- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
This is the third consecutive year that a UC Davis graduate student has won the prestigious award, the highest student award given by PBESA. Kelly Hamby of the Frank Zalom lab, won it in 2013; and Matan Shelomi, a graduate student in the Lynn Kimsey lab, Bohart Museum of Entomology, won it in 2012.
Aghaee, a fifth year Ph.D. candidate working on rice water weevil management in California rice, will receive the award at PBESA's 99th annual meeting, set April 12-15 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and will present a talk on the rice water weevil, Lissorhoptrus oryzophilus. He will be among the six Comstock recipients, all winners from their individual branches, honored at the national ESA meeting, Nov. 15-18, 2015 in Minneapolis, Minn.
The Pacific Branch of ESA encompasses 11 U.S. states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming); several U.S. territories, including American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands; and parts of Canada and Mexico.
“Mohammad took on a very difficult project for his dissertation research,” said Extension entomologist Larry Godfrey, who nominated Aghaee for the award. “His project deals with the most important invertebrate pest of rice in California, the rice water weevil. The challenges arose not only from working in the rice system--wading through mud for hours--but also from working with this insect that cannot be reared in the laboratory and which has one generation per year. Therefore, all the field studies had to be conducted within the short window of time each year.”
Aghaee received his bachelor's degree in environmental sciences, genetics and plant biology in 2010 from UC Berkeley, with high distinction. He obtained his master's degree in entomology from UC Davis in 2012, and expects to receive his doctorate in December 2015.
Aghaee fostered his interest in entomology through his employment as an undergraduate research assistant at UC Berkeley in the lab of aquatic entomologist Vincent Resh. Aghaee also traces his interest in entomology and pest management to his family's large garden, where they grew vegetables and fruits.
When he joined the Godfrey lab, Aghaee was awarded the competitive UC Davis Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship. His other honors include the William and Kathleen Golden International Agriculture Fellowship, and vegetation management award and a field studies scholarship. He teaches or serves as a teaching assistant for entomology classes and is a past president of the Entomology Graduate Student Association.
“Mohammad has a passion for public speaking and debating stemming from his involvement in the Berkeley Model Nations Alumni Association, starting in 2006, which organized crisis simulations for high school students around important political events,” Godfrey said.
Aghaee and Godfrey recently published an open-access article appearing in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management that discusses the rice water weevil's life history and invasion biology, as well as management strategies and future directions of research. They told the story of the weevil since it was first identified as a pest in 1881 by C. V. Riley and L. O. Howard. They then discussed reasons why it has been able to spread so rapidly — up to 36 kilometers per year in some cases — which is partly because of its ability to reproduce asexually.
“This invasive ability is aided by a particular and peculiar aspect of this weevil's biology, the fact that a small percentage of the population in its native range reproduces by parthenogenesis,” they wrote.
The most harmful insect pest of rice in the United States, it causes yield losses of up to 25 percent. Adults inflict damage by consuming leaf tissue, and the larvae feed on the roots of rice plants. A native of the southeastern U.S., the rice water weevil invaded Japan in 1976, Korea in 1980, China in 1988, and Italy in 2004.
Aghaee maintains secondary interests in post-Renaissance European history and contemporary Middle Eastern politics. He explores some of these themes in his freshman seminar titled "Bugs, Germs, and Steel: A History of Entomology in Warfare" where he and his colleagues teach students how basic scientific research and ecology has influenced human conflicts and technological progress. Outside of entomology, his leisure activities include oil painting, language acquisition, and culinary specialization in Persian and Indo-Pakistani cuisines.
The Comstock award memorializes John Henry Comstock (1849-1931), an American entomologist, researcher and educator known for his studies of scale insects and butterflies and moths, which provided the basis for systematic classification. Comstock was a member of the faculty of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., for most of his career, except for his service as a chief entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1879-81).
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