He's a newly selected Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, a group of world-class scientists known for their scientific impact or outstanding contributions.
Candidates are nominated by Fellows. Williams was nominated by James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology, and seconded by Claire Kremen of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley.
In his letter of nomination, Carey wrote that Williams is “widely known and respected for his excellence in research, extension, outreach, teaching and leadership” and “is not only one of the stars of our campus, and the UC system, but is an internationally recognized leader in pollination and bee biology and strong voice in the development of collaborative research on insect ecology. He has organized national and international conferences, leads scores of working groups, and guides reviews of impacts of land use and other global change drivers on insects and the ecosystem services they provide.”
Williams is one of 13 Fellows in the Class of 2019, which also includes UC Davis physician Emanual Maverakis of the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Dermatology, nominated by Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The Fellows will be inducted at the organization's annual meeting and gathering on Oct. 15. The academy, a scientific and educational institution based in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, is dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on earth. The Fellows extend the academy's impact on research, public engagement, and education.
Williams' research spans the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinating insects and their interactions with flowering plants. “He has become a leading voice for pollinator diversity and conservation in the California and The West,” wrote Carey. “One focus of his work has been in understanding the responses of bees to different environmental drivers and developing practical, scientifically grounded actions to support resilient pollinator communities. These efforts are particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.”
The UC Davis professor serves as co-chair (with Extension apiclturist Elina Lastro Niño) of 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. 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. (Yes, there's still time to register!)
In his work--a labor of love--Williams seeks and finds found common solutions for sustaining both wild and managed bees and communicates that information to the public and stakeholder groups. Said Carey: “This is a critical perspective in natural and agricultural lands, but also in urban landscapes in northern and southern California.”
Each year the UC Davis professor speaks to multiple beekeeper, farmer and gardener groups, and provides guidance to governing bodies, including the state legislature, and environmental groups. He and his lab are involved in a newly initiated California Bombus assessment project (https://calibombus.com/), which is using both museum and citizen scientist records to understand past, current and future distributions and habitat use by bumble bees. This program will host a series of workshops this spring and summer open to practitioners and the public.
Williams received his doctorate in ecology and evolution in 1999 from the State University of New York, Stony Brook and served as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Bryn Mawr (Penn.) College from 2004 to 2009. He joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009, advancing to full professor in 2017.
His honors and awards are many. Williams was part of the UC Davis Bee Team that won the Team Research Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) in 2013. In 2015, he was named a five-year Chancellor's Fellow, receiving $25,000 to support his research, teaching and public service activities. And then earlier this year, Williams received PBESA's Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award, presented annually for outstanding accomplishments in the study of insect interrelationships with plants.
Williams also holds a three-year visiting professorship to the Swedish Agricultural University in Uppsala. The award is to lead work in sustainable agriculture, focusing in integrating multiple ecosystem services.
In addition to Carey, five others affiliated with UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology are Fellows of the California Academy of Sciences:
- Professor Phil Ward
- Frank Zalom, distinguished professor of entomology and a past president of the Entomological Society of America
- Robert E. Page Jr., distinguished emeritus professor, former chair of the department and provost emeritus of Arizona State University
- Walter Leal, distinguished professor and a former chair of the entomology department (he is now with the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology) and
- Visiting scientist Catherine Tauber, formerly of Cornell University.
Former Fellows from the UC Davis entomology department include Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, and visiting scientist Maurice Tauber (1931-2014), formerly of Cornell University.
But did you know that scorpions are the oldest living terrestrial arthropods on the planet--that they're approximately 400 million years old? And that these "living fossils" were here before the dinosaurs?
And, did you also know that scorpions are the only arachnids that give birth to live young?
All fascinating facts.
Scorpion scientist Lauren Esposito of the California Academy of Sciences, will reveal those facts--and much more--when she discusses her research at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
Esposito, assistant curator and Schlinger chair of Arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, will speak on "Evolution of New World Scorpions and Their Venom" from 4:10 to 5 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall. Host is Jason Bond, Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Scorpions are just about everywhere; they're found on every continent except Antarctica. In fact, they're found in every ecosystem on the planet, from cave systems below sea level to the peaks of the Alps and the Andes, Esposito says. Although scientists have described 2,200 species of scorpions, Esposito estimates that this number encompasses only 60 percent of the group's total diversity. In her research, she's trying to fill in that taxonomic gap.
Scorpions first drew Esposito's interest in her childhood. Both her parents are biologists. She remembers visiting her grandparents on a remote island in the Bahamas. “The most dangerous things on the island were ants and scorpions, so it was a pretty ideal place for a child to explore,” she quips on the Cal Academy website.
Esposito served a summer undergraduate internship in arachnology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and did volunteer work at a field station in the Chihuahuan Desert. She returned to AMNH to complete her doctorate in arachnology, and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship studying the biogreography of scorpions in the Caribbean. In 2015, she accepted an arachnologist position at the Cal Academy.
"For the past several years, Esposito has studied the evolution and geographical distribution of scorpions in the Caribbean," according to the Cal Academy website. "She suspects the string of islands played a significant but underappreciated role in producing the biodiversity currently found in North and South America. Because scorpions are essentially 'living fossils,' they're ideal organisms to study to decipher this larger relationship. Understanding the biodiversity of this region in a time of rapid agricultural development is a key step toward sustaining it for sustaining it for future generations."
Esposito marvels that a single scorpion "can carry the genes for more than 200 unique venoms in its DNA." She describes those venom varieties as "like protein cocktails, mixed to affect specific mammals, insects, and crustaceans."
“Researchers think that scorpions eject venoms with different compositions depending on the scenario," she says. "If they encounter a predator, they'll eject one combination, and if they encounter prey, a different one.” The venom's effects? Pain, temporary paralysis, or death.
Esposito focuses her research on the evolution of scorpion venom alongside the evolution of scorpions. This makes her unique among venom experts, who are often toxicologists or biochemists studying its chemistry, according to the Cal Academy website.
“Looking at how this venom diversity evolved helps us understand how one creature can evolve the ability to strike hundreds of specific targets,” explains Esposito. “There's a kind of evolutionary arms race happening between scorpions and mammals, particularly with predatory, nocturnal scorpion mice.”
Cal Academy's YouTube video on The Anamolies: Venom Race points out that although "the stings of most scorpions are harmless to humans, a select few can be fatal. Striped bark scorpions, a group of species found in the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, inflict on average 100,000 stings and, until recently, caused more than a thousand deaths each year in Mexico alone. While finding a treatment to this public health concern has been a driving force behind studies of bark scorpion venom, there was one very basic question that had scientists scratching their heads: Why and how would such a tiny creature pack such a lethal punch? Now, researchers, including Lauren Esposito, curator of Arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences, think they've found the answers in the interplay between a diminutive but dauntless predator—a mouse that has a particular taste for these venomous invertebrates—and the scorpions' own genetic makeup."
Check out these other incredible videos on the Cal Academy website:
Medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, coordinates the weekly seminars.
Professor Walter Leal of the University of California, Davis, is co-chairing the 2016 International Congress of Entomology (ICE) conference, themed "Entomology Without Borders," to be held Sept. 25-30 in Orlando, Fla. Some 7000 entomologists from all over the world are expected to attend.
But he himself could be considered an "entomologist without borders."
Leal has achieved international, national and state recognition and stature for his work in insect communication and his leadership achievements.
Leal, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and former professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. was just named an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Entomology at a conference held in Dublin, Ireland. He was recognized for his lifetime contributions to entomological science at the global level. He earlier was named a fellow of the society.
And, on Oct. 13, Leal will be inducted as a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, "a governing group of more than 400 distinguished scientists who have made notable contributions to one or more of the natural sciences." Leal joins Lynne A. Isbell, a UC Davis professor in the Department of Anthropology, as the two UC Davis inductees this year.
Leal, born in Brazil and educated in Brazil and Japan, joined the UC Davis faculty in 2000. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Entomological Society of America and is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.
A chemical ecologist, Leal is a past president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology and received the silver, medal, the society's highest honor, in 2012. He was the first non-Japanese scientist to earn tenure in the Japan Ministry of Agriculture.
Leal investigates the molecular basis of olfaction in insects and insect chemical communication. (See the Leal lab's work on DEET in Entomology Today.) He researches environmentally friendly alternatives to control insects of medical importance, and also targets agricultural pests. (See research projects.)
Leal is truly an entomologist without borders. In addition to his many global accomplishments and achievements, he is a citizen of the world, speaking his native Portuguese, as well as Japanese, and English.
They met and married in the 1960s when they were studying for their doctorates in entomology at UC Berkeley.They established exemplary careers in entomology at Cornell University. Now, at retirement age, they've moved back to Northern California.
Meet Drs. Maurice and Catherine Tauber, visiting professors, scientists and associates with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Recently elected honorary fellows of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, they're now closely linked with both Cornell and UC Davis.
Indeed, the Taubers represent one of the most successful collaborations in the history of entomology--both personally and scientifically.
Maurice Tauber served as a professor and chair of the Cornell University Department of Entomology. He continues to serve as a graduate school professor. Catherine "Kady" Tauber worked as a senior research associate. At Cornell, they conducted research in the areas of insect seasonality, evolutionary biology and speciation, biological control, and systematics.
The Taubers have enjoyed a long association with the California Academy of Sciences. Although "officially" retired, they continue their research on the comparative biology and systematics of New World lacewings, which are in the insect order Neuroptera or net-winged insects (this includes lacewings, mantid flies and antlions).
We met the Taubers at the Entomological Society of America's 56th annual meeting, held last November in Reno. Scores of scientists and former students paid tribute to them during a four-hour seminar: "Metamorphisis Through Merger: Celebrating the Diverse Entomological Accomplishments of Maurice and Catherine Tauber."
Indeed, their names are legendary in the entomological world.
“The Taubers have had impressive research careers and have continued pursuing their research interests even after retirement,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. “Having them in Davis has been fabulous for us. They've been great contributors to the Bohart Museum and can always be counted on to provide their expertise and experience.”