The times, they change. Standard textbook knowledge, that can change, too.
It did today.
For several decades, few people challenged "the hump-shaped model" developed in the early 1970s by British ecologist Philip Grime who proposed that the number of species rises, then declines with increasing productivity.
Today an international team of 58 ecologists announced that habitat productivity does not predict the diversity of plant species, as previously assumed for several decades.
The groundbreaking research, to be published Sept. 23 in the journal Science (the embargo lifted today at 2 p.m., Eastern Standard Time) shows “no clear relationship between productivity and the number of plant species in small study plots,” said Utah State University plant ecologist Peter Adler, lead author of the paper.
The ecologists sampled 48 diverse grassland sites on five continents in an innovative, unprecedented project partially supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
For more than 30 years, the relationship between net primary productivity and species richness has generated intense debate in ecology about the processes regulating local diversity. The original view, which is still widely accepted, holds that the relationship is hump-shaped, with richness first rising and then declining with increasing productivity. Although recent meta-analyses questioned the generality of hump-shaped patterns, these syntheses have been criticized for failing to account for methodological differences among studies. We addressed such concerns by conducting standardized sampling in 48 herbaceous-dominated plant communities on five continents. We found no clear relationship between productivity and fine-scale richness within sites, within regions, or across the globe. Ecologists should focus on fresh, mechanistic approaches to understanding the multivariate links between productivity and richness.
The paper in Science is one of the first to emerge from the research, launched five years ago when the ecologists formed the Nutrient Network or “NutNet,” a cooperative research initiative dedicated to investigating biodiversity and ecosystem processes in global grasslands.
University of Minnesota researchers Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom received funding from NSF to coordinate the network research. NSF also funds an annual meeting workshop in Minneapolis, where the researchers gather to analyze data.
Among the 58 ecologists participating: Louie Yang, assistant professor of entomology at UC Davis.
When asked about the research, Yang commented: “It’s a really innovative approach to ecology. We conducted a coordinated study in diverse grasslands at the 48 sites and we pooled our data together to address some persistent issues in the field. In this paper, we show that plant diversity is not predicted by productivity in any general or simple way; instead, it looks like patterns of plant diversity result from more complex processes which are variable at local, regional and global scales.”
Yang’s research contributions to the network came from a field site at the Sagehen Creek Field Station, located near Truckee in Nevada County. He and Dan Gruner of the University of Maryland have managed a montane or highland meadows site (elevation 6500 feet) since 2007 for their research.
And how did the ecologists measure productivity? Yang talks about this on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website. You'll also want to read what Michael Willig of the University of Connecticut has to say about the paper: Perspective on Biodiversity and Productivity.
Willig begins with: "Researchers predict that human activities—especially landscape modification and climate change—will have a considerable impact on the distribution and abundance of species at local, regional, and global scales in the 21st century."
Meanwhile, we're anxiously awaiting more published research from the Nutrient Network.
It's not just future entomologists who study insects. So do future physicians, veterinarians, chemists, ecologists and scores of others.
Indeed, insects are involved in many biological fields, including genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; cell biology; population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; and agroecology.
At UC Davis, a trio from the Department of Entomology faculty wants to make a difference in college students' education. They've formed a campuswide Undergraduate Honors Research Program in Insect Biology to help undergraduates obtain long-term mentoring and research experiences.
Veteran professor Jay Rosenheim and newer faculty members Louie Yang and Joanna Chiu said they want 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. This will be useful for students whose career goals will take them to medical school, veterinary school, or graduate programs in any biological sub-discipline.”
UC Davis freshmen and sophomores interested in applying for the program must do so by May 15 by sending an email to Elvira Hack (email@example.com). In a one-page letter, they will explain their motivation to join the program, and their special interests. Selected students will then be interviewed.
The gist of the program:
- During an initial academic retreat (at the Sagehen Creek Field Station in the Sierra Nevada mountains), faculty will instruct students about the process of science, approaches to choosing research questions, and the core elements of experimental design.
- Students will be placed in a faculty mentor’s laboratory. The goal: to find a strong match between the student’s research interests and the research focus of the mentoring faculty member’s lab.
- Students will be encouraged to take supporting coursework in insect biology (that is, general entomology, insect physiology, insect ecology) to provide the most relevant foundational information for conducting research in insect biology.
- For many participating students, it’s expected that there will be a natural transition from paid positions (when the students are contributing to a larger research effort) to course credits (when the students are pursuing their own independent research).
- Students will receive ongoing training and career guidance in conducting research, scientific writing, presentation of research results at professional scientific meetings, and all aspects of preparing applications for graduate or professional schools.
We applaud the work that Rosenheim, Yang and Chiu are doing, and the 30-some members of the mentoring faculty.
Rosenheim, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty in 1990, has long supported the academic and research needs of students. In fact, on May 11, he will receive a UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award for Undergraduate Teaching. Faculty and students consider him "an extraordinary educator, a remarkable scholar and a superb teacher and mentor."
The ultimate compliment, however, came from an unsolicited comment on the web: “the best teacher at (UC) Davis. Hands down. Take him if you can.”
All over the UC Davis campus, departments are gearing up for fall seminars.
At the UC Davis Department of Entomology, native pollinator specialist Neal Williams (top photo) and community ecologist Louie Yang (lower photo) have booked a lineup of speakers ranging from a malaria expert to an expert on wildlife ecology.The seminars will take place from 12:10 p.m. to 1 p.m. every Wednesday, beginning Sept. 29, in 122 Briggs Hall. The only exception: No seminar during Thanksgiving week. Then "T" is for turkey!
Some of the lectures will be webcast; that information will be posted in advance on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
First to the podium is noted malaria expert Shirley Luckhart.
The complete list:
Sept. 29: Shirley Luckhart, associate professor, Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, who will discuss “Systems Biology of Complex Regulatory Signaling in Malaria Host-Parasite Interactions.” Host: Professor Ed Lewis.
Oct. 6: Yao Hua Law, doctoral candidate who studies with major professor Jay Rosenheim. His topic: "My Neighbors Drive Me Cannibalistic: Mechanisms of Density-Dependent Cannibalistic Behavior and its Effects on Population Dynamics." Host: Professor Jay Rosenheim.
Oct. 13: Shalene Jha, UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (working with Claire Kremen), UC Berkeley. Her topic: "Movement in the Matrix: Population Genetics and Ecosystem Services Across Human-Dominated Landscapes." Host: Assistant Professor Neal Williams.
Oct. 20: Anandasankar "Anand" Ray, principal investigator, molecular basis of insect olfaction, UC Riverside. His topic: "Expanding the Olfactory Code for Behavior Modification in Insects." Host: Professor Walter Leal.
Oct. 27: Murray Isman, dean and professor, Applied Biology (Entomology/Toxicology), University of British Columbia. His topic: "Aromatherapy for Pest Management? Pesticides Based on Plant Essential Oils for Agriculture, Industry and as Consumer Products." Host: Professor and Department Chair Michael Parrella
Nov. 3: John Stark, professor, Ecotoxicology Program, director, WSU Puyallup R&E Center, Washington State University. His topic: "Pollutant Soup: Effects of Toxic Mixtures on Fish and their Food.” Host: Professor and Department Chair Michael Parrella.
Nov. 10: Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor, insect behavior, UC Davis. His topic: "And the Beak Shall Inherit: Contemporary Local and Reverse Evolution in Morphology and Life History in American and Australian Soapberry Bugs." Host: Professor Sharon Lawler
Nov. 17: Elizabeth Crone, associate professor of quantitative wildlife ecology, Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula. Topic: "How Can Theoretical Ecology Guide Management of Plant and Insect Populations?" Host: Assistant Professor Neal Williams.
Nov. 24: None scheduled; this is Thanksgiving week.
Dec. 1: Erin Wilson, postdoctoral scholar, Louie Yang lab. Tentative Title: "Shifts in Life History Influence Invasion Outcomes.” Host: Assistant Professor Louie Yang
If you see a caterpillar near a cluster of aphids, don't squash it. It could very well be the larva of a syrphid or hover fly (family Syrphidae) and it's eating aphids.
What do they look like? I happened to capture an image of a tiny syrphid larva on a rose leaf, and sure enough, it was eating aphids.
Community ecologist Louie Yang, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty last year, has also photographed syrphid larvae. He recognized this one right away.
If you want to learn more about syrphid flies, be sure to read Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops, Publication 8285 (May 2008), UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It's primarily the work of UC Davis entomologist Robert Bugg; with expertise offered by Ramy Colfer, chief organic agricultural researcher, Earthbound Farms, Salinas; William Chaney, farm advisor, UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Monterey County; Hugh Smith, farm advisior, UCCE Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties; and James Cannon, UC Davis computer resource specialist.
In the publicaiton overivew, Bugg writes that "Flower fly development involves complete metamorphosis, including egg, three larval stages, puparium, and adult. Adults of many flower fly species resemble stinging bees and wasps. This phenomenon is called Batesian mimicry, indicating that palatable organisms resemble or 'mimic' unpalatable models. Worldwide, there are many aphidophagous syrphid speices."
"Adult hover flies require honeydew or nectar and pollen to ensure reproduction, whereas larvae usually require aphid feeding to complete thir development."
Below, you'll see a syrphid larva doing what it does best: eating aphids.
Entomology folks at UC Davis remember when Louie Yang was a doctoral candidate, studying population biology with major professor Rick Karban.
Yang received his doctorate in 2006 and then became a UC President's Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at UC Santa Barbara.
Now he's back.
Yang joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology as an assistant professor on Jan. 2.
“Louie is one of our rising stars,” said Lynn Kimsey, chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. “His work on resource pulses has led to the creation of a new field of ecological study.”
“It’s great to be back,” Yang said. “UC Davis is truly one of the best places on the plant to study ecology, and it’s an honor to be a faculty member here. I’m looking forward to it immensely.”
Yang’s research interests include community ecology, species interactions, temporal variation, extreme events in nature, and the integration of ontogeny and phenology.
“My research program studies how resource pulses, disturbance events and the timing of species interactions affect ecological communities,” Yang said. “I describe myself as a community ecologist. Much of my research is aimed at understanding the temporal dimension of ecological communities: How do natural systems respond to changing conditions?”
His work emphasizes “the fundamental idea that ecological systems are constantly changing over multiple time scales.”
“I investigate community responses to ecological perturbations along a continuum of temporal scales, including extreme events as well as longer time-scale climate changes.”
Yang said a mechanistic understanding of how communities respond to changing conditions “is relevant to several conceptually and socially important issues in ecology.”
Yang’s lab and office are at 380 Briggs Hall.
His wife, Tabatha Yang, is the former children’s program manager at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Beginning this year, she is engaging in public outreach for two UC Davis museums, the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, and the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
We're all expecting great things of Louie Yang and Tabatha Yang.
Here's to 2009! And to great careers!