When doctoral candidate and entomologist extraordinaire Brendon Boudinot delivered his exit seminar on ants to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, he drew acclaim, admiration and applause.
Boudinot, whose peers marvel at his expertise on all-things-ants and, indeed, all-things-entomological, greeted a standing-room only crowd in Room 122 of Briggs Hall.
If any ants had been in the room, they would have stood at attention, too.
Major professor Phil Ward praised Boudinot's intellectual curiosity, his contributions to science and his service to the department and campus. "He is an incredible fireball of energy, enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity," Ward said. "He will be sorely missed."
Boudinot, who excels in academics, leadership, public service activities, professional activities, and scientific publications, won the 2019 John Henry Comstock Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). The Comstock award is PBESA's highest graduate student award in a region that encompasses 11 states, U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Just a few of Boudinot's accomplishments:
- Published several landmark papers on insect systematics, including research in the journal Arthropod Structure and Development (in which he presented a comprehensive theory of genital homologies across all Hexapoda). Scientists describe the work as "classic."
- Received multiple “President's Prize” awards for his research presentations at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meetings. He organized the ESA symposium, “Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology,” at the 2018 meeting in Vancouver, B.C. , and delivered a presentation on “Male Ants: Past, Present and Prospects” at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, Fla.
- Served on three of the UC Davis Linnaean Games teams that won national or international ESA championships. The Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.
- Served as president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association from 2016 to 2019.
- Co-chaired the department's Picnic Day activities (part of the annual campuswide Picnic Day celebration) with forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey for several years. Boudinot also did double duty as "The Bug Doctor," fielding questions from the general public.
Boudinot titled his exit seminar, "Abdomens and Ants: Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology of the Insects." The title prompted Ward to quip "Here's Brendon talking about ants, abdomens and the meaning of life."
Boudinot divided his talk into two parts: (1) from the ocean onto land, from the land into the sky, and (2) from the sky back to the land (ants).
"Between about 410 to 480 million years ago, there was an event where the ancestor of the insects that we think of as insects today, not only had moved onto land, but gained numerous adaptations for land," Boudinot began. "So this first part of this talk is going to be a comparison of these wingless insects."
Pointing out that insects have a head, a thorax, and abdomen, Boudinot asked: "Why do we care about the abdomen? Okay, we don't maybe generally care about the abdomen and maybe we don't care that much about insect genitalia, but I care about insect genitalia and a lot of insects do, too."
The crowd, knowing Boudinot's interest in ant genitalia research and knowing insects' interest in reproduction, erupted into laughter.
Gillung, who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in December 2018, and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University, has won the Snodgrass Memorial Research Award from the Entomological Society of America (ESA) for her landmark dissertation on spider flies.
Spider flies? They're parasitoids of spiders in the family Acroceridaae and not widely known. Many are bee or wasp mimics. They are commonly called "small-headed flies" or "hunch-backed flies."
The award, given by ESA's Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section, recognizes outstanding research by a doctoral student who has completed a research thesis or dissertation in arthropod morphology, systematics, taxonomy, or evolution. The prize is a $500 cash award and an invited talk at ESA. She'll speak on "Unraveling the Evolution of Spider Flies (Diptera, Acroceridae): Progress and Possibilities" at the ESA's annual meeting, set Nov. 17-20 in St. Louis, Mo.
Gilllung studied with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. She also studied with mentor Shaun Winterton, insect biosystematist, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and collaborated with ant specialist and taxonomist Phil Ward, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Gillung's dissertation, involving genomics, phylogenetics, systematics, and comparative analyses, “has increased our understanding of the biological patterns and processes that have shaped our planet's biodiversity,” Kimsey wrote in her letter of nomination. Her taxonomic work included identification keys and morphology-based diagnoses of species using modern techniques of cybertaxonomy—the application of the internet, digital technologies, and computer resources to increase and speed up the discovery and cataloging of new species, Kimsey wrote in her letter of nomination.
“Using cybertaxonomic tools, Jessica described 25 new spider fly species herself, and in collaboration with fellow entomologists, three fossil species from Baltic amber, described in her first dissertation chapter," Kimsey wrote. "Cybertaxonomy is a powerful tool that allows researchers and citizen scientists to collaborate in real time and across great distances to increase the speed and efficiency of biodiversity discovery.”
Kimsey noted that “Jessica unraveled the functional and ecological implications of key morphological traits, as well as their distribution across the Tree of Life," and "established new homologies for the wing venation of spider flies. She conducted detailed and assiduous dissections of male reproductive structures (i.e., genitalia) to understand homologies, demonstrating that morphological traits are dynamically evolving systems useful for both classification and inference of evolutionary history.”
While at UC Davis, Gillung drew more $120,000 in grants and awards for her multifaceted research on genomics, bioinformatics, phylogenetics, plant-pollinator interactions, and biodiversity discovery. She compiled a near straight-A academic record, published 11 refereed publications in top journals, and engaged in public service and outreach programs that reached more than 20,000 people at UC Davis-based events.
Gillung was a key member of the UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won the ESA national championship in 2015. (See YouTube video.) The Linnaean Games are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.
The UC Davis-trained entomologist earlier received
- The 2019 Marsh Award for Early Career Entomologist, sponsored by the Royal Entomological Society. That involved a $1624 cash award and an invitation to the society meeting, Aug. 20-22 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
- The 2019 Early Career Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). PBESA encompasses 11 western states, U.S. territories and parts of Canada and Mexico.
- The 2018 Student Leadership Award from PBESA
- The “Best Student Presentation Award” at the ninth annual International Congress of Dipterology, held in 2018 in Windhoek, Namibia.
At Cornell, Gillung is researching Apoidea (stinging wasps and bees) phylogenomics, evolution and diversification in the Brian Danforth lab.
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 email@example.com or (530) 752-0493.