Williams, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and a 2015-2020 Chancellor's Fellow, is one of only 19 UC Davis researchers so honored and one of 10 from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Williams focuses his research on the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinator insects and their interactions with flowering plants. His work is particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.
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“This is a wonderful testament to the incredible breadth of expertise at UC Davis and the associated global impact,” said Prasant Mohapatra, UC Davis vice chancellor for research said in a UC Davis news story. “I would like to congratulate each of the named investigators and their teams on such an inspiring accomplishment.”
Williams joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now Department of Entomology and Nematology) in 2009 from the Bryn Mawr (Pa.) College. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a doctorate from the State University of New York, Stony Brook.
He was named a Chancellor's Fellow in 2015, a five-year program that granted him $25,000 to support his research, teaching and public service activities. The program, established in 2000 to honor the achievements of outstanding faculty members early in their careers, is funded in part by the Davis Chancellor's Club and the Annual Fund of UC Davis.
As Professor Williams, professor, researcher, educator and mentor, says on his website:
"Our research addresses basic questions about bee ecology, evolution, and behavior. We explore the intricacies of pollinator-floral interactions from animal and plant perspectives. We seek to understand the persistence of pollinator populations, pollinator and plant communities, and pollination in the context of global change."
Check out the UC Davis piece on "How to Weigh a Bumble Bee."
How that project began: Williams and postdoctoral researcher Rosemary Malfi set out to research how the short-term loss of floral resources affects bumble bees, specifically the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, a common bumble bee native to the West Coast of the United States. Its importance to agriculture, including the pollination of greenhouse tomatoes, cannot be overstated.
So, "the bee team," led by Williams, decided they needed to weigh the bees as part of their research. They engaged mechanical and electrical engineers on the UC Davis campus to see if they could come up with a "bee scale" to weigh individual foragers.
They could and they did. It's a great example of innovative and interdisciplinary research. (See post on Bug Squad blog)
Especially when it comes to bumble bee colonies.
Postdoctoral scholar Rosemary Malfi of the Neal Williams lab, University of California, Davis, will speak on “Timing Is Everything: Bumble Bee Colony Performance in Response to Seasonal Variation in Resources” at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, May 30 in 122 Briggs Hall.
“Wild bee populations are considered to be strongly regulated by the availability of flowering resources on which they rely for food, that is, pollen and nectar, yet we lack robust, experimental data demonstrating the mechanistic connections between the floral resource environment and bee population health," Malfi says. "The temporal distribution of resources, in particular, is an understudied but potentially highly influential aspect of habitat quality affecting bees. Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) are annual, euosocial insect with high conservation value. Because their colonies must grow for several weeks before reproducing the timing of within-season resource abundance and scarcity is especially likely to impact their demographic performance."
At her seminar, Malfi will describe her postdoctoral work here at UC Davis, "in which we investigated the importance of the timing of floral resource abundance for bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenkii) colony success through two large field experiments involving the manipulation of the food environment that colonies experienced. In the first study, we assessed how differences in the resource environment early in colony development affected both individual and colony level traits across the season using radio-frequency technology (RFID) and mark recapture methods. In the second study, we determine whether a pulse of food resources early in development, compared to a pulse delivered later during the 'pre-reproductive' phase, has a greater or similar impact on the peak size and reproduction of bumble bee colonies. We use a null method of exponential colony growth to explore whether resource pulses have persistent effects on colony growth after the pule itself has disappeared. Together these studies demonstrate that resource abundance early in development is critical for the success of bumble bee colonies, and this populations."
A native of Philadelphia, Rosemary received her bachelor of arts degree from Bryn Mawr College, an all-women's liberal arts school in the greater metro area, and worked two years at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia as a lab manager for the in-house Patrick Center for Environmental Research.
Mali holds a doctorate in environmental science (ecology) from the University of Virginia in 2015 , studying with major professor T'ai Roulston. She focused her doctoral research on the influence that flower (i.e. food) availability and parasitism have on bumble bee (Bombus spp.) population dynamics, and how risks associated with these factors vary among species within a community. In her work, integrating field observations, parasite analysis, colony manipulations, the use of radio frequency technology, and simulation modeling, she investigated these sources of environmental influence independently and interactively through studies that focus on bumble bee populations and environmental risks present in northern Virginia.
Among the bumble bee parasites Malfi has studied: Nosema bombi, a pathogenic fungus implicated in "the precipitous and rapid decline of several bumble bee species across North America." During her graduate studies, she became especially interested in the interaction between bumble bees and one of their parasitoids, the conopid fly. "Although the basic biology of this interaction has been described," she says, "little is currently known about the ecology of this host-parasitoid relationship, particularly in North America." Malfi discussed her work on the conopid fly at the January 2016 open house of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis.
Malfi's postdoctoral position at UC Davis ends in September, and then she will be moving to Massachusetts with her family. She will be working in the lab of Lynn Adler at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to carry out research on the influence of diet on bumble bee colony development and health.
Career plans? "For now, my career plans are to continue pursuing research on wild bee population health," she says. "In my next position at UMass Amherst, I'll be focusing on how the diet of bumble bees may mediate the influence of pathogenic parasites on individual- and colony-level performance."
Well, if you're the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, you do it with a family craft activity--inflating a balloon inside a balloon to get a "parasitoid" balloon.
Graduate student Charlotte Herbert, who studies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis, staffed the "balloon station" at the Bohart Museum's "Parasitoid Palooza II" open house.
Adi Fry, 7, and her brother, Ethan Fry, 5, of Davis, were among those who learned about parasitoids as they inflated the double balloons.
"An insect parasitoid is a species whose immatures live off of an insect host, often eating it from the inside out," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. "It is part of their life cycle and the host generally dies. This sounds like a weird way to make a living, but there are more species of parasitoids than there are insects with any other kind of life history.” An example is a conopid fly that lays its eggs inside a bumble bee.
On the other hand, an insect parasite is a species that feeds on living animal tissue as external or internal parasites of any stage of another organism, according to Kimsey. This is part of their life cycle and the host typically does not die. An example is a flea feeding on a dog.
Rosemary Malfi, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Neal Williams, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, discussed conopid flies, also called thick-headed flies, which lay their eggs in some bees, wasps and ants. Malfi did extensive work on the interaction between conopid flies and bumblebee hosts. Some 800 known species of conopids are found throughout the world.
Bohart senior museum scientist Steve Heydon discussed jewel wasps, Pteromalidae, a worldwide family of wasps with some 3,450 described species. Many are biological control agents.
The next open house at the Bohart Museum will be part of the fifth annual Biodiversity Museum Day, a campuswide open house scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13. The "Super Sciene Day" will showcase 11 specialized research and teaching collections. It is free and open to the public.
New to the Biodiversity Day are the Nematode Collection, Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, California Raptor Center, Phaff Yeast Culture Collection and the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. They will join the Center for Plant Diversity, Botanical Conservatory, Paleontology Collections, Anthropology Collection, Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, and the Bohart Museum of Entomology for a day of science exploration.
The Bohart Museum, named for noted entomologist Richard Bohart, houses nearly eight million insect specimens, along with a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula named "Peaches") and a year-around gift shop. It is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. The Bohart hosts open houses on specific weekends throughout the academic year, but it is also open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 5 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.
The tachinid fly is a parasitoid.
What's a parasitoid? And where can you go to learn about it?
"An insect parasitoid is a species whose immatures live off of an insect host, often eating it from the inside out," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis. "It is part of their life cycle and the host generally dies."
Want to know more about them? You're in luck. The Bohart Museum will host “Parasitoid Palooza II” at its open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 10 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It's free and open to the public.
Senior museum scientist Steve Heydon, a global expert on jewel wasps, will give a 15-minute presentation on parasitoids and the group that he studies--the jewel wasps (Pteromalidae). His talk is from 2 to 2:15.
Rosemary Malfi, a postdoctoral fellow in the Neal Williams lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will present a mini talk from 3 to 3:15 on some of the parasitoids she has worked with while completing her doctorate. She did extensive work on the interaction between conopid flies and bumblebee hosts.
Another group of parasitoids that will be highlighted at Sunday's open house will be the Strepsiptera, or twisted-wing parasites, an order of insects that the late UC Davis entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) researched for his doctorate in 1938. Both the Bohart Museum and an entire family of Strepsiptera, the Bohartillidae, are named in honor of Professor Bohart.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity.
Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula named “Peaches.” Visitors are invited to hold the insects and photograph them. The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum holds special open houses throughout the academic year. Its regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
Upcoming open houses are:
- Saturday, Feb. 13: noon to 4 p.m.: Part of Biodiversity Museum Day
- Saturday, April 16, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.: UC Davis Picnic Day
- Saturday, July 31, 8 to 11 p.m.: “Celebrate Moths.”
More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or Tabatha Yang at email@example.com.