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Of Medflies and Light Brown Apple Moths

James R. Carey
Congratulations to James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology for his public service award! He has just been named a recipient of a Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award from the UC Davis Academic Senate for his "outstanding research, outreach and advocacy program involving invasion biology, specifically his significant contributions on two California insect pest invaders, the Mediterranean Fruit Fly (medfly) and the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM)."

Carey's public service led to much-needed in-depth discussions and greater understanding of these two agricultural pests; saved California millions in cancelled ineffective programs; and focused national and worldwide attention on how to deal with invasive pests.

An internationally recognized leader and distinguished scholar in invasion biology spanning three decades, Carey launched an informed, concerted and widespread effort to reveal the science about the invaders that threaten California's $43.5 billion agricultural industry. His well-documented research in basic and applied aspects of invasion biology shows that these pests are established and cannot be eradicated. They continue to spread, despite more than 30 years of intervention and nearly 300 state-sponsored eradication programs.

Adult male light brown apple moth, Epiphyas postvittana. (Photo by David Williams, State of Victoria Department of Primary Industries.)
Carey has published his research in major journals, served on the governor-appointed California Medfly Science Advisory Panel, testified before the U.S. Congress and California state legislators and to other government entities; held workshops with citizenry; developed and disseminated information; and granted more than 200 interviews with major print and electronic news media, including the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Science. Carey drew state, national and international attention with his groundbreaking paper documenting medfly establishment in California in a 1991 edition of Science, and more recently, with the LBAM invasion.

Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata. (UC ANR Photo by Jack Kelly Clark)
Carey  is a fellow of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Gerontological Society of America, the California Academy of Sciences.

Highly honored by his peers, Carey received the 2014 C. W. Woodworth Award, the highest award given by the Pacific Branch of ESA, and a 2014 Academic Senate Undergraduate Teaching Award. He was selected a plenary speaker for ICE 2016, the XXV International Congress of Entomology, to meet Sept. 25-30, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. 

His past public service includes chair of the University of California Systemwide Committee on Research Policy; member of the systemwide UC Academic Council; and vice chair of his department. He presently serves as the associate editor of three journals: Genus, Aging Cell, and Demographic Research.

(Read more about his work here.)

 Some comments about his work:

  • Vice Provost and Dean Robert E. Page Jr. of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University, describes Dr. Carey as “one of the most active, intelligent, diligent, curious, attentive, creative and passionate scientists not only on the UC Davis campus, but nationally and globally.”

  • Nan Wishner of the California Environmental Health Initiative, says “Jim provided not only his own scientific expertise but supported and assisted us in researching relevant scientific information on the behavior of and actual threat posed by the apple moth and other pests, the potential strategies for addressing pests, and the fundamental scientific principles underlying choices of policies and practices.” She describes him as “a tireless advocate for the involvement and engagement of the public affected by agency pest management decisions.”

  • Sandra Ross, executive director of Health & Habitat, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing, implementing and promoting a holistic approach to life, health, and the environment, says that Carey used his expertise to show that these pest eradication programs did not work, and provided accurate information so informed decisions could be made. “He is especially good at interacting with the lay public, and explaining the situation in terms they can understand. He does this even if his critique of a program may earn him the displeasure of an agency, and could jeopardize future funding for one of his projects.”

UC Davis Distinguished Professor James R. Carey with some of the maps he used in his research. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
UC Davis Distinguished Professor James R. Carey with some of the maps he used in his research. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

UC Davis Distinguished Professor James R. Carey with some of the maps he used in his research. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, March 5, 2015 at 5:15 PM

Glassy-winged sharpshooter spotted in Marin

An adult female glassy-winged sharpshooter with eggs laid on a leaf.
Marin County agricultural inspectors spotted and captured an adult female glassy-winged sharpshooter in a shipment of plants from Southern California at a local nursery, reported Richard Halstead in the Marin Independent Journal. GWSS is able to spread a deadly plant disease pathogen that affects grapes - Pierce's disease - and diseases of other plants.

The plants were immediately sent back to Ventura County, one of seven Southern California counties where the pest is established.

"They should be more careful down south," said Lucia Varela, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Cooperative Extension entomologist. She said plant material shipped from counties with sharpshooter infestations are supposed to be inspected at its point of origin and at the destination.

"This is an extremely serious insect pest we need to continue to keep out of Marin County and the Bay Area," said Marin Agricultural Commissioner Stacy Carlsen in a statement released by the County of Marin. "The potential damage to our landscape plants, gardens and environment is significant."

The county news release refers the public to the UC ANR resources on glassy-winged sharpshooter in its Statewide Integrated Pest Management database.

Posted on Thursday, March 5, 2015 at 10:05 AM

Come for the Flowers, Stay for the Bugs

If you're going to the UC Davis Arboretum Member Appreciation Plant Sale, set Saturday, March 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive, you'll be in plant heaven.

You'll see drought-tolerant plants, plants perfect for your pollinators, and the Arboretum All-Stars. The All-Stars are the Oscars of your garden. They're like Academy Awards. The horticultural staff selected some 100 plants that are  "easy to grow, don't need a lot of water, have few problems with pests or diseases, and have outstanding qualities in the garden. Many of them are California native plants and support native birds and insects. Most All-Star plants can be successfully planted and grown throughout California."

The teaching nursery is stocked with more than 14,000 plants of almost 400 varieties. Eighty-percent were grown on site. (Download this PDF to access the inventory.)

It's a members' only sale, but anyone can become a member at the door. The staff asks that you BYOC or BYOB. That's Bring Your Own Cart or Bring Your Own Box. A limited number of carts is available. 

While there, be sure to check out the permanent garden art that graces the teaching nursery. You'll see artistic bugs created by UC Davis students under the tutelage, encouragement and inspiration of the Ullman/Billick duo. That would be entomologist/artist Diane Ullman, professor of entomology at UC Davis, and self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick (who has a bachelor's degree in genetics). They co-founded and co-directed the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. The resulting ceramic-mosaic art is a treasure trove, not only in the Arboretum teaching nursery, but throughout the campus and downtown Davis and beyond. It's a living legacy of what can be done when art is fused with science, and when science is fused with art.

Want more information on the plant sale and/or upcoming sales? Phone (530) 752-4880 or email

A honey bee foraging on a redbud, Cercis canadensis, at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee foraging on a redbud, Cercis canadensis, at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee foraging on a redbud, Cercis canadensis, at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This bug will greet you in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This bug will greet you in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This bug will greet you in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Buggy eyes, long antennae and a colorful body characterize this garden art in the UC Davis Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Buggy eyes, long antennae and a colorful body characterize this garden art in the UC Davis Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Buggy eyes, long antennae and a colorful body characterize this garden art in the UC Davis Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An Oregon grape, Berberis aquifolium, glows in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An Oregon grape, Berberis aquifolium, glows in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An Oregon grape, Berberis aquifolium, glows in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 5:53 PM

The Silence of the Cicadas

A "mute" cicada. (PLOS ONE journal)
If you've ever been around cicadas, you know how loud they can be. How loud are they? They are so loud--up to 120 decibels--that many tender-eared folks would like to cite them for "disturbing the peace."

All the more reason to appreciate what Christian Nansen, agricultural entomologist at the University of California, Davis, and two of his colleagues just did.

Nansen and Changquing Luo and Cong Wei, both from China's Northwest A&F University, just published their research on the so-called "mute" cicadas. Are they really mute? If so, how do they communicate and attract mates?

Their work, “How Do ‘Mute' Cicadas Produce their Calling Songs?”, appears in the Feb. 25th edition of PLOS ONE, an open access peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science.

Cicadas in the genus Karenia lack the specialized sound-producing structures that characterize most cicadas, says  Nansen, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. They have no tymbal mechanism.

But they are not mute.  “They do indeed produce sounds,” he says.

In ground-breaking research, the scientists discovered a new sound-production mechanism in Karenia caelatata, which produces impact sounds by banging the forewing costa against the operculum. It's somewhat like beating a drum while other cicada species with tymbal mechanisms play an orchestra of diverse and loud sounds.

“As part of quantifying species' differences in behavior, we used hyperspectral imaging of forewing costae and demonstrated that high-spectral resolution imaging can reveal distinct patterns, such as difference between mute and normal cicadas,” Nansen explained. “So application of such imaging technologies may become a ‘bridge' between in-depth field behavioral research and detailed physiology and histology (structural studies) of insect body parts.”

In their publication, the researchers described the temporal, frequency and amplitude of the sound produced. They also posted the sound on YouTube,

 “Morphological studies and reflectance-based analyses reveal that the structures involved in sound production of K. caelatata (i.e., forewing, operculum, cruciform elevation, and wing-holding groove on scutellum) are all morphologically modified,” they wrote. “Acoustic playback experiments and behavioral observations suggest that the impact sounds of K. caelatataare used in intraspe­cific communication and function as calling songs.” 

“The new sound-production mechanism expands our knowledge on the diversity of acoustic signaling behavior in cicadas and fur­ther underscores the need for more bioacoustic studies on cicadas which lack tymbal mechanism,” they concluded in their abstract. 

Cicadas, also known as “tree crickets” (from Latin cicada), are among the most widely recognized of insects due to their large size (usually 2 to 5 centimeters or more) and loud sound. They live in warm climates, from temperate to tropical. Immature cicadas spend most of their lives sucking juice from tree roots. The adults suck plant juices from stems.

The best-known North American genus, Magicicada, has a long life cycle of 13 or 17 years and emerges in great numbers.

Nansen joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in January. He is focusing on four major themes: host plant stress detection, host selection by arthropods, pesticide performance, and use of reflectance-based imaging in a wide range of research applications.

Already he is using his international expertise to zero in on more sustainable farming systems, better food production and fewer pesticides.

“The agricultural sector in California is so exciting, because of its diversity and economic importance,” said Nansen, whose agricultural entomology expertise encompasses seven countries including his native Denmark. “Secondly, there is a strong spirit of innovation in this region, and I hope to contribute to the development of highly advanced crop monitoring systems and decision support tools, so that farming practices can become less reliant on pesticides.”

“I also believe that the strong academic programs at UC Davis with ecology and evolution are of incredible value, and that we can integrate the basic theory from these disciplines into the fundamental of crop management to obtain more sustainable farming systems,” Nansen said. “As an example of a line of research I am interested in – application of fertilizers obviously affect crop growth, but they also affect the attractiveness of crops to many insect pests, and they influence the ability of plants to resist attacks by several important insect pests.”

“So, how can we optimize use of crop fertilizers to stimulate yields but also minimize risks of pest infestations? The answer to such a question is underpinned by in-depth understanding about host selection ecology and about fitness and evolutionary processes involved in host adaptation. In other words, it is critically important to demonstrate how we can use studies of agricultural systems to learn about the ecology of species and their food webs and evolutionary processes.”

Born and educated in Denmark, Nansen received his master's degree in biology from the University of Copenhagen in 1995 and his doctorate in zoology from the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark in 2000. He accepted positions in Portugal, Benin, United States, UK and Australia before coming to UC Davis. His international experience also includes being an international exchange student at the University of Lisbon, Portugal and a visiting professor at Northwest A&F University, Yangling, China.

As part of his undergraduate studies, Nansen took time off to travel to Brazil to write a book about sustainable agriculture in rainforest areas. “In this process, I learned about the potential of honey bees as both pollinators of crops but also as ‘promoters' more broadly of sustainable agricultural development,” Nansen said.

Nansen wrote his master's thesis on honey bees: “The Apis mellifera Forging Response to the Pollen Availability in Cistus salvifolius.” The plant isalso known as a sage-leaved rock rose or Gallipoli rose. He conducted field work in Portugal involving pollen identification, observations on daily flight and foraging activity, and modeling of pollen availability.

For his doctorate, his interest turned to the larger grain borer, a serious pest of stored maize and dried cassava roots. He wrote his dissertation on “The Spatial Distribution and Potential Hosts of the Larger Grain Borer, Prostephanus truncatus (Horn) (Coleoptera: Bostrichidae), in a forest in Benin, West Africa.” His research involved stored product insect ecology, field trapping with pheromone traps, experimental work on pheromone production, vegetation analysis, satellite image interpretation, laboratory infestation of potential breeding substrates, and histological studies.

“Agricultural entomology has given me so many opportunities to travel and work internationally, and that has been extremely rewarding,” he said. “I am passionate about food production and how to produce food ‘smartly' – so that it is profitable and also environmentally sustainable. And insects are critically important in manipulated food webs, such as, a crop field, forest, orchard, or horticultural greenhouse. I enjoy studying their ecological roles in these systems and how we can use that information to develop smarter ways to produce food.”

Read more about Nansen and his work on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website and on his faculty website.

A "mute" cicada, Karenia caelatata. (Photo by Christian Nansen)

A "mute" cicada, Karenia caelatata. (Photo by Christian Nansen)

Agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at 6:14 PM

Edible Landscaping


Edible Landscaping

By Nancy Hartwick  UCCE Master Gardener


I would like to grow some of my own food, but do not have room in my yard for a vegetable garden.                                      Jill, Los Osos


Consider working food plants into your regular landscaping, which can be challenging, but rewarding.  The major needs of all plants: adequate sun, water and fertilizer may be different for food plants than for landscape plants.

So first, look around for areas in your yard with good sun exposure. A minimum of 6 hours per day is needed for vegetables. There may be a seasonal variation of shade and the sun's angle. But that's OK because most vegetables last only one season and you will be replanting at different times of year.

Bear in mind the water needs of your landscape plants. If they are drought tolerant, you will have to practice hydro-zoning and place your food plants so watering them will not harm other plants. If your yard has a slope, you can plant water-lovers at a lower elevation so the water will drain away from the water-haters.

Vegetables require more nutrients and richer soil. You can accomplish this by amending the soil by adding 3o% compost. Thoroughly mix to a depth of 6 inches to two feet.  This will help retain both nutrients and moisture. Then add a nitrogen fertilizer, slow release is best.

Fruit trees grow well near a south facing wall. Smaller or dwarf varieties are available for some fruits. Plant them where fruit drop will not cause problems near driveways or walks and be mindful of how chemical sprays for the fruit tree may damage nearby plants.

You may also vary the location of your plantings by incorporating trellised vines, hanging baskets or other containers. This will minimize the amount of yard space required and give you more creative planting options.

Pest control can be more important with food plants than with landscape plants. The concern goes beyond esthetics here. You don't want worms eating your tomatoes, but you must avoid using toxic substances on food plants. Always read the labels and follow the instructions carefully.

And lastly, have fun by mixing textures and colors to create a visually pleasant effect.

Next week we will discuss planting spring vegetables.



Posted on Monday, March 2, 2015 at 7:04 PM

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