Ant specialists and other researchers also hone in on big-eyed ants for their relationships with plants.
Those attending a UC Davis seminar this week on big ants will learn all about them, including the phylogenetic morphology.
Brendon Boudinot, a Ph.D. candidate in the Phiil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will speak on "Phylogenetic Morphology of the Big-Eyed Tree Ants and Kin (Formicidae: Pseudomyrmecinae)" at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 28 in 122 Briggs Hall.
This is one of the seminars hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology for the winter quarter.
"Like their closest relatives, the infamous bulldog ants of Australia, the big-eyed tree ants have a nasty sting, but this isn't what draws our attention to them," he says. "Rather, many species of big-eyed ants have intimate relationships with plants. In the most extreme cases, the ants act as the plants' personal body guards, raining down upon perceived threats as a deluge of stings, and even pruning away competitive vegetation, forming eerily still 'satan's gardens' in South America.'
"In some cases, the plants contribute to the social wellbeing of the ants by investing in public housing, with the ants making their nests in preformed cavities within the plants, such as in the swollen thorns of various Acacia," Boudinot points out. "Indeed, these same Acacia provide the sole nutrition for their protectives ants, in the form of small, yellow, protein-rich food bodies at the tips of their leaves---in other words, the ants have become full vegans. Current evidence suggests that these tight relationships have evolved perhaps a dozen times within the big-eyed ants. However, the adaptations of these ants to living in state-sponsored societies is uncertain. It is one of the objectives of the present research to understand how the bodies of big-eyed ants have transformed over time, allowing the ants to optimize their relationship with plants."
Boudinot will be illustrating his seminar with stunning photos of big-eyed ants, the work of Alex Wild, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (studying with Phil Ward). Wild is now curator of entomology, University of Austin, Texas.
The UC Davis Entomology and Nematology's series of seminars for the winter quarter are coordinated by assistant professor Rachel Vannette; Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and Brendon Boudinot.
If you attended the 2017 Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting, held recently in Denver, you probably recognized a familiar face and his research.
This is the third year he has won first-place honors in the President's Prize competition, an opportunity for graduate students to present their research.
Boudinot, who studies classification and evolution of morphology, delivered a 10-minute oral presentation in the Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section on "The Protopodal Theory of Genitalic Evolution in the Hexapoda (Arthropoda: Mandibulata: Pancrustacea)."
Judges evaluate the oral presentations on scientific content (50 percent) and presentation (50 percent). For scientific content, judges score them on introduction and background with pertinent literature cited; objectives clearly stated and concise; materials and methods (study design) clear and concise; results and discussion clear, concise and accurate; and significance of results to field of study. Judges evaluation the presentation on organization, slides and delivery.
For his work, he received a one-year free membership in ESA, a $75 cash prize, and a certificate.
Boudinot's previous President's Prizes were for presentations on the male genitalia of ants, and for providing the first male-based identification material for the ant genera of the New World.
"I study ants because they are a unique evolutionary radiation of wingless, social wasps; through the study of their genetic and morphological diversity, we are better able to understand the ecological and biogeographic components of the process of speciation," Boudinot said today. "I came to study ants through several years of work I did as an undergraduate sorting and identifying ants from thousands of leaf litter samples collected in Central America by the Leaf Litter Arthropods of MesoAmerica project, which I was involved in (see photo of him in Honduras during 2010, as well as a little blurb from the year before he joined UC Davis graduate program)."
Boudinot traces his initial interest in the taxonomic and morphological diversity of ants through direct observational experience. Now, as a member of the Ward Lab, he continues his work, which encompasses three components:
- the diversity and classification of male ants in the New World
- a reclassification of the Formicidae based on phylogenetic analyses combining fossils with living taxa, and
- a study of the morphological evolution of the abdomen of insects, borne out of work done in projects (1) and (2).
Boudinot completed his undergraduate work at the Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., and spent a year working as a research technician at the University of Utah before starting his graduate work in 2014 with advisor Phil Ward. He focuses his research on evolution and ecology, approached from the perspective of systematics. “I integrate several lines of inquiry to answer historical evolutionary questions, including morphological and molecular phylogenetics, paleontology, and traditional comparative morphology,” Boudinot related. “I specialize on the skeletomusculature system of the male genitalia of the Hexapoda and the classification of the Formicoidea.”
Ants are highly diverse, with more than 13,000 known species, Boudinot says. "They are, however, but one stitch in the diversity of all insects, and we are entering a new era for the study of morphology in the 21st century."
The genitalia of male insects are fascinating, he said. "Both male and female insect genitalia are derived from the appendages of a pair of abdominal segments. Evidence from the skeletomusculature indicates that these structures are really legs of a crustacean ancestor that have been modified for numerous reproductive tasks--from copulation and insemination, to singing and silk-spinning."
When he's not studying ants, you can find Brendon Boudinot serving as president of the Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA), his second term at the helm. In this capacity, he functions as student liaison to the faculty, and as chair or co-chair of several committees, both for departmental and graduate student events (including the Entomology Seminar Series, Retreat Committee, annual Graduate Student Recruitment Day, Picnic Day, and various graduate student social events).
UC Davis doctoral candidate Sarah Silverman of the James R. Carey lab joined Boudinot in the winners' circle at the ESA meeting. She won a second place award in the President's Prize competition, delivering a 10-minute oral presentation in the Diptera-Mosquitoes category of the Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Section, on “Population as Cohort: Interpreting the Mortality Patterns of Wild-Caught Adult Mosquitoes of Unknown Ages.”
Her work at UC Davis is in the field of insect demography. “I specifically study insect lifespan in the wild," she said, "as well as the the age-structure of insect populations in the wild using an innovative methodological approach: the capture of live-insects in the wild which are then maintained and observed in the lab until death." Silverman completed her bachelor's degree in environmental science at McGill University in Montreal. For her undergraduate thesis, she studied the phenology of wild Osmia bees./span>
The UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology is again sponsoring two summer Bio Boot Camps: one for youths entering the seventh, eighth or ninth grade this fall, and one for youths entering grades 10 through 12 this fall.
"The camps focus on insect science and wildlife biology, due to our partnership with the UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology," said camp coordinator Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Musuem's education and outreach coordinator.
The Bio Boot Camp, the seventh annual camp for middle school students, will take place Monday-Friday, June 19-23. It's based in Davis, but Thursday night features an overnight stay at the UC Berkeley's Sagehen Field Station, near Truckee. The total cost, including meals and housing, is $425.
Bio Boot Camp 2.0, the fifth annual camp for high schoolers, is set July 23 to 29. They will spend one night at UC Berkeley's Quail Ridge Reserve, near Winters. "The next day will be spent exploring UC Davis and the museums," Yang said. "Then Monday night through Saturday morning, the camp is at the Sagehen Field Station where the youths will be developing mini research projects." The total cost, including meals and housing, is $795.
Pre-enrollments take place January through March, and the campers are selected for formal enrollment in early April. "We do this to select the most genuinely interested campers," Yang explained. The process is already under way: the first application came from Germany.
Enrollment is kept low to provide quality experiences. The middle-school camp is limited to 12 students and the high school camp, to 10. Each camp has two instructors. The Bohart Museum Society sponsors need-based partial scholarships for several campers each year.
For more information, access the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu/summer-camp. Yang can be reached at at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 752-0493.
It's more than major: it's an international award for his distinguished research and scholarly activity.
Borowiec, who received his doctorate in entomology in June from the University of California, Davis, studying with major professor Phil Ward, is the recipient of the coveted George C. Eickwort Student Research Award, sponsored by the North American Section of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI-NAS).
The award recognizes a graduate student for distinguished research and scholarly activity in the field of social insect biology. Borowiec received a certificate, honorarium, and a one-year subscription to Insectes Sociaux.
Borowiec is now a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of evolutionary biologist/ant specialist Christian Rabeling of Rochester, N.Y. The lab will be moving to Tempe, Ariz. in January.
“What is notable about Marek is that even as he became trained as a highly accomplished molecular phylogeneticist and computational biologist, he remained focused on organism-centered questions, driven by a deep and abiding appreciation of natural history,” said Ward.
Borowiec is the first from the Ward lab to receive the Eickwort Award.
They issued this statement:
“Although he has just received his PhD, Marek's work has already had a significant impact on the field of social insect evolutionary biology,” said the committee of . “His dissertation, completed under the supervision of Phil Ward at UC Davis, included a landmark revision of the genera in the diverse army ant subfamily Dorylinae. Marek produced a classification of the army ants in which morphological and molecular genetic data are fully congruent with each other, an unprecedented feat in ant taxonomy. His work showed decisively that the ‘army ant syndrome' evolved independently in the New World and Old World tropics, settling a century-old controversy.
“Besides his army ant work, Marek also contributed to phylogenomic research demonstrating that ants are the sister group of the bees and spheciform wasps, and he was first author of an important paper showing that Ctenophora, the comb jellies, is the sister group to all other metazoans, thus resolving one of the earliest phylogenetic bifurcations in the animal kingdom. Marek's strengths in taxonomy and phylogenetics are supported by his accomplishments in bioinformatics, which include developing and publishing a novel tool to manipulate DNA sequence alignments of genomic datasets.
“Marek's recommenders praise him as a well-rounded biologist with a deep appreciation of natural history. “He doesn't just excel in ant taxonomy, or phylogenetics, or bioinformatics. He excels in all of these disciplines. It is his love for ants and his curiosity about the natural world that motivates his studies.
"Marek is also a good scientific citizen, actively serving the systematics community as a subject editor for ZooKeys and Biodiversity Data Journal and as a frequent contributor to online systematics resources and databases. His research and scholarly achievements make Marek Borowiec a very deserving winner of this year's George C. Eickwort Student Research Award.”
Borowiec's research interests include phylogeny, taxonomy, biogeography, and natural history of ants. Before enrolling at UC Davis, Borowiec received his master's degree in 2009 from the Department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Taxonomy, University of Wroclaw, Poland.
"My focus has been primarily on ant diversity and evolution and in my research I combine field work, morphology, molecular phylogenetics, and comparative methods," Borowiec said. "I am also interested in computing and phylogeny estimation from next-generation sequencing data."
Marek was just a college freshman when he read "Naturalist" by biologist-researcher-theorist-naturalist-author (and 1979 Pulitzer-Prize winner) E. O. Wilson, whose work and observations on ants drew him in.
Now, with a doctorate in hand, and with a postdoc position in New York (soon to move to Arizona), Dr. Marek Borowiec continues to follow his dream.
At Friday noon, July 17, ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology, will present a program on the species of ants found in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. This will be a special brown bag session in the haven, located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Among the native ants at the haven are
- Dorymyrmex insanus (workers small, ~3 mm long, black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
- Dorymyrmex bicolor (workers small, ~3 mm long, bicolored, dull orange and black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
- Prenolepis imparis (also known as the “winter ant” or “winter honey ant”; workers small (3-4 mm long), brown, with shiny gaster; inconspicuous nests in soil)
- Formica moki (sometimes called “field ants”; workers medium-sized (6 mm long), with a dark head, orange-brown mesosoma (thorax) and silvery-gray gaster; nest in soil)
Images of these species can be found on the AntWeb (www.antweb.org).
At least six other species of native ants reside in the vicinity of the garden, including Formica aerata, Pogonomyrmex subdentatus, and Solenopsis xyloni. The introduced Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) occurs around the Bee Biology building, but it appears not to have colonized the bee garden.
Attendees will learn how to observe and identify California native ants, and learn about the differences between bees and ants in this free event. For more information see the flier and access the haven web site. The haven is owned and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It was planted in the fall of 2009. Christine Casey is the staff director and Extension apiculturist Elina Niño is the faculty director.
Then on Saturday night, July 18, the Bohart Museum of Entomology's first-ever evening open house will take place from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. The Bohart is located at 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane. Free and open to the public, Moth Night will include outdoor collecting; viewing of the Bohart Museum's vast collection of worldwide moth specimens; demonstrations on how to spread the wings of a moth; and information on how to differentiate a moth from a butterfly. Free hot chocolate will be served.
The event is in keeping with National Moth Week, July 18-26, an annual event coordinated by Friends of the East Brunswick (New Jersey) Environmental Commission. This year, National Moth Week will spotlight the Sphingidae family of moths found throughout the world commonly called hawk moths, sphinx moths and hornworms. Citizen scientists will be out in force to record and photograph what they see that week.
Tabatha Yang, public education and outreach coordinator of the Bohart, said that after the sun sets, a black light demonstration will be held. Visitors will collect moths from a white sheet, much as residents do around their porch lights.
Entomologist Jeff Smith of Rocklin, an associate and 27-year volunteer at the Bohart Museum, will show visitors how to spread the wings of moths. Smith curates the 400,000-specimen Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart Museum. Smith organizes and identifies the butterflies and moths, creates the drawers that display them, and the labels that identify them. In between, he shares his passion for insects and spiders at outreach programs. Since 1988, Smith has spread the wings of 200,000 butterflies and moths, or about 7000 a year.
Naturalist Greg Kareofelas of Davis, a longtime associate at the Bohart Museum, will assist with the open house and the outdoor collecting. The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, is a world-renowned insect museum that houses a global collection of nearly 8 million specimens.