- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Wargin, to receive her bachelor's degree in entomology in June (she is minoring in ecology and comparative literature), holds a near straight-A grade point average. Plans to present the awards are pending due to coronavirus pandemic precautions.
Wargin is a member of the highly competitive Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), founded and co-directed by faculty members Jay Rosenheim, Joanna Chiu and Louie Yang of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. As part of RSPIB, Wargin joined the lab of Stacey Combes, associate professor, Department of Neurology, Physiology, and Behavior, to research the biomechanics and behavioral ecology of flying insects.
Combes described her as “one of the most promising undergraduates I have ever worked with in terms of her potential for research and a career in academia.”
Academic advisor Sharon Lawler, professor of entomology, praised Wargin's academic record, zeal and communication skills. “She is an extraordinarily talented and hard-working scholar. Her achievements and clear research focus promise early and extended success.”
For the past year, Wargin has been working on an experiment investigating the effects of changing barometric pressure on bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) foraging behavior. She presented the preliminary results at the 2020 annual meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology in January.
As part of her research, Wargin built a device to “experimentally control pressure using a plexiglass box, which could hold an entire hive of bees and a nectar source, a solenoid valve system connected to an air source and vacuum, and a variety of cameras to record behavior.”
“I subjected the hive inside the box to two pressure regimes in my preliminary trial: increasing pressure and decreasing pressure,” Wargin said. “With the cameras, I captured images of individually tagged worker bees leaving and returning to the hive during foraging, as well as videos of the inside of the nest to observe overall activity.”
“Currently, I have completed a preliminary trial of this experiment,” the UC Davis senior said. “I am now refining the methodology and working out a few issues I had with data collection in order to streamline future trials and improve the scope of the data I collect. While I don't have enough data for publishable results, I have discovered from my preliminary trial that pressure does appear to have some effect on bumble bee foraging behavior. Specifically, when the pressure is decreasing, the bees tend to be more active; they go on more foraging trips and are slightly busier inside the nest. When the pandemic has calmed down a bit and I am able to return to lab, I hope to complete a few more trials and publish the results.”
“Last spring, Annaliese and I began discussing ideas for an independent research project for her to conduct during her senior year,” Combes said. “She became excited about the idea of experimentally testing the effects of barometric pressure changes (which often precede storms and other changes in weather) on bumble bee foraging and nest care behavior. Anecdotal accounts of the effects of pressure changes on bees and other animals abound, but experiments have rarely been performed on this topic in a controlled setting – partly because it's not entirely straightforward how to design a system that allows one to control and alter barometric pressure. “
“However, Annaliese dove right into this challenge and set about designing a custom-built, air-tight enclosure to house a colony of bees and their foraging chamber,” Combes said. “She spent several months constructing this system--researching and ordering proportional solenoid valves to precisely control inflow and outflow from the chamber (to alter pressure) and designing camera systems to automatically capture videos of in-hive behavior as well as motion-activated photographs of individual foragers that she marked with QR-code tags. Annaliese succeeded in producing a system to test her questions and conducted a preliminary experiment over several weeks on one hive this summer. The results are very promising, and we plan to follow up with several more experiments on additional hives this year.
Said Combes: “Annaliese's creativity in research questions and approaches, her determination in designing and trouble-shooting a very difficult technical set-up, and her diligence in collecting rigorous data for hours on end have resulted in what I think will be some novel and very important findings about how a ubiquitous environmental variable affects the behavior of key pollinators. I anticipate this research resulting in a high-impact publication over the next year, with Annaliese as the lead author.”
In addition, she has “devoted herself to outreach and to sharing her extraordinary passion for insects with the general public, and especially with girls and women,” Combes said. “She has always loved insects and was initially mystified when many of her classmates (especially girls) seemed scared of these creatures.”
A native of Rancho Palos Verdes, a suburb in Los Angeles County, Annaliese developed her interest in insects in early childhood. “I spent the early years of my life in Chicago, where I had a few encounters with insects like cicadas, mantises and bees,” she related. “These experiences sparked my interest and inspired me to pursue a career that was closely connected to the natural world. I went through a few different phases when I was a teenager when it came to what I wanted to do in college, but all of them were related to the biological sciences, and I eventually decided to do what I always did--spend a lot of time looking at and learning about insects. That initial fascination with insects has since developed into a broad interest in the fields of insect behavior and insect ecology.”
As a teen-ager, Annaliese won the prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest Girl Scout honor, for her 80-hour self-led service project focused on insect outreach. She delivered several presentations to children in her community about insects and their importance to the natural world. The award honors the “dreamers and the doers who take ‘make the world a better place' to the next level, according to the Girl Scout Association.
An active member of the Entomology Club, Wargin worked with advisor Bob Kimsey and fellow members in 2018 to collect data on Alcatraz Island for the National Park Service. They surveyed old buildings for beetle damage and set up experimental trials for future data collection. In addition, Wargin served as a student researcher in the Department of Evolution and Ecology in 2019, and worked on a native pollinator project in the summer of 2017 at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy.
Wargin's seven academic scholarships include the UC Davis McBeth Memorial Scholarship, given to entomology students who plan to further their education in the field.
Her future plans? “I plan to attend graduate school and earn a PhD in insect ecology,” Wargin said. “I feel drawn to research and am excited about what I'll study in the future. “