednesday, Oct. 4.
The seminar, open to all interested persons, takes place from 4:10 to 5 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive.
"Eusociality in ants, bees, wasps, and termites is a major evolutionary innovation, yet the genomic basis of sociality is largely unknown," Linksvayer says. "I will discuss recent and ongoing research in my lab focused on elucidating the genetic basis and evolution of social traits and social systems in ants and honey bees."
"We study the genetic and behavioral underpinnings of complex social systems in order to understand how these systems function and evolve," he says on his website. "We are especially interested in how social interactions affect genetic architecture and trait evolution."
Access his website and you'll see a pharaoh ant. "We use social insects, such as the pharaoh ant, as a study system because they are exemplar social systems and are also well-established models for research in social evolution, behavioral genetics, and collective behavior."
This is the second of the fall seminar series hosted by the department. The seminars began Sept. 27 and will conclude Dec. 6. Assistant professor Rachel Vannette is coordinating the seminars.
Oct. 11: (Cancelled as of Oct. 4) “Multitrophic Mediation of Plant Perception of Herbivores” by Gary Felton, Pennsylvania State University, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis
Oct. 18: Exit seminar by Leslie Saul-Gershenz, doctoral candidate, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Oct. 25:"Ecoinformatics and the Curious Case of Katydids in California Citrus" by Bodil Cass, UC Davis
Nov. 1:“Mating Distruption of Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter by Playback of Natural Vibrational Signals in Vineyard Trellis” by Rodrigo Krugner of the U.S,. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS)
Nov. 8: Exit seminar by doctoral candidate/ecologist Ash Zemenick, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Nov. 15: “Revelations from Phasmatodea Digestive Track Transcriptomics” by Matan Shelomi, National Taiwan University, who received his doctorate in entomology from the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Nov. 22: Thanksgiving week; no seminar
Nov. 29; “Ant Social Parasites Repeatedly Evolved Reproduction Isolation from Their Hosts in Sympatry” by Christian Rabeling, Arizona State University
Dec. 6: “Root Knot Nematode and Associated Pathogen Resistance” by Phil Roberts, University of Riverside
The Department of Entomology and Nematology, chaired by professor and nematologist Steve Nadler, is world renowned for its quality research, education and public service. Globally, it is ranked No. 7 by The Times Higher Educational World University Rankings for its teaching, research, international outlook and industry outcome. Its facilities include the Bohart Museum of Entomology, Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, and its mosquito research program based at UC Davis and the Kearney Agricultural Research and Center in Parlier.
Faculty are globally recognized for their expertise in insect demography, systematics and evolutionary biology of ants, pollination and community ecology, integrated pest management, insect biochemistry, molecular biology, and the systematics and evolutionary biology of nematodes. The graduate program offers master's and doctoral degrees. The teaching and research faculty includes some 40 professional entomologists and nematologists.
They buzz toward a blossom, sip nectar, and then head for another blossom. Typical, right?
But there's much more going on than you think.
It's not just the nectar that she's scented.
UC Davis community ecologist Rachel Vannette has just published a paper in New Phytologist journal that shows nectar-living microbes release scents or volatile compounds, too, and can influence a pollinator's foraging preference.
The groundbreaking research shows that nectar-inhabiting species of bacteria and fungi “can influence pollinator preference through differential volatile production,” said Vannette, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“This extends our understanding of how microbial species can differentially influence plant phenotype and species interactions through a previously overlooked mechanism,” Vannette said. “It's a novel mechanism by which the presence and species composition of the microbiome can influence pollination.”
“Broadly, our results imply that the microbiome can contribute to plant volatile phenotype,” she said. “This has implications for many plant-insect interactions.”
Their paper, titled “Nectar-inhabiting Microorganisms Influence Nectar Volatile Composition and Attractiveness to a Generalist Pollinator,” may explain in part the previous documented extreme variation floral volatiles that Robert Junker of University of Salzburg, Austria, and his team found; New Phytologist published their work in March 2017.
In their study, the Vannette team researchers first examined field flowers for the presence of nectar-inhabiting microbes, and in collaboration with co-authors Caitlin Rering and John Beck of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), Gainesville, Fla, characterized the headspace of four common fungi and bacteria in a nectar analog. Next, they used an intricate setup to quantify the antennal and behavior responses of honey bees to the chemical compounds. Finally, when they examined the scent of flowers in the field, they found that flowers which contained high densities of microorganisms also contained volatile compounds likely produced by those microbes, suggesting that microbial scent production can be detected and used by pollinators.
Although microbes commonly inhabit floral nectar, microbial species differ in volatile profiles, they found. “Honey bees detected most of the microbial volatiles or scents that we tested,” Vannette said, “and they distinguished the solutions of yeasts or bacteria based on volatiles only.” This suggests that pollinators could choose among flowers based on the microbes that inhabit those flowers.
The yeast Metschnikowia reukaufii produced the most distinctive compounds (some shared with the fruity flavors in wine) and was the most attractive of all microbes compared. This yeast is commonly found in flower nectar and is thought to hitch a ride on pollinators to travel from one flower to the next. Its scent production may help it attract pollinators, which then help the yeast disperse among flowers.
The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, provided the honey bees. More than 20 species of flowers--mostly natives--were used in the survey, including canyon delphinium or canyon larkspur (Delphinium nudicaule), sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus), salvia (Lepechinia calycina) and purple Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla). The samplings were done in the spring and early summer, when the natives are at their peak.
Co-authors of the paper are Caitlin Rering, postdoctoral fellow at USDA-ARS, Gainesville, Fla.; John Beck researcher at USDA-ARS; Griffin Hall, junior specialist in the Vannette lab; and Mitch McCartney in UC Davis Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
The USDA and USDA-ARS funded the research.
About Rachel Vannette: She joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in September of 2015 from Stanford University where she was a postdoctoral fellow.
A native of Hudsonville, Mich., Vannette received her bachelor of science degree in biology with honors at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., and her doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan, in 2011. Her dissertation was entitled “Whose Phenotype Is It Anyway? The Complex Role of Species Interactions and Resource Availability in Determining the Expression of Plant Defense Phenotype and Community Consequences.”
In her PhD research, she examined how variation in nutrient availability and plant associations with mycorrhizal fungi belowground influenced defense chemistry in milkweed plants and the performance of a specialist herbivore (Danaus plexippus). She found that resource-based tradeoffs can in part explain plant allocation to antiherbivore defense and mycorrhizal fungi. This work also describes that plant genotypes vary in their investment in defense and associations with below ground fungi.
As a Stanford University postdoctoral fellow, funded by a life sciences research fellowship, Vannette examined the community ecology of plant-associated microorganisms. Using diverse systems, she studied the assembly of microbial communities, microbial response to anthropogenic changes like habitat fragmentation, and microbial effects on plant-pollinator interactions.
The National Wildlife Research Foundation featured Vannette's research on monarchs and milkweed in its March 11, 2013 piece on “Catering to Butterfly Royalty." The article, by author Doreen Cubie, focused on Vannette's research as a graduate student at the University of Michigan. Vannette and advisor Mark Hunter studied five common species of milkweeds, the host plant for monarchs. They found that climate change may disrupt the chemistry of milkweeds, and encouraged gardeners to help the monarchs by planting more of these critical host plants./span>
Visitors at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Sunday, Sept. 24 learned how to pin and spread butterflies and moths from entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of the museum's Lepitoptera collection.
The three-hour open house, held from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane, drew more than 100 visitors.
Smith curates the 400,000-specimen (and growing) collection. The entomologist has spread the wings of more than 200,000 butterflies and moths, or about 7000 a year, since 1988. “I do most of the work at my home (Rocklin), where I spread and identify specimens and add them to the museum collection,” he said.
An associate of the Bohart Museum and a member of the Bohart Museum Society and the Lepidopterists' Society, he was named a recipient of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' "Friend of the College" award in 2015.
Smith covered several topics: labeling, relaxing dry specimens and spreading.
- Place the label next to the specimen as soon as it is spread
- Use Calibri (body) font size 3.5 to minimize paper
- Use good paper, acid free, a bright white premium
To relax dry specimens, he recommends:
- Use large plastic tub, such as Rubbermaid, Tupperware
- Place 3/4 inch of coarse kitty litter in bottom, sloppy wet with water
- Use a round piece of polyethylene foam on top of the kitty litter to place specimens on
- To prevent mold, use a few crystals of chloro-cresol on poly foam (available from BioQuip Products)
- Specimens are usually relaxed within two to three days.
On spreading, he offered these tips:
- Have a variety of spreading boards with various gaps for different body sizes
- Use wax paper on top
- Use long (1.5 inches) big-headed pins
- Obtain insect pins--most often size #2 (#3 for large bodies, #0 for very small moths) from BioQuip Products or from the Bohart Museum store
- Place specimens on pin about 5/16" from the head (width of the top of the forceps) and make sure this is perpendicular both side to side, and front to back
- Pull forewing up so the bottom edge of the wing, just past horizontal
- Pull up hindwings appropriately
- Place big-headed pins AROUND the edge of the wing through the wax paper
- Support the body of a fresh specimen with 2 pins
- Move the antennae so they are parallel with the leading edge of the forewing
- Some kinds of Lepidoptera (skippers and sphinx moths in particular) may require a #3 insect pin through the wing at a major vein near the top of the wing to prevent the wing from slipping later
- If possible, leave specimens on the spreading board for up to three to weeks to ensure that they are completely dry
It's not easy to pin a butterfly. Just ask research entomologist Tom Zavortink, a Bohart Museum associate who told us: "Personally, I am astounded by the thousands upon thousands of butterflies and moths that Jeff has prepared for display or scientific study. This is no small task because butterfly and moth specimens are usually brought from the field in envelopes or boxes with their wings folded over their backs or around their bodies, and preparing them for display or scientific study involves relaxing them in a humid chamber so their wings and legs can be manipulated, carefully spreading open the wings, positioning them on a flat surface, and securing them in that position until the specimen dries again. This is an onerous task that many entomologists, myself included, shun because we don't have the time, manual dexterity, or patience it takes to prepare quality specimens."
Smith holds two bachelor's degrees from San Jose State University: one in biology and one in environmental health, both with concentrations in entomology. In between degrees, he served four years in the Air Force as a ground crew chief on B-52s and KC-135s. The Air Force awarded him the master crew chief certificate. He saw duty in Thailand and Guam.
Smith also engages in woodworking, a craft he learned from his father. He has made thousands of drawers for the Bohart Museum and “about half are from scratch,” he said. They include 150 drawers from recycled redwood decking and fencing. He makes and donates spreading boards for open houses and for UC Davis Entomology Club clinics.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is a world-renowned insect museum that houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It also maintains a live “petting zoo,” featuring walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, praying mantids, and tarantulas. A gift shop, open year around, offers T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
It's not every beekeeper who can say they've owned--and used--a smoker for 70 years.
"Bee Man" Norman Gary can.
And he displayed it at the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, held recently at UC Davis.
Gary, who initiated and spearheaded the founding of WAS while a professor of apiculture at UC Davis, told the 150 conference participants that he's owned the smoker since age 13. And, holding it up, he promised that it would be auctioned off at the society's 50th conference. "But I won't be here."
Gary, 84, a resident of the Sacramento area, was introduced as a noted apiculturist, scientist, author, bee wrangler and musician. "His 70-year career with bees includes hobby and commercial beekeeping, 32 years as an entomology professor teaching apiculture at UC Davis, more than 40 years as a bee research scientist and more than 100 publications," WAS president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, told the crowd.
Mussen added that Gary wrote the popular book, Honey Bee Hobbyist; The Care and Keeping of Bees, and "he spent 40 years as a consultant and bee stunt coordinator for 17 movies, 70 TV shows and six TV commercials."
Taking the podium, Norm Gary related that he co-founded the society with Mussen, newly arrived at UC Davis in 1976 with a doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota; and postdoctoral fellow Becky Westerdahl, now an Extension nematologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Chronicling the history of WAS, Gary recalled how much he enjoyed attending the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS) meetings as a graduate student and post doc at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and thought "Why not a Western Apicultural Soicety?"
"I was a young man then," he said, "but I don't remember being young."
Gary, the oldest of five children, spent his childhood in a small, central Florida farming community known as Oak (near Ocala). Insects, especially honey bees, have fascinated him since age four.
Gary singled out four important points about honey bees "that you should all remember."
- Bees feed us. "Bees are responsible for one-third of our food supply."
- Honey bees are never "aggressive," and "don't ever use that word; bees are 'defensive' when they are defending their colonies. They defend their nest by stinging. Bees foraging for flowers--they will not sting you unless you step on one."
- "Bees do not ever, ever regurgitate. They suck up liquid nectar and it goes into a special storage chamber, not the stomach. When they get back to their hive, they unload it." In other words, honey is not vomit or barf, he emphasized.
- "Honey bees are real bees. Why do you insist on spelling 'honeybee' as one word? Honey bee is two words."
Case in Point: Honey Bee or Honey Bees? Richard Levine, former communications manager for the Entomological Society of America (ESA), said it well in a piece published in the May 6, 2014 edition of Entomology Today:
"The reason for the discrepancy is that entomologists use two words if a common name accurately describes the order to which a particular insect belongs. For example, all true flies belong to the order Diptera, so true fly names will be spelled using two words by entomologists — house fly, horse fly, pigeon fly, or stable fly, for example. However, despite their names, dragonflies and butterflies are NOT true flies — their orders are Odonata and Lepidoptera, respectively — so they are spelled as one word.
"The same goes for 'bed bug' or 'stink bug,'” both of which are true bugs in the order Hemiptera, which is why they are spelled as two words in the entomological community," Levine wrote. "However, insects that are not in the order Hemiptera, like billbugs or sowbugs, are spelled as one word.
"Likewise, honey bees and bumble bees are true bees in the order Hymenoptera, so entomologists spell them as two words, even though the dictionaries and newspapers spell them as one."
"Bee Man" Norman Gary could not agree more.
The insects he loves--the insects that have fascinated him for 70 years and counting--are "honey bees," not "honeybees."