He is one of 33 recipients of the 2023 UC Davis Graduate Program Advising and Mentoring Awards.
"Your program selected you for this award due to your excellent service to your graduate program, as well as your positive impact on graduate students and your colleagues," wrote Jean-Pierre Delplanque, vice provost and dean of Graduate Studies, in a congratulatory letter. "We thank you for your investment in advising and mentoring graduate students and contribution to their success."
The nomination letter extolled his contributions: "What sets Louie apart are these three qualities: (1) He is honest to the unique needs and interests of each student. He knows that the diversity of ideas and perspectives fuels scientific progress. He respects each student's unique perspective and interests He gives his students opportunities to view themselves as intellectual colleagues and contributors. (2) He facilitates intellectual independence in his drive to help students transition from being consumers of knowledge to becoming producers of knowledge. (3) He learns from his students. He knows that mentorship is a two-way street."
Another excerpt from the nomination letter: "It is unusual and truly special, to find a mentor that perfectly balances generous, unwavering support with a deep appreciation for his students' independence. His supportive advising style, almost paradoxically, allows his students to develop a high degree of independence and self-motivation."
The recipients of the award include 14 from the College of Letters and Sciences; 7 from the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, 5 from the College of Biological Sciences, 6 from the College of Engineering, and one from the School of Medicine. (See news story)
Yang, who received his bachelor's degree in ecology and evolution from Cornell University in 1999, and his doctorate in population biology from UC Davis in 2006, joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009.
He co-directs and mentors students in the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), a campuswide program that he and Professors Jay Rosenheim (now a UC Davis distinguished professor) and Joanna Chiu (now chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology) co-founded in 2011 to help students learn cutting-edge research through close mentoring relationships with faculty. The program crosses numerous biological fields, including population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; entomology; and cell biology. The goal: 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.
Professor Yang is the second recipient of the campuswide award from the Department of Entomology and Nematology. Last year Rosenheim, who specializes in insect ecology, received the honor.
Highly honored for his advising and mentoring, Yang earlier received the 2023 Distinction in Student Mentoring Award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America (PBESA), which encompasses 11 Western states, parts of Canada and Mexico, and U.S. territories. He was praised for "being a strong advocate for his students and fostering creative and critical thinking." His other honors include the 2017 Eleanor and Harry Walker Academic Advising Award from CA&ES. In 2018, he received the regional (Pacific Region 9, California, Nevada and Hawaii) Outstanding Faculty Academic Advisor from NACADA, also known as the Global Community for Academic Advising, and then went on to win NACADA's international award for the Outstanding Faculty Academic Advising Award.
That's the abstract of UC Davis community ecologist Louie Yang's review article published June 26 in the journal, Current Opinion in Insect Science. Yang, a Department of Entomology and Nematology professor who researches monarch butterflies, suggests three broad guidelines for western monarch conservation.
The western monarch population overwinters along the California coast. Estimated at 4.5 million in the 1980s, it has dropped significantly over the past five years, the professor related, noting an “86% single-year population decline in 2018, an overwintering population of less than 2000 butterflies in 2020, and an unexpected >100-fold increase in 2021."
Yang defined the western monarch population as occupying "a geographically distinct region of North America west of the Rocky Mountain...Ongoing climate change has made the western monarch range warmer, drier, and more prone to heatwaves, wildfires, and winter storms with complex effects on their ecology. Land development and changes in the structure of landscape mosaics have modified both the breeding and overwintering habitats of western monarch butterflies, changing the spatial distribution of resources and risks across their range. Shifts in agricultural and horticultural practice have changed the nature of potentially deleterious chemicals in the environment, including novel herbicides and insecticides."
His three suggestions:
- "First, we should continue to support both basic and applied monarch research. This includes efforts to better understand fundamental aspects of monarch biology, studies to examine the ecological factors that limit monarch populations in the West and efforts to improve more targeted adaptive management and monitoring efforts. Basic research in monarch biology and ecology improves our understanding of this complex system and can inform conservation actions in profound and unexpected ways. In turn, applied research can address recognized gaps in knowledge that would otherwise limit available strategies for conservation planning and management."
- "Second, recognizing the limits of our current understanding, we should follow the precautionary principle to minimize the risk of counterproductive action. The complexity of this system makes it difficult to anticipate or assume future changes in behavior, species interactions or population dynamics. In practice, this may mean prioritizing efforts to better understand and facilitate existing mechanisms of ecological resilience and recovery over direct actions to manipulate or augment the population with less certain consequences. More broadly, this approach would probably emphasize common sense approaches to mitigate the widely recognized upstream drivers of global change (e.g., climate change and land use change), rather than those requiring a detailed understanding of their complex, interactive effects on species-specific ecologies further downstream."
- "Third, we should work to improve, protect and maintain the resources required throughout the complex monarch life cycle. In part, this likely means prioritizing conservation efforts that target the times and places that are likely to have the greatest positive effects, building on the common ground of available science. In the case of western monarchs, this includes protecting current and future overwintering habitats, the resources required for population expansion in the early season, and the resources required for the fall migration. Recognizing the potentially widespread and pervasive effects of pesticides, this could also mean efforts to develop more ecologically realistic and relevant metrics for the regulation of environmental chemicals."
Editors of the journal, Current Opinion in Insect Science, describe it as "a new systematic review journal that aims to provide specialists with a unique and educational platform to keep up–to–date with the expanding volume of information published in the field of insect science."
A warm welcome!
"UC Davis is a big university, with a strong focus on research," the text begins. "Undergraduates can easily feel like they are lost in the crowd, and rarely get close mentorship from faculty or other research staff (how can you, when your classes have hundreds of students present?). And yet, some of the most important skills for research biologists cannot be taught in big lecture halls or even in lab courses; these skills, especially those linked to conducting cutting-edge research are best learned through close mentoring relationships with faculty, and through an opportunity to do research (try it, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and get it right the next time)."
The program, co-founded and co-directed by three faculty members of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology--distinguished professor Jay Rosenheim and professors Joanna Chiu and Louie Yang--"aims to provide undergraduates with a closely-mentored research experience in biology. Because insects can be used as model systems to explore virtually any area of biology (population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; cell biology), faculty in the program can provide research opportunities across the full sweep of biology. The program's goal is 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."
From the depths of this innovative and excellent program, launched in 2011, come outstanding scholars--scholars like Gwen Erdosh and Gary Ge, the first two recipients of the Dr. Stephen Garczynski Undergraduate Research Scholarship. This award, sponsored by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America, memorializes Stephen Garczynski (1960-2019), a research geneticist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Wapato, Wash.,"who had an unmatched passion for mentoring undergraduate students in their research," according to the PBESA website.
Erdosh, a research scholar in the Yang lab, won the inaugural scholarship, presented in 2022. She's continuing her research, and as @gwentomologist, is sharing her knowledge of entomology with her 77,000 followers on Instagram.
This year Ge won the undergraduate scholarship. He studies with Yang and UC Davis Distinguished Professor Art Shapiro of the Department of Evolution and Ecology, and researches the American Apollo butterfly (Parnassius clodius) as a model to study how microclimatic conditions affect cold-adapted insects. Ge is a research assistant with Shapiro's Central California Butterfly Population and Diversity Trends Study, and works with Yang as a project manager and a research assistant on his Milkweed phenology study.
Ge will be honored at the annual PBESA meeting, April 2-5 in Seattle, which encompasses 11 Western states, plus Canada, Mexico and U.S. territories. He will receive a $1000 award for travel expenses and a waived registration fee.
Ge just finished writing a National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) grant proposal. The results are expected to be announced in April.
His hypothesis: "that mid-elevation populations of P. clodius have the best cold tolerance as overwintering eggs. The main factor behind this is snow cover. Snow cover is known to provide significant insulation to whatever is underneath, usually creating higher microclimatic temperatures under the snow than above. At mid-elevations, the winter temperatures are lower than at low elevations, and the snow cover is supposedly less and more unstable compared to higher elevations. This means the mid-elevation populations are likely exposed to the coldest winter temperature, and have locally adapted to it.”
Ge said he is testing his hypothesis “partly by looking at the supercooling points (SCPs) of diapausing eggs in different populations. The SCP indicates the freezing temperature of the egg, so it should be close to the lower lethal temperature. So, the population with the lowest average SCP would be the most cold-tolerant. I got some preliminary results recently indicating the SCP of the mid-elevation eggs is around -30 °C, which is pretty cold! On the side I am also testing the egg SCP of a Parnassius behrii population. This is a California endemic. It would be cool to see how their thermal tolerance differ from that of P. clodius as P. behrii is only found in high-elevation habitats (mostly around and above 9,000 feet).”
“The genus Parnassius is prone to global warming due to its affinity for alpine and arctic habitats, and several species are considered to be threatened," Ge said.
Shapiro, who has monitored butterfly populations across central California for the last 50 years, says that “Parnassians are a group of cold-adapted Northern Hemisphere butterflies that are becoming increasingly important as objects of physiological, ecological and evolutionary study. They are only likely to grow more important in the context of climate change. Thus, Gary's study is very timely and should attract plenty of attention! It is demanding given the rigorous conditions in which they breed and develop, and he is likely to learn a lot that will facilitate future lab and field studies.” On his research website, Art's Shapiro's Butterfly site, Shapiro describes P. clodius in detail.
Gary, born in Beijing, China, attended elementary school in New York City, middle school in Singapore, and high school in Hawaii, and now California for college. “This allowed me to have experience with a range of lepidopterans and ants and termites as well—social insects are my other favorite group.” He anticipates receiving his bachelor of science degree at UC Davis this year and hopes to enroll in graduate school at UC Davis.
Gary developed his passion for Parnassius during middle school. “When I was visiting my extended family in Tibet, I saw this small white butterfly flying through the seemingly lifeless alpine scree habitat at an elevation of around 1,5000 feet. I later found out that it was a Parnassius species and got immediately intrigued by the fact that they are mostly specialist of alpine and arctic habitats, living in some of the world's coldest and most hostile environments. Since many of the genus members have habitats restricted to mountain tops above the tree line, our P. behrii is an example, climate change--rising tree lines-would leave them nowhere to go. This makes better understanding the ecology of this genus utterly important.”
Congratulations to the scholars, their instructors, and to the UC Davis Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology. And kudos to PBESA for memorializing USDA research geneticist Stephen Garczynski and his "unmatched passion for mentoring undergraduate students in their research."
"Louie is known for being a strong advocate for his students and fostering creative and critical thinking," wrote nominator Steve Nadler, professor and chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. "Whether they be undergraduates, graduates, high school students or members of the community, he engages and challenges students in his lectures, in the lab, and in the field. He attends to the unique needs and interests of each student, respecting their perspectives and ideas. He epitomizes what makes a great professor and advisor: his command of the subject matter, his ability to stimulate discussions and involvement, and his kindly concern for their education, welfare, and success."
The award will be presented at PBESA's annual meeting, set April 2-5, in Seattle. PBESA encompasses 11 Western states, plus parts of Mexico and Canada and U.S. territories.
Louie, who received his bachelor's degree in ecology and evolution from Cornell University in 1999, and his doctorate in population biology from UC Davis in 2006, joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009. Since then, he has mentored an estimated 300 persons, including three PhD students who have graduated from his lab; his current five students; 20 undergraduates associated with his lab; students in three UC Davis graduate groups, Entomology, Graduate Group in Ecology, and Population Biology (40), and 140 community members (nearly all high school students), in the Monitoring Milkweed-Monarch Interactions for Learning and Conservation (MMMILC) project.
Professor Yang has welcomed and mentored students from UC Davis and from around the country with the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program and the UC Davis-Howard University Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Ecology and Evolution Graduate Admissions Pathways (EEGAP) program.
He co-directs and mentors students in the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), a campuswide program that he and Professors Jay Rosenheim and Joanna Chiu co-founded in 2011 to help students learn cutting-edge research through close mentoring relationships with faculty. The program crosses numerous biological fields, including population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; entomology; and cell biology. The goal: 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.
The group letters from his current students and alumni echoed the praise.
Yang believes that “science progresses by confronting our assumptions, ideas, and hypotheses with data. This dynamic process of confrontation requires a powerful combination of logic and objectivity that is widely recognized as the domain of science. However, the raw material of scientific creativity—the fundamental wellspring for the scientific process—depends on variability in the way people think about how the world works. This diversity of human perspectives allows the scientific community to ask new questions, imagine new solutions to problems, and reconsider entrenched assumptions—all of which accelerate scientific progress. New ideas are the engine of science and that is why I encourage diversity in science.”
In his research, Yang is involved in monarch conservation science and planning in collaboration with the Western Monarch Conservation Science Group, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, Monarch Joint Venture, Environment Defense Fund, and the Monarch Summit in DC. Science Friday, National Public Radio, interviewed Yang about his monarch-milkweed research in February 2022. (Listen to the archived interview.)
The UC Davis professor launched the Monitoring Milkweed-Monarch Interactions for Learning and Conservation (MMMILC) project in 2013 for high school students in the environmental science program at Davis Senior High School or those associated with the Center for Land-Based Learning's Green Corps program. Their tasks: monitoring milkweed-monarch interactions in a project funded by the National Science Foundation. Yang organized and led a 135-member team, all co-authors of the paper, “Different Factors Limit Early- and Late-Season Windows of Opportunity for Monarch Development,” published in July 2022 in the journal Ecology and Evolution. The 107 co-authors included high school students, undergraduate and graduate students, and community members. (See News Story)
In mentoring, Yang follows several goals:
- To be honest to the unique needs and interests of each student.
- To facilitate intellectual independence.
- To learn from his students.
Highly honored by his peers and students, Yang received the 2017 Eleanor and Harry Walker Academic Advising Award from CA&ES. In 2018, he received the regional (Pacific Region 9, California, Nevada and Hawaii) Outstanding Faculty Academic Advisor from NACADA, also known as the Global Community for Academic Advising, and then went on to win NACADA's international award for the Outstanding Faculty Academic Advising Award.
Yang writes on his website: "As a lab, we work to maintain an open, supportive and encouraging environment to do good science. We are open to multiple research areas and approaches, and encourage students and postdocs to develop their own innovative ideas and creative questions along the way. Our lab values straightforward communication, intellectual independence, determined problem-solving, constructive persistence, helpfulness, integrity, humility and humor. Although we aim to maintain a small lab group, we always welcome inquiries from prospective graduate students, postdocs and undergraduates. If you are interested in joining the lab, please send an email to Louie H. Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org."
The complete list of 2023 PBESA winners is posted here. The archived list of mentoring award recipients dates back to 2012 and includes UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey, who won in 2020 and UC Davis distinguished professor Jay Rosenheim, the 2018 recipient.
On the more serious side, you'll probably never see the "burying beetle" research that ecologist-artist Tracie Hayes, a doctoral candidate in the laboratory of Professor Louie Yang, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, does at the restricted-access Bodega Marine Reserve.
But you can if you attend the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 22 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
The open house will showcase scores of beetle species, and ecologist-artist Hayes will be among the scientists participating.
Hayes researches the yellow-bellied burying beetle, Nicrophorus guttula, at the Bodega Marine Reserve. She's also an accomplished artist and intricately draws the insect and its environment.
Burying beetles, as their name implies, bury small carcasses, like mice, birds and squirrels, and use them to feed their larvae.
"We have about a million beetle specimens in our global collection of eight million insect specimens," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology.
The event, open to the public, is free and family friendly. The arts-and-crafts activity will be to color a drawing of a carrion beetle (genus Heterosilpha), the work of Hayes.
N. guttula, described by Russian entomologist Victor Motschulsky, belongs to the order Coleoptera and the family Silphidae (carrion beetles).
“Burying beetles are really very similar to us,” said Hayes, noting that the male and female meet, pair up, engage in building their home, and help feed the offspring. “They find a good carcass to settle down with; a pair gets to know each other by stridulating back and forth; and then they will prepare their home by burying the carcass and building a nice nursery chamber. After eggs are laid and larvae hatch, both parents will help feed the offspring.”
“I became interested in burying beetles when I was exploring potential field sites during my first year (of graduate school), and came across some carrion beetles, Heterosilpha ramosa, at the Bodega Marine Reserve,” said Hayes, who grew up in Charlotte, N.C., received two degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and joined the UC Davis population biology graduate program in 2019. “I was captivated by their abundance and movement across the landscape and started reading the literature about carrion beetles generally.”
“I came across a lot of cool experiments with these important scavengers and realized they could be a useful system for asking questions about resource scarcity in space and time,” Hayes related. “Later that summer I set out mice carcasses across the reserve to see if I could find burying beetles (carrion beetles in the genus Nicrophorus), and I was lucky enough to catch multiple Nicrophorus and witness their fascinating behaviors in the field.”
At the open house, Hayes will present a video she created, "A Clearance of Death on Behalf of Life" at https://youtu.be/cGLOE7SrbiU, and field questions about the insect and her research.
Hayes presented a research poster on “Moisture Modulates Ephemeral Resource Patch Quality for Burying Beetle Reproduction” at two 2022 scientific meetings: the Entomological Society of America Joint Annual Meeting, Vancouver, Canada, an also at the 2022 American Society of Naturalists Meeting, Pacific Grove, Calif.
What sparked her interest in entomology? “I like working with insects because they usually come at a scale amenable to ecology experiments, they are super diverse, leading to a diversity of potential questions, and because they are beautiful--especially my charismatic Nicrophorus!” Hayes said.
“Also, burying beetles serve as a model system for studying organisms that specialize on resources that are rare in space and time. These ‘ephemeral resource patches'-- in this case, small carcasses--act as epicenters for interesting ecological interactions.”
A highlight of her research: “Last summer, using experimental chambers in the field, I measured reproductive output across a range of conditions. I found that pairs require a fresh carcass over a dry one in order to reproduce successfully, and competition from the generalist carrion beetle Heterosilpha reduces total offspring count. Both competition and carcass moisture affect the quality of the carcass as perceived by these beetles. Under shifting environmental conditions and species interactions under climate change, burying beetles, as specialists of ephemeral resource patches, may serve as indicators of how organisms will respond to change in general.”
National Science Foundation. Hayes received a $138,000 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (GRP) in 2019, and in 2022, was awarded a $25,000 Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Bodega Marine Laboratory Fellowship.
A 2017 alumna of UNC-Chapel Hill, with the highest distinction, Tracie holds a bachelor of science degree in biology with honors, and a bachelor of arts degree in studio art, with highest honors. Her work experience includes lab manager for the Echinacea Project, Chicago Botanic Garden; research intern for the Dell Ecology Lab, National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, Alton, Ill.; and undergraduate researcher for the Hurlbert Lab, UNC-Chapel Hill.
Engaged in teaching, outreach and science communication at UC Davis, Hayes served recently as a teaching assistant for the course, Entomology 001 “Art, Science and the World of Insects,” and as the communications facilitator, mentor, and workshop leader for the UC Davis Evolution and Ecology Graduate School Preview Program. She created a Bohart Museum of Entomology specimen display drawer, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Insects that Use Ephemeral Resources,” in 2022.
In the art-communications world, Hayes gained experience as the 2013-2016 managing editor, design editor and writer for the Carolina Scientific magazine, UNC's premier undergraduate science journal, and as the 2014 - 2015 artist-in-residence and arts editor, for Event Horizon magazine, a literary and graphic arts periodical at Chapel Hill.
Her career plans? “I hope to keep doing ecology and get a faculty position eventually,” Hayes said. “I would also like to work across disciplines and incorporate art-making into my research and future career as much as possible.”
Folsom Lake College professor Fran Keller, a Bohart Museum scientist and a UC Davis doctoral alumna of entomology, is scheduled to discuss darkling beetles, members of the family Tenebrionidae. Scientists from the California Department of Food and Agriculture also will be a key part of the open house.
The Bohart Museum, dedicated to "understanding, documenting and communicating terrestrial arthropod diversity," was founded in 1946 and named for UC Davis professor and noted entomologist Richard Bohart. In addition to its global collection of eight million insect specimens, it houses a live "petting zoo," featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas; and a year-around gift shop, stocked with insect-themed books, posters, jewelry, t-shirts, hoodies and more.
The museum is open to the public from 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 5 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.