Her research already has.
She just won the prize for best student presentation at the recent 9th International Congress of Dipterology in Windhoek, Namibia.
Gillung delivered her presentation on “Phylogenetic Relationships of Spider Flies (Acroceridae) – Discordance, Uncertainty and the Perils of Phylogenomics.” Acrocerid adults are floral visitors, and some are specialized pollinators, while the larvae are internal parasitoids of spiders.
Approximately 350 delegates attended the conference; the scientists focus on the Diptera order, which includes houseflies, mosquitoes, and gnats. Gillung was among 40 students presenting their research.
Gillung studies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; mentor Shaun Winterton of the California Department of Food and Agriculture; and collaborator Phil Ward, UC Davis professor of entomology.
UC Davis doctoral students Charlotte Herbert Alberts and Socrates Letana, who both study with Kimsey, also presented their work; Alberts delivered an oral presentation on her research (she studies Asilidae (Assassin flies), and Letana displayed a poster on bot flies.
Presenting the award to Gillung was Professor Thomas Pape of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and chair of the Council for the International Congresses of Dipterology, which organizes the conferences. The next Congress takes place in 2022 in California.
In her abstract, Gillung described spider flies “as a monophyletic group of lower Brachycera currently classified into three subfamilies, 55 genera and ca 530 species.”
“The group has long been considered a rogue taxon and its placement within the Diptera tree of life remains uncertain,” she wrote. “Phylogenetic relationships among lineages of spider flies are by contrast relatively well established, with hypotheses proposed based on molecular data from both Sanger and high-throughput sequencing. Phylogenomic estimation of spider fly relationships yields different topologies, depending on whether data is coded and analyzed as nucleotides or as amino acids. The most significant difference among the two data types is in the monophyly of Panopinae; a morphologically and ecologically recognizable group, that is recovered as monophyletic only in the analyses of nucleotides. This study uses Acroceridae as a system to explore the effects of potential confounding factors in phylogenomic reconstruction. This research takes advantage of modern and powerful statistical approaches, including posterior predictive simulation, to understand the effects of conflict, uncertainty and systematic error in the estimation of evolutionary relationships using the standard phylogenomic toolkit.”
Fast forward to her exit seminar, which she will deliver at 2 p.m., Friday, Dec. 14 in 122 Briggs Hall, located off Kleiber Hall Drive. The title: “Evolution of Fossil and Living Spider Flies (Diptera, Acroceridae): A Tale of Conflict and Uncertainty."
"Parasitoid flies," Gillung wrote in her abstract for her Dec. 14 seminar, "are some of the most remarkable, yet poorly known groups of insects. Represented by over 10,000 species distributed in 21 families, dipteran parasitoids comprise over 100 independent lineages, offering an unparalleled system to understanding the origin, evolution and diversification of the parasitoid life history. My dissertation research unraveled the systematics, evolution and biology of a lineage of dipteran parasitoids specialized in spiders, Acroceridae, commonly known as spider flies. My research resulted in a monograph of fossil spider flies, and a robust hypothesis for the pattern and timing of spider fly evolution based on high throughput sequencing. Through the combination of DNA sequence data obtained via Sanger sequencing with morphological characters, I also estimated their relationships among spider fly genera using an extensive taxon sampling which culminated in a new taxonomic classification for the family.”
Gillung has accepted a postdoctoral position at Cornell University, Ithaca, beginning Jan. 2. She will be working with Bryan Danforth on Apoidea (stinging wasps and bees) phylogenomics, evolution and diversification.
She recently was named the recipient of the prestigious 2018 Student Leadership Award, presented by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA), which represents 11 states, seven U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico.
A native of Brazil, Jessica holds a bachelor's degree in biology from the Federal University of Paraná, Curitiba, Brazil and a master's degree in zoology from the University of São Paulo, Brazil. She speaks four languages fluently: Portuguese, Spanish, English and German.
Next July: a major occurrence in the world of pollinators:
UC Davis will host the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference, a four-day conference focusing on pollinator biology health and policy. It is set from Wednesday, July 17 through Saturday, July 20, in the UC Davis Conference Center.
The conference, themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will cover a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations. Topics discussed will include recent research advances in the biology and health of pollinators, and their policy implications.
Keynote speakers are Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Pennsylvania State University, (the research center launched the annual pollinator conferences in 2012) and Lynn Dicks, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, England.
Grozinger researches health and social behavior in bees and is developing comprehensive approaches to improving pollinator health and reduce declines. Dicks, an internationally respected scientist, studies bee ecology and conservation. She received the 2017 John Spedan Lewis Medal for contributions to insect conservation.
Other speakers include:
- Claudio Gratton, professor, Department of Entomology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Quinn McFrederick, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, UC Riverside
- Scott McArt, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, Cornell University
- Maj Rundlöf, International Career Grant Fellow, Department of Biology, Lund University, Sweden
- Juliette Osborne, professor and chair, Applied Ecology, University of Exeter, England
- Maggie Douglas, assistant professor, Environmental Studies, Dickinson College
The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris, is playing a major role in the international conference. The center's events manager, Elizabeth Luu, is serving as the conference coordinator. For more information on the conference, access the UC Davis Honey and Pollination website at https://honey.ucdavis.edu/pollinatorconference2019 and sign up for the newsletter for up-to-date information.
...Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love
When Cole Porter wrote “Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love” in 1928, he wasn't thinking about butterflies. He was thinking of birds, bees and...well, educated fleas. As opposed to uneducated?
“The Birds and Bees” soon became a euphemism for courtship and reproduction. "The Talk."
Well, Cole Porter could have—should have--added "butterflies."
Monarch butterflies. Especially considering the dwindling number of overwintering monarchs along coastal California.
According to a Dec. 8 article in The Guardian, in the 1980s some 4.5 million monarchs overwintered in California, but today the number has dropped to about 30,000. That's a drop of some 97 percent, The Guardian noted.
Earlier, on Nov. 30, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (which organizes the Thanksgiving count) reported:
"We currently have preliminary count results from 97 sites, which includes many of the most important overwintering sites. In 2017, these sites accounted for 77% of the total monarch overwintering population, hosting approximately 148,000 monarchs. In 2018, the same sites have only 20,456 monarchs. This represents an 86% decline since last year."
"We will not have final numbers until the count is over and all the data are in and vetted (usually late January)—and we will keep our fingers crossed that other sites are hosting more monarchs."
Speaking of The Birds and The Bees, when migrating monarchs from the Pacific Northwest and inland California were fluttering to coastal California--and some were just eclosing--we encountered a courtship in Vacaville, Calif.
The date: Sept. 29, 2018
- A bird: A metal sculpture nailed to a post.
- Bees: Dozens of honey bees foraging on Spanish lavender beneath the post
- Butterflies: Two monarchs, Danaus plexippus...well...getting acquainted.
- Educated Fleas: No where in sight. (No uneducated fleas in sight, either.)
Sadly, the statistics indicate--with or without educated fleas--a dismal spring for monarchs.
Williams, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and a 2015-2020 Chancellor's Fellow, is one of only 19 UC Davis researchers so honored and one of 10 from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Williams focuses his research on the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinator insects and their interactions with flowering plants. His work is particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.
The company, based in Philadelphia, honors exceptional scientists and social scientists who have demonstrated significant influence by publishing multiple papers that rank in the top 1 percent by citations in a particular field and year, over a 10-year period. Clarivate Analytics' services focus largely on analytics, including scientific and academic research, patent analytics, regulatory standards, trademark protection, pharmaceutical and biotechnology intelligence, domain brand protection and intellectual property management. The services include Web of Science, and EndNote.
“This is a wonderful testament to the incredible breadth of expertise at UC Davis and the associated global impact,” said Prasant Mohapatra, UC Davis vice chancellor for research said in a UC Davis news story. “I would like to congratulate each of the named investigators and their teams on such an inspiring accomplishment.”
Williams joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now Department of Entomology and Nematology) in 2009 from the Bryn Mawr (Pa.) College. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a doctorate from the State University of New York, Stony Brook.
He was named a Chancellor's Fellow in 2015, a five-year program that granted him $25,000 to support his research, teaching and public service activities. The program, established in 2000 to honor the achievements of outstanding faculty members early in their careers, is funded in part by the Davis Chancellor's Club and the Annual Fund of UC Davis.
As Professor Williams, professor, researcher, educator and mentor, says on his website:
"Our research addresses basic questions about bee ecology, evolution, and behavior. We explore the intricacies of pollinator-floral interactions from animal and plant perspectives. We seek to understand the persistence of pollinator populations, pollinator and plant communities, and pollination in the context of global change."
Check out the UC Davis piece on "How to Weigh a Bumble Bee."
How that project began: Williams and postdoctoral researcher Rosemary Malfi set out to research how the short-term loss of floral resources affects bumble bees, specifically the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, a common bumble bee native to the West Coast of the United States. Its importance to agriculture, including the pollination of greenhouse tomatoes, cannot be overstated.
So, "the bee team," led by Williams, decided they needed to weigh the bees as part of their research. They engaged mechanical and electrical engineers on the UC Davis campus to see if they could come up with a "bee scale" to weigh individual foragers.
They could and they did. It's a great example of innovative and interdisciplinary research. (See post on Bug Squad blog)
So wrote an undergraduate student in one of Lynn Kimsey's entomology classes at the University of California, Davis.
The student meant "sperm."
But it came out "perm."
Now some of the prized collection has found its way into an innovative and fun calendar published by the Bohart Museum of Entomology and illustrated by talented graphic artist Karissa Merritt, a fourth-year entomology student at UC Davis.
For the bee sentence, Merritt depicted a queen bee in a salon admiring herself after receiving a permanent, the royal treatment. The accommodating drone (note the wrap-around eyes!) approves.
Other prized sentences include:
- “The swarmers are attracted to lights and tend to expose themselves in the evenings.” (see art below)
- "The infected fleas can harbor rats, ground squirrels, rabbits, and occasionally, even house cats.” (see art below)
Merritt, a two-year Bohart associate, illustrated the entire calendar, drawing upon her creativity, humor and imagination. “Karissa is a gifted graphic artist,” Kimsey said.
That she is!
The calendar, published by Tara Baumann & Associates of Vacaville, is a project of the non-profit Bohart Museum Society. The calendar sells for $12 at the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. Those who contribute $50 or more to the Bohart Museum Society will receive a calendar with their donation. All proceeds are earmarked for research, education and outreach projects.
“One aspect of teaching this course is the writing requirement," she explained. "Students at UC Davis are required to take a number of units in general education, science and writing. My course fulfills two of those requirements, which means that I have to require—and grade—student term papers as part of their assignments. I can say definitely that student writing abilities have not improved over the years. So, to alleviate the pain of grading these works of art, I started collecting particularly silly or otherwise awesome sentences from their papers.”
Lynn Kimsey, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, joined the faculty in 1989. She specializes in bees, wasps and insect diversity.
Karissa Merritt not only enjoys drawing insects but teaching others how to do so. Last January, the Bohart Museum featured her as an “artist in residence” at its open house on insects and art. She offered tips on how to draw insects and took requests from youths. “It was touching to see how something like mundane doodling could bring smiles to kids' faces,” she said. “In fact, many ended up going home with original art work!"
Merritt says insects have always fascinated her. "I've always loved insects and the natural world but I didn't realize entomology was a viable career choice until one of my friends starting working in the Essig Museum of Entomology at UC Berkeley," she said. She credits her attendance at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, with sparking “a strong interest in pollinators and a particular interest in bees and how I can contribute to their future."
What especially fascinates her the most about insects? “How alien their biology and morphology as compared to vertebrates,” Merritt said. “But working in the Bohart, I find many specimens that just amaze me with their beauty. Insects are just so diverse and it's amazing what nature produces!"
Merritt's favorite insect order is Hymenoptera, which includes bees, ants and wasps. “But I like all insects,” she acknowledged. She learned beekeeping when she volunteered in the lab of Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.
Merritt is also an alumnus of “Bug Boot Camp,' a five-week insect taxonomy and field ecology course taught by Phil Ward, UC Davis professor of entomology and held at the Sagehen Creek Field Station, in California's northern Sierra Nevada. That course enabled her to sharpen her taxonomy skills.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens, and is the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of insect biodiversity. The facility also includes a gift shop and a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and tarantulas.
The Bohart Museum is open to the public (free admission) from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing email@example.com.