At first glance, you may think the insect is a carpenter bee or bumble bee.
Then you see it hovering. Then you see its head. Then you see its stubby antennae.
It's a large black syrphid fly, aka flower fly or hover fly.
The genus Copestylum includes more than 350 species in the new world, according to Martin Hauser, senior insect biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, says the female Mexican cactus fly lays its eggs in rotting or dying cactus tissue.
This fly, about 3/4 of an inch long, was a few inches short of a neighboring cactus, a torch cactus, Echinopsis spachiana.
The cactus is neither dying nor rotten.
The Mexican cactus fly simply stopped to sip some nectar from the Mexican sunflower.
- She remembers eating fried grasshoppers at a party. "They're okay with a lot of spices!"
- She remembers watching Professor Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. and his wife, Ruth, give one another bee stings on their hands at Bee Biology, now the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. "I keep thinking about that as I get older!"
- She remembers learning about bees from Robbin Thorp (now a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology), who served on her thesis committee. "I still keep in touch!"
- And she remembers the time that a professor sparked her interest in biocontrol. Professor Les Ehler (1946-2016) "took a leaf out of his lunch cooler and held it in the air to show us some aphids on it, and a wasp appeared and parasitized them." He laughed and said "That's how it's done!"
"Wow! Cool!" she thought as the wasp parasitized the aphids.
Rachael went on to receive her master's degree in entomology in 1987 (studying with major professor James R. Carey); to join the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as a UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) farm adviser for field crops and pest management for the three-county area of Yolo, Solano and Sacramento; and to develop and share her interests in biocontrol and other topics.
And this week the UC Davis alumnus-UCCE farm adviser was named the recipient of the 2019 Bradford Rominger Agricultural Sustainability Leadership Award. She will receive the award at a presentation at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 28 in the Alpha Gamma Rho Hall (AGR) room of the Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center. A reception begins at 4.
The award presentation prefaces the Agricultural Sustainability Institute's Distinguished Speakers' Seminar, “Building a Better World, the Opportunity to Achieve Climate Drawdown and a Safe Future" by environmental scientist Jonathan Foley, executive director of Drawdown. Foley, ranked by Thomas Reuters as among the top 1 percent of the most cited global scientists, will address the crowd from 5 to 6 p.m.
Rachael is a native of Berkeley and the daughter of a UC Berkeley biology professor. She received her bachelor's degree in biology from UC Berkeley.
In 1992 she accepted a position as a pest management, low input systems UCCE adviser for Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties. This was one of the first sustainable agricultural adviser positions within UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), with a focus on developing programs to manage pests in field crops with minimal impacts to the environment.
When Rachael started her projects 27 years ago, her ideas were considered “way outside the box and on the fringe,” she recalled. Now her work is mainstream with the UC Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) guidelines incorporating the value of habitat planting for enhancing natural enemies and pollinators on farms for better pollination and biocontrol of crop pests.
Long's research focuses on enhancing natural enemies for better biocontrol of crop pests. "Hedgerows are important for enhancing beneficial insects, including bees and natural enemies, for better biocontrol and crop pollination in adjacent field crops, with measurable economic benefits," she says. "Hedgerows can pay off after 16 years for pest control and seven ears if pollination benefits are added in for bees. Bats and birds associated with habitat likewise have economic benefits for helping to control key codling moth pests in walnut orchards."
Long, who worked closely with Charlie Rominger, commented: “I think Charlie would have been excited by this work. When I first started my job, we spent time in the field looking at field edge habitat and all the birds and beneficial insect activity and wondered about their benefits to crop production. Now we know! Lots of positive ecosystem services associated with habitat! Eric Bradford would have likewise been impressed with work that involved 20 plus years of meticulous research work by strong teams committed to data collection, to document the benefits of field edge habitat to agriculture.”
She and her colleagues have published 14 peer-reviewed papers on hedgerow research. Her work, with colleagues Kelly Garbach of Point Blue Conservation Science, and Lora Morandin of the Pollinator Partnership, can be summarized in their research article, "Hedgerow Benefits Align with Food Production and Sustainability Goals," published in September 2017 in California Agriculture. Her most recent paper appeared in UC ANR's special global food initiative edition of California Agriculture.
In addition to her research, Long has delivered hundreds of presentations about the importance of hedgerows on farms; conducted and published surveys on how to better reach out to the grower community to enhance the adoption of hedgerow plantings, as well as the importance of bats, birds, and raptors on farms; and has mentored many undergraduate and graduate students.
Long brings teams of researchers together to work on projects focusing on agriculture and ecosystem services, which lead to enhanced conservation on farms. In 2013, she and her colleagues received the California epartment of Pesticide Regulation IPM Innovator Award for work on hedgerows and pest management. She was also a pioneer in developing practices for protecting water quality from non-point source pollution from agricultural runoff in the early 2000s.
Long is also a children's book author of the Black Rock Desert Trilogy (three books): “Gold Fever,” “Valley of Fire” and “River of No Return,” works published by Yorkshire Publishing. They are the end result of telling stories to her son, Eugene, about an adventuresome, kind-hearted, wildlife-loving boy named Jack and three of his friends--a bat named Pinta, a coyote named Sonny and a crow named Midas. She dedicated the books to Eugene ("he heard the stories first") and her husband, David ("for always being there.") (See Bug Squad blog)
The May 28 event is free and open to the public. For reservations, access this website.
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."
For the past three decades, woolly bear caterpillars have accurately predicted a Republican or Democrat win in the U.S. Presidential elections.
This year, despite the pollsters, pundits and political fervor, the woollies again successfully predicted the outcome.
Just as noted UC Davis ecologist Richard “Rick” Karban and his lab prognosticated.
Karban and his fifth-year doctoral student, Eric LoPresti, study the woolly bear caterpillars, which populate the cliffs of the Bodega Marine Reserve, above the Bodega Marine Laboratory, Sonoma County. The fuzzy reddish-black caterpillars, which feed primarily on lupine, are the immature form of the Ranchman's Tiger Moth, Platyprepia virginalis.
Sometimes the population booms; other times, it's a bust, said Karban, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In their 30-year census of the same lupine patch, they noticed that when the population thrives, a Democrat heads to the White House. When the population dives, the Republicans take over.
And why not? “Paul the Octopus had a pretty good run predicting soccer matches in 2012, so perhaps the woolly bears have earned as much credibility at forecasting this presidential election,” Karban said last May.
Although most polls forecast a Democratic win, the UC Davis Woolly Bear Presidential Election Outlook did not.
However, they are not all that pleased with the outcome. “We're kind of bummed,” Karban said. “We didn't want to believe that the woolly bears were predicting a red outcome.”
The scientists, who study insect-plant interactions, first announced their presidential outcome predictions in a poster displayed at the 2014 Ecology Society of America meeting, held in Sacramento. Then this year, on April 25, they expanded on the concept, complete with intricate charts plotted in red and blue, in LoPresti's Natural Musings blog, “The Woolly Bear Presidential Election Outlook 2016,” co-written by scientists in the Karban lab.
“Each March, Karban censuses the same patches of lupine that he has for over 30 years,” LoPresti explained in Natural Musings. “The study asks a vexing question: Why are there are so many caterpillars in some years and so few in others? Many insects, including pests cycle like this, therefore it is of keen interest to many. Dozens of papers later, Karban, his students, and his collaborators have answered a great many questions, including how caterpillars deal with parasites, whether population cycles are influenced by rain, whether caterpillars enjoy eating plant hairs, and how caterpillars avoid their predators.”
The woolly bears, as presidential forecasters, drew national attention. Washington Post reporter Karin Bruilliard ran with it in a piece published April 26: “These Fuzzy Little Caterpillars Are Better at Predicting Elections Than Most Pundits.”
“Who's going to win the presidential election?” Bruilliard asked. “Heck if we know. Try to answer that question without a crystal ball and you'll run head-on into a dizzying array of national polls and state polls, fundraising tables and delegate counts, endorsements and prediction markets.”
LoPresti posted in his Natural Musings blog on April 25 that the woollies “seem to be leaning Republican.”
“Given their (pollsters') wildly erroneous predictions thus far for both primaries, trusting their predictions for the general election seems ill-advised,” LoPresti wrote. “The woolly bears, on the other hand, have a 100% accurate prediction record over the past 30 years. In years of low abundance, a Republican is elected, and in years of high abundance, a Democrat.”
“A superficial examination suggests that 2016 will be a Republican year – woolly bear abundance is not particularly high,” LoPresti noted. “However, looking a little closer, it may not be. The number of woolly bears per lupine bush in 2016 (0.53) is higher than the average Republican year by 152% and is 36% above the highest Republican year ever recorded (1988). However, it is only 27% of an average Democratic year and still only 36% of the lowest Democratic year (2008). This result is without presidential precedent in the last 30 years.”
What about the next presidential election, now that Vice President Joe Biden has indicated he might run?
“The woolly bears have not weighed in on Joe Biden,” Karban said.
Karban, internationally known for his work on plant communication, is the author of the book, Plant Sensing and Communication (University of Chicago Press), hailed as a landmark in its field. He has researched plant communication in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) on the east side of the Sierra since 1995.
Plants can eavesdrop, sense danger in the environment, and can distinguish friend from foe, Karban says. A plant under a predatory attack will emit volatile chemical cues, enabling its neighboring plants to adjust their defenses to better protect themselves.
Karban is featured in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker in Michael Pollan's piece, “The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants."