Saul-Gershenz studies how blister beetle nest parasites mimic the sex pheromone of digger bees.
Bohart associate Emma Cluff curated the wall display, “Digger Bees and Their Nest Parasites,” which examines the life cycle, research process, results, research challenges and implications.
Saul-Gershenz, associate director of research, Wild Energy Initiative, at the John Muir Institute of the Environment, UC Davis, researches the chemical ecology and parasite-host interactions of these solitary native bees and their nest parasites across the western U. S., including the coastal sand dunes of Oregon and the Mojave Desert in south-central California.
Leslie did much of her work at the Mojave National Preserve, where she tracked the solitary bee Habropoda pallida and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus.
The larvae of the parasitic blister beetle produce a chemical signal or allomone, similar to that of a female bee's pheromone, to lure males to the larval aggregation. The larvae attach to the male bee on contact and then transfer to the female during mating. The end result: the larvae wind up in the nest of a female bee, where they eat the nest provisions and likely the host egg.
Leslie's experiments found the allomones “released by each population of M. franciscanus triungulin (larvae) mimic the pheromones released by a specific species of Habropoda bees native to their local habitat,” Cluff wrote in the display. “Leslie found that these differences had a genetic basis. She also found that local bee species were more attracted to the allomones released by their local triungulin population.”
The M. franciscanus triungulin hatching is synchronized with the emergence of adult female Habropoda bees,” the display reads. “The triungulins aggregate on plant stems and release an allomone blend which attracts male bees. The aggregation of triungulins hop on to male bees who have chosen to investigate the allomone. Once the male bees find a real female bee, they mate in a ‘mating ball' at which time the triungulins transfer to the female. All this effort is so that the triungulins can get a free ride to the nest that the female bee lays her eggs in. Once inside the nest burrow, the triungulins will feed on the net provisions and likely the egg itself and will remain there until they emerge as adults the following winter.”
Results? “Leslie's experiments found that the allomones released by each population of M. franciscanus triungulin mimic the pheromones released by a the specific species of Habropoda” Cluff wrote. “Leslie found that these differences had a genetic basis. She also found that local bee species were more attracted to the allomones released by their local triungulin population.” The research contributes to the understanding of the communication signals of bees in the genus Habropoda.
Leslie, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, is currently finishing two research papers: the basic biology of digger bee Habropoda pallida, and the biology of the silver digger bee Habropoda miserabilis.
She and her husband, Norman, are the co-founders of the Bay Area-based SaveNature.Org. The international conservation consortium works with partners to protect ecosystems around the world.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens. It also includes a gift shop and a live "petting zoo," which includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and tarantulas. The museum is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., except during the holiday schedule. (See website)
The next open house, free and family friendly, will take place from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 18. It will showcase "the amazing insect work that graduate students are doing," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. The theme is "Time Flies When You Are Studying Insects: Cutting Edge Student Research."
So we did…Because the Bohart Museum of Entomology is hosting an open house on entomophagy from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane--and you're invited.
The event, free and family friendly, is an opportunity to participate in the joy of eating...drum roll...insects! And for that, you'll get a button proclaiming “I ate a bug at the Bohart."
If you're not into eating insects, you can cuddle and photograph the critters in the live "petting zoo," or view insect specimens. Just remember that 80 percent of the world consumes insects as a protein source. Some 1700 species of insects are edible.
“Many insects are quite edible and if you try them, you might find that crickets are the new shrimp,” says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “Personally, I like flavored mealworms."
"Just think of insects as terrestrial shrimp or crab," adds senior museum scientist Steve Heydon.
Now, what do other entomologists and bug ambassadors think about eating insects?
Danielle Wishon, who holds a bachelor's degree in entomology from UC Davis, is an entomophagist. She likes baking with mealworms when she's not working five jobs, including (1) teaching assistant in the lab of UC Davis alumnus Fran Keller, assistant professor at Folsom Lake College, and (2) police services officer for the Lafayette Police Department.
“Mealworm cookies are visually fun and taste good,” Wishon said. “It's my understanding that people with nut allergies will sometimes make cookies and cakes with ground-up mealworms because they have a ‘nutty flavor' but don't bother their allergies. Crickets are good as well, but only if they are baked or sauteed.”
Rather than asking "why,” Wishon asks "why not?"
“Most of the world includes arthropods in their diet,” Wishon noted. “We do, too; we just think of them differently because we pull them out of the sea. Depending on the arthropod, they are healthy, abundant, and an eco-friendly alternative to other sources of protein.”
Back in 2014, Wishon participated in a “Beer and Bugs” event (Bugs and Beer—Why Crickets and Kölsch Might Be Matches in Heaven” at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. It featured UC Davis Professor Charles Bamforth, aka “The Pope of Foam,” and David George Gordon, aka "The Bug Chef," extolling the virtues of beer and bugs. Guests sampled eight different insect-inspired creations in what was billed as "an ultimate tasting experience."
Wishon ate a baked cricket. A very large cricket.
She liked it, too!
That's not to say she likes consuming all crickets. “I once ate a boiled cricket and it was absolutely disgusting!”
When we asked entomologist Leslie Saul-Gershenz, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is associate director of research, Wild Energy Initiative, John Muir Institute of the Environment, UC Davis campus, if she has cooked with insects and eaten them, she responded:
“Many times! I have baked chocolate chip chirpies, made cricket dip surprise, mealworm pizza and eaten all of them. I have eaten beetle larvae in Papua, New Guinea and Peru and grasshoppers in Mexico. Seriously, they are important sources of protein all around the world and they are eaten regularly in most cultures except ours. We, of course, eat their close relatives the crustaceans without hesitation.”
Bohart Museum associate and naturalist/photographer Greg Kareofelas of Davis remembers when he and colleague Danielle Wishon participated in the “insect-eating affair” at the Mondavi Institute. Frankly, he doesn't make a habit of eating insects. "My favorite is pizza," he says.
Kareofelas can usually be found at the Bohart Museum open houses showing visitors the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moth) section with curator and entomologist Jeff Smith.
“I think it was Dan Janzen (noted evolutionary biologist and conservationist affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania) that used to say he ‘chewed' butterflies and moths to see how they would taste to birds--the “distasteful monarch” thing," Kareofelas related. "Reading that was the closest I have gotten to eating Leps (Lepidopderans).”
“I will try and keep an open mind at the open house,” Kareofelas promised. “But my favorite is still pizza!”
'I Ate a Bug at the Bohart'
Various companies, including Hotlix, Exo and Chirps Chips, are providing samples for the Bohart Museum open house, says education and outreach coordinator Tabatha Yang. Visitors will learn about entomophagy, sample insect-based foods, make buttons (“I ate a bug at the Bohart”), view the collection, and handle insects from the petting zoo, which includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks or stick insects, tarantulas and praying mantids.
The event coincides with "Student Move-in Day," when students head back to campus for the academic year, and family and friends help them move. Many campus visitors are expected to tour the Bohart Museum.
The Bohart Museum, founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is home to the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. It also maintains a year-around gift shop, which is stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The insect museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com. (See list of open houses for the 2019-2020 academic year.)
Odds are that the children who attend the SaveNature.Org insect-themed sessions in Berkeley will.
The husband-wife team of Norman Gershenz and Leslie-Saul Gershenz and their staff have taught a class for young enthusiastic insect lovers for the past two years at UC Berkeley's summer Elementary Division summer school.
It's not so-much a labor of love, but a love of insects and the drive to teach youngsters about them. The couple founded SaveNature.Org, a non-profit, Bay Area-based organization, to inspire "participation and awareness in the preservation of fragile ecosystems by providing opportunities for personal direct action to save the diversity of life on Earth." Norman, a biologist, serves as the executive director. Leslie, an entomologist, holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and now serves as the associate director of research for the Wild Energy Initiative, John Muir Institute of the Environment, UC Davis.
The three-week class drew many repeat attendees from last year. Yes, the fascination with insects is contagious! Indeed, there's a lot to study. The global population of described species of insects totals more than a million, with millions more--maybe as many as 30 million more?--yet to be discovered.
"Insects are everywhere," says Norman Gershenz on his website. "In fact, there are more insects than any other type of animal on earth. This is true no matter how you measure their numbers – in terms of individuals or species. One scientist calculated that for every person on earth, there are about 200 million insects alive at any one time. More than 75 percent of all the named animal species are insects and there are millions of insect species yet to be discovered, named and classified!"
Their goal: "to build strong connections to nature using insects and arthropods, teaching about their connections with plants and other animals including humans through positive hands-on experiences!"
UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education administers the Academic Talent Development Program, which offers a variety of stimulating and challenging classes designed for academic advancement and enrichment.
It works like this: Students with exceptional academic promise are invited to a three-week summer session. "The Elementary Division courses unite teachers who love to teach with students who love to learn," Leslie says.
For the last two years, SaveNature.Org has taught its Nature Academy class, highlighting insects, and the Insect Discovery Lab where students explore the fascinating lives of beetles, millipedes, walking sticks, whip scorpions and more. "We introduce students to the extraordinary world of insects and other arthropods, and learn about their key role in the web of life," the scientists said. The youths learn how to collect insects in the field while doing scientific observation, identifying insects, learning about the natural history of insects' lives.
SaveNature.Org is currently searching for funding the Nature Academy's Insect Discovery Lab into underserved schools throughout the East Bay. See GoFundMe account.
The organization is based at 699 Mississippi St., Suite 106, San Francisco, CA 94107. Further information is available on the website or by telephoning (415) 648-3390. It also maintains a Facebook page.
That includes pollinator habitat.
In their paper, “Techno-Ecological Synergies of Solar Energy for Global Sustainability,” published today (July 9), the researchers propose a “techno–ecological synergy (TES), a framework for engineering mutually beneficial relationships between technological and ecological systems, as an approach to augment the sustainability of solar energy across a diverse suite of recipient environments, including land, food, water, and built-up systems.”
They provided “a conceptual model and framework to describe 16 TES of solar energy and characterize 20 potential techno–ecological synergistic outcomes of their use.”
The paper offers what is considered the most complete list yet of the advantages of solar energy. "The study also marks the launch of a partnership between the Center for Biological Diversity and UC Davis to advance a Wild Energy future, which emphasizes the potential of solar energy systems to benefit not only humans, but the entire planet," according to a UC Davis news release.
Despite solar energy's growing penetration in the global marketplace, “rarely discussed is an expansion of solar energy engineering principles beyond process and enterprise to account for both economic and ecological systems, including ecosystem goods and services,” wrote lead author Rebecca Hernandez of the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources and the Wild Energy Initiative of the John Muir Institute of the Environment, UC Davis. She considers the first step in creating a wild-energy future is "understanding the true value of solar."
The researchers defined TES “as a systems-based approach to sustainable development emphasizing synergistic outcomes across technological and ecological boundaries…solar energy combined with TES may prove a promising solution for avoiding unintended consequences of a rapid renewable energy transition on nature by mitigating global change-type problems.”
Co-author and entomologist Leslie Saul-Gershenz, associate director of research for the Wild Energy Initiative, John Muir Institute of the Environment, said it is imperative to protect our ecological system, which includes pollinators and their required resources. Among them: nest sites, and pollen and nectar resources.
“Native pollinators face global pressure from many sources of habitat alteration, pesticide use, invasive non-native plants, and climate change,” said Saul-Gershenz, who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis. “We are proposing land sparing priorities in undisturbed ecosystems, such as arid lands in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, which sustain some of the highest native pollinator species diversity in the United States. We add the valuation of these pollinators as essential resources into the calculation when selecting sites to deliver renewable energy goals to achieve true tech-ecological synergy and global sustainability.”
Solar cells, called photovoltaic (PV) solar energy, convert sunlight directly into electricity. For example, in Minnesota and Vermont, land adjacent to croplands is developed with PV solar energy, the authors noted. The low-growing flowering plants for native and managed pollinators help increase agricultural yields, reduce management (that is, mowing) costs, and confer the opportunity to produce honey and other honey-based commodities.
The researchers concluded that “achieving a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources on planet Earth to support human activities, in a manner benign to Earth's life support systems, is arguably the grandest challenge facing civilization today. The consequences of climate and other types of global environmental change are a cautionary flag against the extrapolation of past energy decisions.”
Hernandez initiated the research and led the conceptual design and writing of the manuscript All authors contributed to further content development and drafting of the manuscript. The team also included researchers from UC Berkeley, UC Riverside and UC San Diego, as well as scientists from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Sacramento; Center for Biological Services, Tucson, Ariz.; Université de Thiès, Senegal; Centers for Pollinators in Energy, Fresh Energy, St. Paul, Minn.; National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Co.; and Renewable Energy and Environmental Finance Group, Wells Fargo, San Francisco.
Look for more research on solar energy!
"Solar energy is the fastest-growing source of power worldwide," according to the UC Davis news release. "In 2019, solar is expected to provide more than 30 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity. According to the International Energy Agency, solar energy could become the largest electricity source by 2050. Solar has many advantages beyond providing power, particularly when built to maximize social, technological and environmental benefits."
Remember those "long lost" silver digger bees found last week at the San Francisco Presidio? They hadn't been seen in large aggregations for nearly a century.
And yet there they were in the newly restored sand dunes at the Presidio, a former military post now owned and operated by the National Park Service.
UC Davis entomologist Leslie Saul-Gershenz lent her expertise when a volunteer discovered the thriving colonies of bees. An authority on digger bees, she confirmed that they are Habropoda miserabilis and were probably common in the sandy dunes of that area as late as the 1920s. When non-native ivy, eucalyptus and ice plants took over their habitat, the bees disappeared.
“The discovery of a thriving native bee colony on the western side of the Presidio is the latest example of how the removal of invasive plants and the restoration of dunes and grasses at the former military base have helped bring back coastal habitat that thrived in San Francisco for tens of thousands of years before the city was built,” said Saul-Gershenz, who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now associate director of research for the Wild Energy Initiative, John Muir Institute of the Environment, on campus.
“I am very happy to see this nest site at the Presidio,” she said. She's worked on the biology, chemical ecology and parasite interactions of this group of bees in the genus Habropoda for many years--on research trips that have taken her to the Oregon coast and the Mojave desert, among others.
“This nest parasite M. franciscanus was originally described from the dunes in San Francisco near Lake Merced by Van Dyke in 1928,” Saul-Gershenz said. “It is presumed to be locally extirpated in San Francisco due to habitat alteration. However its host bee, H. miserabilis appears to have finally found a suitable nest location in a sand dune area being restored by the Presidio Trust in the Presidio National Park. The resiliency of nature provides hope for the future.”
In a news story published in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 29, science reporter Peter Fimrite quoted the UC Davis entomologist as saying that the silver digger bees were “all but gone” by the mid-20th century. However, Saul-Gershenz has kept looking for them. In fact, she collected one near Baker Beach in 1998.
With restoration, comes hope for the return of native plants and insects.
"Biologists have reported a more than tenfold increase in the number of native plants in the Presidio, including at least four that are federally listed endangered or threatened, among them the Presidio clarkia," wrote Fimrite. "The Franciscan manzanita, which was believed to be extinct in the wild, was discovered in the Presidio in 2009. It was the first of its kind seen in its native San Francisco since the old Laurel Hill Cemetery was bulldozed in 1947 and paved over for homes."
Brian Hildebidle, stewardship coordinator for the Presidio Trust, discovered the colonies while surveying a dune restoration project. Jonathan Young, wildlife ecologist for the Presidio Trust, was also included in the news story.
Gershenz and collaborator Jocelyn Millar of UC Riverside and others deciphered the sex attraction of Habropoda miserabilis and the deceptive mimicking blend used by its nest parasite Meloe franciscanus working with a population on the coast of Oregon (Saul-Gershenz et al. 2018). They documented a new parasite-host location system while conducting research on related species in the same genus Habropoda pallida found in the Mojave and Sonoran Desert (Saul-Gershenz and Millar 2006).
The comeback of silver digger bees is not limited to San Francisco. Fimrite related that several other areas in California are are witnessing comebacks, including Bodega Marine Reserve in Bodega Bay and Lanphere Dunes in the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
We remember seeing volunteers at Dillon's Beach, Bodega Bay, last summer removing ice plants by the bird sanctuary, and in the process, giving native plants, native insects and related wildlife a chance to thrive. We remember beachcombers asking "Why? Why are they doing that? Those ice plants are so PRETTY."
The discovery at the Presidio is why.
As Saul-Gershenz points out, there are 1600 native bee species in California, but scientists know little about many of them.
They are all pollinators. And all life is connected. As naturalist/environmental philosopher John Muir (1838-1914) wrote in My First Summer in the Sierra: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
So it is with the silver digger bees. That's why they're gold.