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.
“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..."
Her research already has.
She just won the prize for best student presentation at the recent 9th International Congress of Dipterology in Windhoek, Namibia.
Gillung delivered her presentation on “Phylogenetic Relationships of Spider Flies (Acroceridae) – Discordance, Uncertainty and the Perils of Phylogenomics.” Acrocerid adults are floral visitors, and some are specialized pollinators, while the larvae are internal parasitoids of spiders.
Approximately 350 delegates attended the conference; the scientists focus on the Diptera order, which includes houseflies, mosquitoes, and gnats. Gillung was among 40 students presenting their research.
Gillung studies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; mentor Shaun Winterton of the California Department of Food and Agriculture; and collaborator Phil Ward, UC Davis professor of entomology.
UC Davis doctoral students Charlotte Herbert Alberts and Socrates Letana, who both study with Kimsey, also presented their work; Alberts delivered an oral presentation on her research (she studies Asilidae (Assassin flies), and Letana displayed a poster on bot flies.
Presenting the award to Gillung was Professor Thomas Pape of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and chair of the Council for the International Congresses of Dipterology, which organizes the conferences. The next Congress takes place in 2022 in California.
In her abstract, Gillung described spider flies “as a monophyletic group of lower Brachycera currently classified into three subfamilies, 55 genera and ca 530 species.”
“The group has long been considered a rogue taxon and its placement within the Diptera tree of life remains uncertain,” she wrote. “Phylogenetic relationships among lineages of spider flies are by contrast relatively well established, with hypotheses proposed based on molecular data from both Sanger and high-throughput sequencing. Phylogenomic estimation of spider fly relationships yields different topologies, depending on whether data is coded and analyzed as nucleotides or as amino acids. The most significant difference among the two data types is in the monophyly of Panopinae; a morphologically and ecologically recognizable group, that is recovered as monophyletic only in the analyses of nucleotides. This study uses Acroceridae as a system to explore the effects of potential confounding factors in phylogenomic reconstruction. This research takes advantage of modern and powerful statistical approaches, including posterior predictive simulation, to understand the effects of conflict, uncertainty and systematic error in the estimation of evolutionary relationships using the standard phylogenomic toolkit.”
Fast forward to her exit seminar, which she will deliver at 2 p.m., Friday, Dec. 14 in 122 Briggs Hall, located off Kleiber Hall Drive. The title: “Evolution of Fossil and Living Spider Flies (Diptera, Acroceridae): A Tale of Conflict and Uncertainty."
"Parasitoid flies," Gillung wrote in her abstract for her Dec. 14 seminar, "are some of the most remarkable, yet poorly known groups of insects. Represented by over 10,000 species distributed in 21 families, dipteran parasitoids comprise over 100 independent lineages, offering an unparalleled system to understanding the origin, evolution and diversification of the parasitoid life history. My dissertation research unraveled the systematics, evolution and biology of a lineage of dipteran parasitoids specialized in spiders, Acroceridae, commonly known as spider flies. My research resulted in a monograph of fossil spider flies, and a robust hypothesis for the pattern and timing of spider fly evolution based on high throughput sequencing. Through the combination of DNA sequence data obtained via Sanger sequencing with morphological characters, I also estimated their relationships among spider fly genera using an extensive taxon sampling which culminated in a new taxonomic classification for the family.”
Gillung has accepted a postdoctoral position at Cornell University, Ithaca, beginning Jan. 2. She will be working with Bryan Danforth on Apoidea (stinging wasps and bees) phylogenomics, evolution and diversification.
She recently was named the recipient of 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.
A native of Brazil, Jessica 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.