- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
They say good news comes in threes.
Sometimes it comes in fives!
Congrats to the five UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members for their outstanding academic achievements.
- Molecular geneticist and physiologist Joanna Chiu, vice chair of the department, was recently promoted from associate professor to full professor
- Community ecologist Louie Yang, promoted from associate professor to full professor
- Community ecologist Rachel Vannette, promoted from assistant professor to associate professor (with tenure)
- UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, honey bee scientist and educator, promoted from assistant to associate specialist
- Ecologist Richard "Rick" Karban, professor, selected to the high campus honor of UC Davis distinguished professor.
Professor Chiu, who serves as the vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, joined the faculty in 2010. She centers her research on molecular genetics of biological timing and posttranslational regulation of proteins. She uses animal models including Drosophila melanogaster and mice to study the mechanisms that regulate circadian and seasonal physiology and behavior. Major grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation fund her biological rhythms research. In addition to her research in biological rhythms, Chiu also aims to leverage her expertise in genomics to address key issues in global food security.
In 2019, Chiu was named one of 10 UC Davis Chancellor's Fellows, an honor awarded to associate professors who excel in research and teaching.
Chiu and Yang co-founded and co-direct (with Professor Jay Rosenheim) the campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, launched in 2011 to provide undergraduates with a closely mentored research experience in biology. The program crosses numerous biological fields, including population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; entomology; and cell biology. The goal is to provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research. (See more on UC Davis Department of Entomology website.)
Professor Yang, who joined the UC Davis entomology faculty in 2009, was named a UC Davis Hellman Fellow in 2012. The Hellman Family Foundation contributes funds to support and encourage the research of promising assistant professors who exhibit potential for great distinction in their research. In 2013, he received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award of $600,000.
Yang won the 2018 Outstanding Faculty Academic Advising Award from NACADA, also known as the Global Community for Academic Advising; and the 2017 Faculty Advisor Award of Excellence in NACADA's Pacific Region 9, comprised of California, Nevada and Hawaii.
Yang says of the research underway in his lab: “We study how species interactions change over time. We apply a diversity of approaches and perspectives to a diversity of systems and questions. We do experimental community ecology. We also use observational methods,meta-analysis, conceptual synthesis, ecosystem perspectives, and theoretical models. We like data, and we like learning new things.” (See more on UC Davis Department of Entomology website.)
Associate professor Vannette, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty since 2015, received a Hellman Fellowship grant in 2018 and a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award in 2019 to study microbial communities in flowers and a National Science Foundation grant to support work on solitary bee microbiomes.
Of her research, Vannette says: “All plants are colonized by microorganisms that influence plant traits and interactions with other species, including insects that consume or pollinate plants. I am interested in the basic and applied aspects of microbial contributions to the interaction between plants and insects. I also use these systems to answer basic ecological questions, such as what mechanisms influence plant biodiversity and trait evolution.”
“The Vannette lab is a team of entomologists, microbiologists, chemical ecologists, and community ecologists trying to understand how microbial communities affect plants and insects (sometimes other organisms, too),” she says. “We often study microbial communities in flowers, on insects or in soil. We rely on natural history observations, and use techniques from chemical ecology, microbial ecology and community ecology. In some cases, we study applied problems with an immediate application including pathogen control or how to support pollinators. Other questions may not have an immediate application but are nonetheless grounded in theory and will contribute to basic knowledge and conservation (e.g. how can dispersal differences among organisms affect patterns of abundance or biodiversity?)” (See more on UC Davis Department of Entomology website.)
Extension Apiculturist Niño, who joined the faculty in 2014, is known internationally for her expertise on honey bee queen biology, chemical ecology, and genomics. She maintains laboratories and offices in Briggs Hall and at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Niño serves as the UCCE Extension specialist for honey bees for all of California. She is the director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), which she launched in 2016. The California Master Beekeeper Program is a continuous train-the-trainer effort. CAMBP's vision is to train beekeepers to effectively communicate the importance of honey bees and other pollinators within their communities, serve as mentors for other beekeepers, and become the informational conduit between the beekeeping communities throughout the state and UCCE staff.
Niño is also the faculty director of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the department's half-acre educational bee garden located next to the Laidlaw facility, which serves as the outdoor classroom for the Pollinator Education Program, lovingly known as PEP. (See more on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Professor Karban, an international authority on plant communication and a 39-year member of the UC Davis entomology faculty, is now a distinguished professor, the highest campus-level faculty title.
The honor is awarded to those scholars “whose work has been internationally recognized and acclaimed and whose teaching performance is excellent.”
Karban, whose research interests include the population regulation of animal species and the interactions between herbivores and their host plants, currently focuses his research on two main projects: volatile communication between sagebrush plants that affects resistance to herbivory and factors that control the abundance and spatial distribution of wooly bear caterpillars.
Karban is the author of landmark book, Plant Sensing and Communication. He is a fellow of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the recipient of the 1990 George Mercer Award from ESA for outstanding research.
The UC Davis ecologist is featured in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker in Michael Pollan's piece, The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants. Zoe Schlanger featured him in a Nov. 21, 2020 Bloomberg Quint article titled The Botanist Daring to Ask: Do Plants Have Personalities? (See more on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Nine UC Davis Distinguished Professors
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology now has a total of nine distinguished professors: six current faculty--Bruce Hammock, Frank Zalom, Lynn Kimsey, James R. Carey, Jay Rosenheim, and Richard Karban--and three emeriti faculty--Harry Kaya, Howard Ferris and Thomas Scott.
In addition, emeritus professor/chair Robert E. Page Jr. is a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, as was the late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019). The campus presents one distinguished emeritus professor award annually.
The department, chaired by nematologist and professor Steve Nadler, is ranked as one of the top entomology/nematology departments in the nation. Part of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, it is headquartered in Briggs Hall.
"Our scientists investigate a very broad range of fundamental questions involving insects, nematodes, and spiders -- and the plants, microbes, and various animals they interact with," Nadler writes on the home page. "Our department also disseminates practical knowledge resulting from these investigations, such as methods of integrated pest management, with the goal of improving agriculture and the environment for California and beyond. As you explore our website, you will be introduced to this exciting and comprehensive research-- and the teaching and outreach programs of our department."