And about the newly published research paper, “Introduced Herbivores Restore Late Pleistocene Ecological Functions” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
It's the work of an 11-member international team led by Australian ecologist Erick Lundgren of the University of Technology, Sydney. The co-authors include evolutionary biologist Scott Carroll of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Out-of-place and troublesome species, such as hippos, feral hogs, wild horses and burros, may actually be restoring the ecological services of extinct animals, the ecologists said.
The authors pored over scientific literature; created a list of living and extinct herbivores over the last 126,000 years; and categorized them by their body size, anatomy, habitat, diet, and how their bodies digested the vegetation. Then they compared their lifestyles in overlapping regions.
One of the studies dealt with the abandoned hippos of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (1949-1993), who purchased a male and three females in the 1980s from a California zoo and kept them in fields along the Magdalena River, northwestern Colombia. Without humans and other predators decimating them, the population today is 80 to 100 and is expected to reach 800 to 5000 by 2050.
The out-of-place hippos may be filling the exotic roles of extinct massive animals, such as giant llamas and rhinoceros-sized relatives, the ecologists related.
Said Carroll: “That paleontological analysis found that, amazingly, introduced herbivores– including Pablo Escobar's escaped Colombian hippos– often match the functional traits of extinct natives better than do those missing species' closest living native relatives. In this way, the ‘out-of-place' make the world more similar to the pre-extinction past. The ‘shoot-first- and-ask-questions later' approach as a maxim is as reckless as it sounds, and it's not going to sustain our life-saving drugs, nor the species we revere or ecosystems we rely on, into the future.”
“Many introduced herbivores restore trait combinations that have the capacity to influence ecosystem processes, such as wildfire and shrub expansion in drylands,” the team wrote.
As for feral hogs in North America, Carroll said their rooting increases tree growth and attracts bird flocks, like the ecological work of their extinct ancestors. Likewise, the feral horses and burros, known for their well-digging behavior, are replacing the original American horses, which went extinct 12,000 years ago.
In their abstract, the authors pointed out that humans “have caused extinctions of large-bodied mammalian herbivores over the past 100,000 years, leading to cascading changes in ecosystems. Conversely, introductions of herbivores have, in part, numerically compensated for extinction losses. However, the net outcome of the twin anthropogenic forces of extinction and introduction on herbivore assemblages has remained unknown. We found that a primary outcome of introductions has been the reintroduction of key ecological functions, making herbivore assemblages with nonnative species more similar to preextinction ones than native-only assemblages are. Our findings support calls for renewed research on introduced herbivore ecologies in light of paleoecological change and suggest that shifting focus from eradication to landscape and predator protection may have broader biodiversity benefits.”
Carroll, who also co-led an author group of the newly published “Coevolutionary Governance of Antibiotic and Pesticide Resistance” in the journal Trends in Ecology, said that the publications together “address both sides of the human-environment co-existence issue.”
“Reading the titles, you might not expect these two studies are two sides of the same coin,” Carroll said, “but for me they address both sides of the human-environment issue that most compels me: How can we create more workable, productive and respectful long-term relationships with other species? To help think about this as an evolutionary biologist, I divide the key challenges of human interactions with Nature into those that arise from competitor and parasite species that adapt too quickly for us to control, and those that arise in in our efforts to protect more valued species– like endangered large mammals– that adapt too slowly to survive human impacts.”
“Pesticide and drug resistance are nature's predictable resilience to our reliance on an escalating war of toxic eradication,” Carroll commented. “A broader understanding shows how we can develop our own behavior to instead cultivate susceptibility to control in species we fight, using both new and known practices for improved sanitation, locally diversified agriculture, and eating lower on the food chain to inflect their evolution in a positive direction. Similarly, after millennia of driving much of the Earth's giant mammal community to extinction, we need to step back from our reflex to extinguish the errant survivors to preserve a modern sense of what's natural, without stopping to consider how these new neighbors (commonly fading from their native lands) may restore ancient ecological functions our own ancestors extinguished not so long ago.”
Carroll emphasized that “neither of these studies dismisses the serious problems irruptive populations can cause for meeting our food, health and environmental needs, nor seeks to oversimplify complex challenges. But it's actually important to work against being limited by prejudicial generalizations that lead us to sort other species into ‘good' versus ‘bad' bins. This is a sensibility that ecologists in particular should strive to cultivate. To continue to feed and shelter ourselves and remain healthy while sharing the Earth with other species, we need to develop methods that respect the tremendous information and know-how inherent in each species. I want us to do a much better job of working with that intrinsic functional diversity and adaptive potential as our best resource for advancing resilient and biodiverse ecological systems into the future.”
Carroll and his wife, UC Davis ecologist Jenella Loye, own Carroll-Loye Biological Research, Davis. They engage in public health and environmental entomology and natural product development.
(Editor's Note: The lead author of Coevolutionary Governance of Antibiotic and Pesticide Resistance is Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, who during his University of Copenhagen graduate work, spent a year at Davis studying soapberry bug host adaptation in California with Scott Carroll. The duo led the multi-year international "Living with Resistance" pursuit at the National Science Foundation's National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center. Carroll served as the senior author.)/span>/span>
When doctoral candidate and entomologist extraordinaire Brendon Boudinot delivered his exit seminar on ants to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, he drew acclaim, admiration and applause.
Boudinot, whose peers marvel at his expertise on all-things-ants and, indeed, all-things-entomological, greeted a standing-room only crowd in Room 122 of Briggs Hall.
If any ants had been in the room, they would have stood at attention, too.
Major professor Phil Ward praised Boudinot's intellectual curiosity, his contributions to science and his service to the department and campus. "He is an incredible fireball of energy, enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity," Ward said. "He will be sorely missed."
Boudinot, who excels in academics, leadership, public service activities, professional activities, and scientific publications, won the 2019 John Henry Comstock Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). The Comstock award is PBESA's highest graduate student award in a region that encompasses 11 states, U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Just a few of Boudinot's accomplishments:
- Published several landmark papers on insect systematics, including research in the journal Arthropod Structure and Development (in which he presented a comprehensive theory of genital homologies across all Hexapoda). Scientists describe the work as "classic."
- Received multiple “President's Prize” awards for his research presentations at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meetings. He organized the ESA symposium, “Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology,” at the 2018 meeting in Vancouver, B.C. , and delivered a presentation on “Male Ants: Past, Present and Prospects” at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, Fla.
- Served on three of the UC Davis Linnaean Games teams that won national or international ESA championships. The Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.
- Served as president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association from 2016 to 2019.
- Co-chaired the department's Picnic Day activities (part of the annual campuswide Picnic Day celebration) with forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey for several years. Boudinot also did double duty as "The Bug Doctor," fielding questions from the general public.
Boudinot titled his exit seminar, "Abdomens and Ants: Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology of the Insects." The title prompted Ward to quip "Here's Brendon talking about ants, abdomens and the meaning of life."
Boudinot divided his talk into two parts: (1) from the ocean onto land, from the land into the sky, and (2) from the sky back to the land (ants).
"Between about 410 to 480 million years ago, there was an event where the ancestor of the insects that we think of as insects today, not only had moved onto land, but gained numerous adaptations for land," Boudinot began. "So this first part of this talk is going to be a comparison of these wingless insects."
Pointing out that insects have a head, a thorax, and abdomen, Boudinot asked: "Why do we care about the abdomen? Okay, we don't maybe generally care about the abdomen and maybe we don't care that much about insect genitalia, but I care about insect genitalia and a lot of insects do, too."
The crowd, knowing Boudinot's interest in ant genitalia research and knowing insects' interest in reproduction, erupted into laughter.
"Eat your greens," they say.
Okay, we don't need any encouragement, but apparently many other folks need a push, a poke or a prod to eat cole crops, including cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, mustard, kale and kohlrabi.
Well, cabbage aphids need no encouragement. We spotted some dusty blue-gray aphids, Brevicoryne brassicae, slurping the very life blood out of our mustard plants yesterday in Vacaville, Calif. That's what they do, and they do it well, thank you.
Frankly, we're so accustomed to seeing green and yellow aphids, that the blue-gray colors are sort of a treat. Sort of. But they are a pest. These European natives can and do cause significant yield losses to cole crops (mustard family, Brassicaceae).
And they are not social distancing.
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) says: "They commonly occur in dense colonies, often covered with waxy droplets. They prefer to feed on the youngest leaves and flowering parts and are often found deep within the heads of cabbages or Brussels sprouts. The aphid has a simple life cycle with adult females giving birth to live offspring throughout the year in most parts of California. Both winged and wingless adults occur; the winged adults have a black thorax and lack the waxy coating. The aphid does not infest noncruciferous crops but can survive on related weed species when cole crops are not in the field."
UC IPM goes on to say that "Important natural enemies include lady beetles, syrphid fly larvae, fungal diseases, and the parasitic wasp, Diaeretiella rapae."
Nary a lady beetle (aka ladybug) in sight--but a syrphid (aka flower fly or hover fly) just landed.
Meanwhile, in between social distancing, what's happening in the world of insects?
We were surprised to see a skipper butterfly today (March 25) foraging in our bed of mustard in Vacaville, Calif.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, identified it as an "Umber Skipper, Poanes melane, a riparian species I haven't seen at any of my sites yet! It typically flies first in early to mid-April."
With thoughts of Shapiro's Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest (first person who collects the first-of-the-year cabbage white butterfly in the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo wins a pitcher of beer or its equivalent), I mentioned that I finally beat him!
"I'd say go get a beer, but the bars are closed," Shapiro quipped. "Last year's first records of melane were very late (first iv.24) , as were 2018 (first v.10!). In the East Bay it usually comes out around now. Are you sure you weren't in North Berkeley? At Gates Canyon (Vacaville), my earliest is iii.26.88, which is my earliest anywhere on my transect! During the drought it was fairly early--iv.15.14 and iv.10.15."
Shapiro writes on his website: "Although common in parts of the Bay Area where it is an urban 'lawn skipper,' on our transect this is entirely a species of riparian forest and is generally uncommon or even rare. It perches in dappled light and shade along streamsides, generally well off the ground. Its upper limit of residency at the latitude of I-80 seems to be about 3000'. There is no evident variation. Two to three broods in our area, April-October; flight season longer in Bay Area. Host plants presumably native riparian grasses, but not identified. In Berkeley, it breeds happily on Bermuda Grass, which seems to have not discovered farther inland. Adults visit Yerba Santa, Dogbane, Milkweed, Thistles, Yellow Star Thistle, California Buckeye, Coyote Brush, etc., etc."
Shapiro has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California since 1972 and maintains a research website. The 10 sites stretch from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin. The largest and oldest database in North America, it was recently cited by British conservation biologist Chris Thomas in a worldwide study of insect biomass.
And then another surprise! My photographer-naturalist friend, Allan Jones of Davis, captured some images of an Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) Saturday, March 21 in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. Jones also saw a bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus (female), and a first-of-the-season Eucera frater (male) in the haven.
Said Shapiro: "Zelicaon has been rare hereabouts for about 20 years. It is not unusual to see it the 3rd week of February in dry years. It's been earlier than average this year: Suisun Marsh, iii.26; Old Davis Road (near Low-Water Bridge) ii.28; Gates Canyon (near Vacaville) ii.29, North Sacramento iii.3, Rancho Cordova iii.4."
Meanwhile, back to social distancing!
Welcome, Emily Meineke!
She joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology as an assistant professor of urban landscape entomology on March 1. She studies how climate change and urban development affect insects, plants, and how they interact with one another.
Before accepting her UC Davis appointment, Meineke served as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard University Herbaria, where she studied how urbanization and climate change have affected plant-insect relationships worldwide over the past 100-plus years.
A native of Greenville, N.C., Emily received her bachelor of science degree in environmental science, with a minor in biology, in 2008 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and then went on to obtain her doctorate in entomology in 2016 from North Carolina State University. Advised by Steven Frank and co-advisor Robert Dunn, she completed her dissertation on "Understanding the Consequences of Urban Warming for Street Trees and Their Insect Pests."
Getting to know our new faculty member:
1. Please expand on the kind of research you do.
"Insects have eaten plants for around 400 million years. These interactions have given rise to most of terrestrial biodiversity. Over the past 12,000 years, humans have disrupted plant-herbivore relationships by building cities, domesticating crops, and changing the global climate."
"I investigate these disruptions, focusing on species that are of cultural importance, such as street trees, crops, crop wild relatives, and plants that support rare insect species. My work combines experiments, observations, citizen science, and biological collections to address key hypotheses in ecology."
2. What do you like best about your work?
"I love discovery, the moment when you as a scientist know something that no one else knows. I love passing that experience on to students. I also love that my work reflects my personal values. Biodiversity is critically important, and the fact that I get to study it for a living is a real privilege."
3. How did you get interested in entomology? Can you recall an occasion that sparked your interest?
"I have no idea, honestly. I never had an insect collection as a kid, and I was equally interested in all living things, from my family's pets to the toads that lived in my backyard. At some point after my undergraduate education, I realized that insects are both invisible to us most of the time and are incredibly present in our lives and imaginations. Ecologically, because they are small in size, they can seem unimportant because we are biased to think creatures our size or larger are important, but insects are really the little things that run the world."
4. How would you describe yourself?
"I'm a pretty serious person who is always working to be more light-hearted. I am both easily discouraged and tenacious. I would describe myself as creative and am drawn to diversity in all forms."
5. What drew you to UC Davis?
"When I visited, I got the feeling that UC Davis encourages creativity while valuing research that produces real solutions. When I interviewed here, I felt I would be able to be myself as a researcher and that my fellow faculty would support that. On top of that, UC Davis is such an established institution with great resources in a beautiful part of the world. I can't think of a better place to be."
6. What do you like to do in your leisure time?
"All I really ever want to do is eat and spend time with people I love. 'People' includes my two dogs, who rule the house."
9. What would people be surprised to know about you?
"I have a hidden talent. I can make very realistic cat meows. I can fool anyone's cat and most humans."
In addition to her NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, she received a number of other honors, including Student Appreciation for the Biology of Insect Pests Award; Garden Club of America Urban Forestry Fellowship; and the EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship.
A member of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), Ecological Society of America and the Botanical Society of America, she has presented talks across the continent, as well as in Finland, Spain, Canada, France and Denmark. She delivered a presentation at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology in Orland, Fla., and at ESA's national and regional meetings.
Meineke has published her work in Ecological Monographs, Ecology and Evolution, Journal of Applied Ecology, and the Journal of Urban Ecology, among others.
The Boston Globe featured her research in a news story published Oct 11, 2018: "Rising Temperatures May Cause Insects to Eat More Plants, Harvard Study Says"
Nature journal featured her in a research highlights piece, "Warmer Forests Store Less Carbon," published Oct. 12, 2016
Los Angeles Times spotlighted her in its Oct. 6, 2016 piece, "As Cities Get Warmer, These Trees Lose Some of their Ability to Take Carbon Out of the Atmosphere."