- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
In announcing the awards, Provost Ralph Hexter noted (1) that Tatiossian’s research on the walnut twig beetle makes a significant contribution to establishing an integrated pest management plan; (2) that her manuscript, “Flight Response of the Walnut Twig Beetle, Pityophthorus juglandis, to Aggregation Pheromones Produced by Low Densities of Males”; is in preparation for submission to the Journal of Chemical Ecology; and (3) that her poster received attention at a national entomology conference for the ceramic bark beetle she sculpted.
Hexter presented awards of excellence to Brenda Marin-Rodriguez and L. Carolina Tavarez. In addition to Tatiossian, honorable mentions went to Amanda Steele, biomedical engineering; Rachel Borthwell, biological sciences and art history; and Lindsey Black, history.
A photo of Tatiossian and Black appears as the cover photo on the UC Davis Undergraduate Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/UCDavisUndergraduateEducation. Her poster, including the ceramic bark beetle she crafted, is mounted on the third floor of Briggs Hall, next to the administration office of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Tatiossian, who joined the Research Scholars Program in September 2011, graduated from UC Davis in three years (she achieved the top grade point average in entomology) and is currently working in the laboratory of Diane Ullman, professor of entomology and associate dean for undergraduate academic programs in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Among those nominating her or supporting her nomination were her mentor, chemical ecologist and forest entomologist Steve Seybold of the Davis-based Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, and an affiliate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology; professor Jay Rosenheim who co-founded and co-directs the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology; and Diane Ullman.
Rosenheim noted that Tatiossian was a member of the first cohort of undergraduates recruited to the program. “I witnessed her tremendous determination to develop independent research skills” and she “succeeded in all phases of the project, from design, data collection, data analysis and manuscript preparation.”
Among the 30 students who have entered the program since 2011, “Kristina is absolutely the standout in terms of motivation and enthusiasm for research,” Rosenheim said. “She leaped at the opportunity to learn how to become an independent researcher. Kristina will generate the first-lead authored publication for any student in our program—hopefully, the first of many. In this sense, she has already been a trailblazer for our program.”
Seybold noted that Tatiossian “worked on the host-finding behavior of a major pest of walnut trees, the walnut twig beetle. This is a nationally significant pest that spreads a disease of live trees called thousand cankers disease (TCD). The condition threatens not only the English walnuts that form the basis of the California nut industry, but also the black walnuts that represent over $500 billion in growing stock value of fine wood products in the eastern U.S.
“Kristina formulated her research project in fall 2011 and spring 2012 and then carried it out in spring and summer 2012. As she developed the project, she also applied to the Department of Entomology for a McBeth Scholarship, which she was awarded in summer 2012. The award helped her offset the costs of her research supplies and funded her travel to several scientific meetings.”
“Kristina collected a live population of the walnut twig beetle from a traditional orchard habitat in the southern Central Valley, reared the insects to the adult stage, and re-introduced the adults into freshly cut black walnut branch sections. Once the male beetles had begun producing their aggregation pheromones (attractants) in the branch sections, Kristina used the branch sections as lures to attract new males and females into flight traps. Using this basic technique she was able to establish that as few as 1 to 5 male beetles would provide a threshold of flight behavioral attraction in the field. This finding has ramifications for establishing an integrated pest management program for the walnut twig beetle nationwide.”
Tatiossian developed and displayed her poster at the 60th Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society (ESA), held Nov. 11-14, 2012 in Knoxville, Tenn. “Her poster reached a very interested target audience because Knoxville is in the heart of the distribution of eastern black walnut trees and in the center of the current distribution of TCD in the eastern U.S.,” Seybold said. “In a very creative touch, Kristina sculpted a replica of the female walnut twig beetle (through her participation in the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program) and attached the sculpture directly to her poster. This elicited quite a response at the national meeting and led to a news story released by UC Davis.”
The poster also drew attention at the arts exhibit at the 24th Annual UC Davis Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Conference, held April 26, 2013.
In addition, Tatiossian delivered an oral presentation on her research at the 97th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Branch of the ESA in South Lake Tahoe, Nev.
Her poster, now on permanent display at Briggs Hall, credits Seybold; Extension entomologist Mary Louise Flint, associate director for Urban and Community IPM, UC Statewide Integrated Pest Program; entomology graduate student Stacy Hishinuma, and postdoctoral researcher Yigen Chen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Robin Schmidt of UC Davis Molecular and Cellular Biology mounted the unusual poster with the ceramic beetle.