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.
That's what doctoral candidate and ant specialist Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will do when he presents his exit seminar, "Abdomens and Ants: Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology of the Insects" from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, March 4 in 122 Briggs Hall on Kleiber Hall Drive, UC Davis campus.
Boudinot, who won the 2019 John Henry Comstock Award, the highest graduate student award given by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA), joined the UC Davis entomology graduate school program in 2014.
Abstract of his talk: "It is widely yet loosely agreed that the study of morphology--body form, structure and function--is undergoing a post-genomic revival, cautiously labeled 'phenomics' among active practitioners. I argue that the full reality of phenomics has yet to be realized, and that functional anatomy is the linchpin for the meaningful use of morphological data to understand evolution."
"In this seminar, I will present two case studies from my dissertation. The first will focus on reproductive anatomy in the context of the major transitions of insects from a marine, crustacean ancestor to the epically abundant diversity of wing-bearing species. The second and ongoing study combines more than 300,000 point-observations of morphology for 431 extinct and extant species with genomic sequence data to reconstruct the sequence of evolution leading to the living ants. I will introduce the audience to several extinct lineages of ants, including a new family of wasp-ant intermediates, and present functional morphological reconstructions of the ancestors of all ants, living and extinct."
In nominating Boudinot for the Comstock award, Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, wrote: “A highly respected scientist, teacher and leader with a keen intellect, unbridled enthusiasm, and an incredible penchant for public service, Brendon maintains a 4.00 grade point average; has published 12 outstanding publications on insect systematics (some are landmarks or ground-breaking publications); and engages in exceptional academic, student and professional activities."
Active in PBESA and the Entomological Society of America (ESA), Boudinot received multiple “President's Prize” awards for his research presentations at national 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.
Boudinot served on—and anchored—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. He has served as president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association since 2006, and is active in the campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day; he has co-chaired the department's Picnic Day Committee since 2017.
Boudinot will be among the speakers at an innovative UC Davis symposium on Saving a Bug's Life: Legal Solutions to Combat Insect Biodiversity Decline and the Sixth Mass Extinction, set from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 6 in Room 1001 of the School of Law, Mrak Hall. The event, sponsored by UC Davis Environmental Law Society (ELS), will bring together law and science to address insect biodiversity decline. It is free and open to the public. See official program. (RSVP here or on this Facebook page.)
At the March 6 symposium, Boudinot will be part of a three-member panel from 9:50 to 10:55 a.m. on "The Science of Biodiversity Decline." He will be joined by Angela Laws, endangered species conservation biologist, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; butterfly specialist Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology; and Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and director of the Center for Biosystematics.
And now doctoral candidate John Mola of the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will present his exit seminar on "Bumble Bee Movement Ecology and Response to Wildfire" at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 9 in Room 122 of Briggs Hall.
Mola, who specializes in bee biology, pollinator ecology and population genetics, says in his abstract:
"Observing bumble bees on flowers can be a deceptive practice. When standing in a field looking at a bunch of bees, we have little clue about the distances they traveled to get there or the number of colonies to which the individuals belong. However, modern genetic tools let us reveal this unseen information. In my dissertation I use genetic mark-recapture to understand two areas of general ecological interest and apply them to bumble bees: organismal movement and disturbance ecology. In this talk I discuss what I learned about bumble bee movement ecology in a subalpine meadow complex and insights gained from an unexpected opportunity to study the response of a bumble bee population to wildfire."
Mola holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental studies from Florida State University, and a master's degree in biology at Humboldt State University. He enrolled in the UC Davis Ph.D. program in ecology in 2014.
In August 2019 Mola published a "Review of Methods for the Study of Bumble Bee Movement" in Apidologie with his major professor, co-author and pollination ecologist Neal Williams. The abstract:
"Understanding animal movement is critical for conservation planning, habitat management, and ecological study. However, our understanding is often limited by methodological constraints. These limitations can be especially problematic in the study of ecologically and economically important pollinators like bumble bees, where several aspects of their biology limit the feasibility of landscape-scale studies. We review the methods available for the study of bumble bee movement ecology, discussing common limitations and tradeoffs among several frequent data sources. We provide recommendations on appropriate use for different life stages and castes, emphasizing where recent methodological advances can help reveal key components of understudied parts of the bumble bee life cycle such as queen movement and dispersal. We emphasize that there is no one correct method and encourage researchers planning studies to carefully consider the data requirements to best address questions of interest."
Mola expanded on the topic on his website: "This manuscript contains more within it than the title alone lets on. Understanding the landscape-scale movements of bumble bees has long-plagued researchers despite heavy interest. In some ways reviewing the methods is to review the history of bumble bee movement research. We cover the tools one may use for tracking bumble bees. We also include information on how to interpret and contextualize results, considerations on conceptualizing bumble bee movement, and suggestions for future research efforts. I think folks will find the table and supplemental information particularly handy in planning research and writing manuscripts (we provide a long list of great studies on bumble bee movement in the supplemental). If you're really interested in the research area, consider coming to BOMBUSS 2.0 where Jamie Strange and I will be co-leading a session on this very topic. https://wildlifepreservation.ca/about-bombuss/"
In 2018, Mola wowed the judges at the graduate student research poster competition at the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium for his work on "Bumble Bee Movement and Landscape Genetics." As the first-place winner, he received the $850 cash prize. The judges: Tom Seeley, professor at Cornell University, the symposium's keynote speaker; speaker Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis.
“In conservation biology and ecological study, we must know the distances organisms travel and the scales over which they go about their lives,” Mola said of his work at the time. “To properly conserve species, we have to know how much land they need, how close those habitats need to be to each other, and the impact of travel on species success. For instance, if I'm told there's free burritos in the break room, I'm all over it. If the 'free' burritos require me traveling to Scotland, it's not worth it and I would spend more energy (and money) than I would gain. For pollinators, it's especially important we understand their movement since the distances they travel also dictates the quality of the pollination service they provide to crop and wild plants."
“Despite this importance, we know comparatively little about the movements of bees--the most efficient of pollinators--due to the difficulty of tracking individuals," Mola explained.
Mola says that "Unlike birds or large mammals, we can't just attach large radio collars and follow them around. As such, my work has focused on improving methods that we can use for study. I use a combination of landscape ecology and molecular genetics to identify the locations of siblings (colony-mates) in landscapes. From that information, we can infer all sorts of useful information about the potential foraging range, habitat use, population size, etc. It's a very exciting time to be working on these topics as the availability of new genetic and GPS technologies allows us to answer or re-address scientific and conservation issues with bees.”
Mola's next step: Fort Collins, Colo., where he will be a USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) Mendenhall postdoctoral fellow.
How fast time passes.
Bick will present her exit seminar at 3 p.m., Monday, Aug. 5 in Room 158 of Briggs Hall. Her topic: "Evaluating the Relative Importance of Mechanisms for Diverse Plant Use in Agroecosystem Herbivore Mitigation: an Example in California Strawberries."
"As pest management strategies shift away from agrochemical use, practitioners aim to implement more ecologically friendly practices," Bick writes in her abstract. "One such practice uses diverse crops placed in an agroecosystem to mitigate pest damage. There are many possible mechanisms which facilitate this phenomenon. Knowing a diverse plant's mechanism(s) allows for more efficient field implementation."
"This presentation will evaluate the mechanism of the economic benefit of planting alfalfa in a California strawberry monoculture. Using a novel CO2 based sampling method, spatially explicit samples were taken at three sites over two years. We found that alfalfa did not act, as previously identified, a trap crop, but rather its presence actually increased natural enemies. This work serves as a framework for evaluation of the mechanism for use of diverse plants in agricultural landscapes."
Bick, who has accepted a postdoctoral position at the University of Copenhagen, specializes in integrated pest management (IPM). She received her bachelor's degree in entomology in 2013 from Cornell University, and her master's degree in entomology in 2017 from UC Davis. She joined the doctoral program in September 2015.
Bick served as an emergency medical technician from 2008 to 2017 and gained her pesticide applicator's license in 2013. She was singled out to receive the Student Certification Award at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in 2018. In 2014, she was named a Board-Certified Entomologist, a honor bestowed on her at the ESA meeting.
Bick helped anchor the UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won the national championship at the ESA meeting in 2016, and the University of California (UC Davis and UC Berkeley) Linnaean Games Team that won the national championship again in 2018. (See Bug Squad blog.) The Linnaean Games, launched in 1983, are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts and played by winners of the ESA branch competitions. The teams score points by correctly answering random questions. (Watch the 2016 championship round on YouTube).
Bick was also active in the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA), serving as vice president.
A person of many talents, she wrote a highly praised review of the San Francisco-staged play, An Entomologist's Love Story, published in May of 2018 in Entomology Today. Tweeted the San Francisco Playhouse: “Quite possibly the coolest review we've ever received.”
In her review, Bick wrote that the play “shows that life imitates art and art imitates life, with insect mating rituals serving as a proxy for human dating behavior.”
“The well-known antagonistic insect mating behavior of bed bugs' traumatic insemination, praying mantids' sexual cannibalism, and honey bees' mating plugs are all accurately described and then used to represent adversarial (human) dating behavior. Fireflies' bioluminescence, meanwhile, is cast in a romantic light.”
“The play brims with entomological humor, from anthropomorphizing bed bugs to a running joke that sometimes volunteers actually make life harder for researchers,” Bick noted. “While the public will be entertained by the gross descriptions of entomological behavior (pun intended), only we insect scientists will know that the 'Lou' the protagonists keep referring to is actually Dr. Louis Sorkin of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (and that, yes, he does keep a bed bug colony there). Or, for those of us who have been lucky enough to take a tour, you know the Museum's offices really are that difficult to get to.”
Now it's off to the historic University of Copenhagen for the next chapter of her entomological life. "I am moving to Copenhagen on Aug. 31 but moving out of Davis the week before," she says.
That would be as Dr. Emily Bick...entomologist extraordinaire.
“Jess” with “icicles.”
That's because Jessica Gillung, who received her doctorate in entomology last Friday at the University of California, Davis, is heading for snowy Ithaca, New York, where she has accepted a postdoctoral position with professor Bryan Danforth at Cornell University.
In the Cornell lab, "Dr. Jessica" or "Dr. Jessicles" will be researching Apoidea (stinging wasps and bees) phylogenomics, evolution and diversification.
At UC Davis, she studied the parasitoid flies commonly known as spider flies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis; mentor Shaun Winterton of the California Department of Food and Agriculture; and collaborator Phil Ward, UC Davis professor of entomology.
Last Friday afternoon, Gillung delivered her exit seminar on “Phylogenetic Relationships of Spider Flies (Acroceridae) – Discordance, Uncertainty and the Perils of Phylogenomics” to a packed crowd in 122 Briggs Hall.
Acrocerid adults are floral visitors, and some are specialized pollinators, while the larvae are internal parasitoids of spiders.
At the exit seminar, she professed “I love parasitoids.” She comically described Accoceridae species as varied; some look like “boomerangs,” some are “fuzzy” and some are "metallic."
The entomologist said she looks forward to researching Hymenoptera (including “vegan hunting wasps”).
It was a whirlwind day for Jessica Gillung. First the exit seminar at 2 p.m., followed by the awarding of her doctorate, and then a party at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, where she and her colleagues dined on pie, cake and ice cream; toasted her with champagne, and lavished her with gifts. She and Amir Ghoddoucy (they met at the California Department of Food and Agriculture office in Sacramento), are traveling--by car--to Ithaca.
She doesn't know where she'll be at Christmas. “On the road somewhere,” she said, smiling.
Highly honored for her research and leadership, Gillung recently won the prize for best student presentation at the recent 9th International Congress of Dipterology in Windhoek, Namibia, and won the prestigious 2018 Student Leadership Award, presented by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA), which represents 11 states, seven U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Gillung, a native of Brazil, holds a bachelor's degree in biology from the Federal University of Paraná, Curitiba, Brazil and a master's degree in zoology from the University of São Paulo, Brazil. She speaks four languages fluently: Portuguese, Spanish, English and German.
At the Bohart party, she briefly conversed in Portuguese, accepting warm congratulations from a longtime friend.
None of the non-speaking Portuguese guests surrounding them knew if she answered to “Dr. Jessicles..."