When Professor Elizabeth Crone of Tufts University, Medford, Ma., zeroes in on that topic to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, she will discuss the challenges that both monarchs and ecologists face.
Her seminar is from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 29 in 122 Briggs Hall. Her longtime collaborator, pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams, will introduce her.
"Ecologists now face the dual challenge of documenting changes in the environment, and figuring out appropriate strategies for conserving and recovering natural resources in changing environments," says Crone, who is completing a research sabbatical at UC Davis.
In her talk, she will focus on “using the tools of population ecology to address both sides of this challenge: quantifying changes in the abundance of western monarch butterflies (and factors associated with these changes), and using theory and data to design strategies and targets for restoration and recovery.”
“Analyses of past dynamics (1980-2017) showed that western monarch butterflies have declined more quickly than their eastern counterparts, and that these declines were most strongly associated with loss of overwintering habitat, and more weakly (but significantly) associated with increased pesticide use and warmer breeding season temperatures,” Crone writes in her abstract. “Analyses of current conditions (2018-2019) suggest that a recent dramatic drop in abundance occurred in spring, between when monarch butterflies leave coastal overwintering sites and arrive in the Central Valley and Sierra Foothills.”
“Surprisingly, we don't really know where western monarch butterflies are during this time period, roughly mid-February through mid-May," Crone says. "Future research will focus on filling this knowledge gap, as well as building quantitative knowledge of the western monarch demography throughout their complex annual life cycle, which is needed to understand the relative contributions of habitat at different points in the life cycle to population declines and recovery.”
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation reported this week that its Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count shows a decline for the second consecutive year. “Sadly, fewer than 30,000 monarchs were counted—29,418 to be exact—for the second year in a row, so the western monarch population remains at a critical level,” according to Matthew Shepherd, director of communications and outreach. (See press release and a blog article about the population count for this winter.)
A native of Alexandria, Va., Crone received her bachelor's degree in biology, summa cum laude, from the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va., in 1991, and her doctorate in botany from Duke University in 1995. She served as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, Seattle, from 1996-1997. Her career encompasses academic appointments at Harvard University, University of Montana, and the University of Calgary.
"I am grateful to Neal and the Entomology Department for hosting me during this extended stay!" she added.
Crone is a co-principal investigator (PI) with PI Cheryl Schultz, associate professor of biological sciences at Washington State University and co-PI Sarina Jepson, endangered species program director, Xerces Society, on a federal grant, "Western Monarch Breeding Phenology" (awarded May 2017-June 2020, with the potential for annual renewal). The grant was funded through the Department of Defense's (DoD) Natural Resources Program, DoD Legacy Program.
Of her research, Crone says "My research focuses on population ecology, especially of plants and insects, and plant-animal interactions. Specifically, I am interested in how environmental changes translate to changes in population dynamics: For example, is there a simple, linear matching of changes in resources to abundance of consumers, or do interactions among individuals and species moderate these responses? Much of my research also involves developing novel quantitative approaches to predict long-term dynamics from small scale observations and experiments. Current projects include studies of butterflies, bees, perennial wildflowers, sugar maples, and acorn-granivore interactions. Past projects include some of the best documented examples of cyclical dynamics in plant populations and spatial metapopulation dynamics in animal populations. I was also one of the first ecologists to adapt generalized linear mixed models to estimate variance terms for stochastic population models."
Of her teaching: "I am interested in introducing people to general principles of ecological theory, as a guide to interpreting data and understanding the potential implications of environmental change. Making this link requires training students to understand basic biology and natural history, while knowing how to approach problems like a mathematician. I have a strong track record of training graduate students who have gone on to work in quantitative ecology, and in teaching lecture courses that introduce biology students to modeling and statistics. In biology classes, students expect to understand material as it is presented in class, and use time outside class to explore these ideas further, or memorize facts. In math classes, students do not expect to understand the material as it is presented; many of the best math majors come to understand the ideas later by working through problem sets. This difference means that biology students find math classes intimidating and tend to underestimate their own math skills. My approach is to start with tractable problems, and introduce students to the approach of learning by doing problem sets, in the context of ecologically-motivated problems."
Her honors and awards are many:
- Project of the Year Award, SERDP (Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program) 2018
- Foreign Member, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters (elected 2017)
- Vice Chair / Chair, Theoretical Ecology Section, Ecological Society of America, 2010-2012
- Ecological Research Award, Ecological Society of Japan, 2014
- Fulbright Fellowship, 2007-2008
- National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biosciences Related to the Environment (1996-1997)
- U.S.Department of Energy Graduate Fellowship for Global Change (1991-1995)
- Baldwin Speece Award (College of William and Mary, for scholarship/service in ecology, 1991)
How did you get interested in science? Was there an "ah ha" moment?
I was in an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program studying plant-insect interactions in 1990. The thing that made me want to go to grad school was the fun puzzle of designing an experiment AND figuring out how to interpret the data - I had collected data on beetle feeding rates, and when I didn't know how to analyze them my advisor said "read a statistics book" ... so I did--since then I have always especially loved the puzzle of matching models to data.
From an earlier age, I have always enjoyed being outdoors, which is probably why I chose to study biology. But that was the moment when I knew I would enjoy a life of research.
Some of your major accomplishments?
From an applied ecology perspective, the biggest is helping the Fender's blue butterfly move from being listed as endangered to nearly ready for down-listing. From a basic ecology perspective, I figured out the ecological interpretation of variance terms in mixed models as estimates of spatial heterogeneity and environmental stochasticity, and worked out one of the best examples of how mast-seeding species are synchronized by their pollinators.
What fascinates you about monarchs?
The possibility that we can recover the western monarch population from its recent steep decline to being abundant again. This should be a problem we can fix.
What do you like best about science?
The puzzle of matching models to data and the possibility of saving species from extinction.
Any scientists in the family?
My sister is an astronomer. My dad was a math professor. Before him, though, no one in the extended family had even gone to college.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I once gut-renovated a house (with help from carpenters, but doing some of the work myself), I am very proud of my urban pollinator garden in Somerville (near Boston, Mass., and I am a good enough trombonist to (just barely) keep up with my trombonist friends.
I am waiting to find out whether our monarch funding will be extended or whether I will go back to a regular teaching schedule at Tufts. Even if I go back to "full-time" teaching, I am sure I will be doing western monarch and bumble bee research for the indefinite future, and will continue to be at least partly bicoastal.
(Editor's Note: the Xerces Society's site-by-site monarch count data is available at https://www.westernmonarchcount.org/data/. This covers all years since the first count in 1997.)
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. Each will receive $25,000 for their research or other scholarly work and hold the title of "Chancellor's Fellow" for five years.
Ramirez, with the Department of Evolution and Ecology, College of Biological Sciences, is a global expert on orchid bees. He received his doctorate from Harvard. Ramirez is a frequent speaker at seminars and conferences affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, including the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.
This year's list of Chancellor's Fellows:
- Christopher Barker, veterinary medicine
- Eleonora Grandi, medicine
- Jane Gu, electrical and computer engineering
- Erin Hamilton, sociology
- Maceo Montoya, Chicana and Chicano studies
- Santiago Ramirez, evolution and ecology
- Christopher Simmons, food science and technology
- Anne Todgham, animal science
- Aijun Wang, medicine
- Megan Welsh, education
- Nicolas Zyns, anthropology
Queen bee breeder Jackie Park-Burris, a past president of the California State Beekeepers' Association and a leader in the industry, snipped the ribbon Jan. 7 in 45-degree temperature, joining a group of other stakeholders to open the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) bee research facility.
The facility, located next to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, slides Davis into the national spotlight as "Pollination Central" and "The Bee Capital of the World." The Davis facility is the newest of five USDA bee research labs in the United States and as the only one in California.
“This is the only USDA bee research team in California—where the action is,” said emcee Paul Pratt, research leader of the Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Lab. USDA maintains honey bee research facilities in Tucson, Ariz.; Beltsville, M.D., Baton Rouge, La., and Stoneville, Miss.
“The opening of the USDA-ARS bee lab marks a new opportunity for USDA and UC Davis entomologists to collaborate and investigate serious problems that affect stakeholders,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “We are very fortunate that the lab was built at UC Davis.”
Park-Burris, of Jackie Park-Burris Queens, Palo Cedro--her family has worked with UC Davis researchers for more than 80 years--cut the ribbon with four other stakeholders: almond pollination consultant Robert Curtis of Carmichael, former director and associate director (now retired) of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California; Kevin Adee of Bruce, S.D., president of the American Honey Producers' Association; Brad Pankratz of Can-Am Apiaries, Orland, Calif.; and Darren Cox of Cox Honey Farms, Logan, Utah, a past president of the American Honey Producers' Association.
Pratt introduced newly hired research entomologists, Arathi Seshadri and Julia Fine, forming the Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Unit at Davis. They are dedicated toward developing technology that improves colony survivorship through long-term studies of multiple stress factors, he said. "They will develop and transfer integrated biologically based approaches for the management of invasive species and the improvement of pollinator health.”
Seshadri and Fine aim to improve honey bee survival and beekeeping sustainability in California and nationwide, Pratt said. They will collaborate with federal, university, non-governmental and industry partners.
Seshadri, a pollination biologist with expertise in honey bee behavior and plant reproductive strategies, will be working with beekeepers and farmer stakeholders to develop projects aimed at finding solutions to the ongoing pollination challenges. Also trained as an evolutionary biologist, she has applied principles of plant-pollinator mutualism, specifically the impact of phytochemicals in pollen and nectar on honey bee health and colony performance. Her contributions to pollinator conservation include enhancing the sustainability of all pollinators, including native bees on farms and urban areas. She also has expertise in agroecosystem-based approaches and citizen science programs to promote pollinator diversity and abundance.
Fine, an entomologist with expertise in insect toxicology, honey bee physiology, reproduction and development, focuses her research on identifying how stressors impact honey bee behavior, health and fecundity. She uses both established and novel laboratory techniques. Her previous projects involved investigating how agrochemical and viral stressors interact to affect the development and survival of honey bee brood and how nutritional stress affects honey bee queen fecundity. In engaging with beekeepers and growers, Fine will research how realistic biotic and abiotic stressors affect honey bee reproduction, longevity and pollination services, and she aims to identify techniques and strategies to overcome these effects.
“We don't need to tell the people here how important honey bees are to agriculture, to the natural environment and the importance of minimizing costs to honey bee industry,” Matteri told the crowd. He noted that researchers, through collaboration and cooperation, have made great strides in nutrition, physiology, pathology, environmental factors.
"We've learned a lot,” Matteri said, “and we're looking forward to many good things to come.”
'Bee Capital of the World'
Associate Dean Oberbauer, pointing out the many “individuals focused on apiculture on the UC Davis campus,” described Davis as “the bee capital of the world.”
“The location of this new honey bee lab right next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey bee Research Facility… offers faculty, students and USDA a unique opportunity for expanding partnerships, internships and collaborative research for faculty and students,” she said.
The associate dean lauded the UC Davis research, teaching and public service in apiculture and the what's to come. “We are extremely fortunate and pleased to have this new USDA honey bee lab so close to our researchers and we look forward to this continued partnership in the years to come,” Oberbauer concluded.
USDA's Pacific West Area Director Hackett told the crowd that “for me, this is a homecoming.” After receiving his doctorate at UC Berkeley, he worked in research with UC Davis Professor Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), when “American foulbrood was a hot topic.”
Hackett thanked stakeholders for “your help in bringing this lab here…Your funding on behalf of industry is what made this bee lab come about and we really thank you for that.” He singled out the American Beekeeping federation, American Honey Producers' Association, California State Beekeepers' Association and Almond Board of California.
“With this Davis lab," Hackett said, "we are situated in Pollination Central, in the heart of the almond and tree fruit industry."
“Varroa mites” topped the list of concerns at the November 2015 stakeholder conference, Hackett pointed out, adding that “It will be studied in context with other stressers such as pesticides.”
“We're really looking forward to solving ALL the bee problems,” Hackett quipped, to applause. Research will include “how do you combine treatments to improve honey bee health especially from protecting bees from varroa in this agriculturally intensive, high pollination unit location.”
Hackett said it's a tremendous opportunity for USDA scientists to partner with UC Davis Entomology and Nematology faculty. The bee faculty include researchers Brian Johnson, behavior ecology; Neal Williams, pollination ecology; and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño. Faculty member Rachel Vannette, a community ecologist, also works with bees.
“By working together we will be able so synergize all of our efforts to help the bee industry and to ensure pollination in country's major specialty crops,” Hackett said.
Extension apiculturist Elna Niño chronicled the history of the bee biology program at UC Davis. The first bee instructor was George Haymaker Vansell (1892-1954) a USDA employee in the Davis Experiment Station. A former student at UC Davis, he taught from 1920 to 1931. His research led to a better understanding of the role of bees in crop pollination.
Among the other faculty mentioned: Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr. (1907-2003), known as “the father of honey bee genetics,” who joined the department in 1947; Professor (now emeritus) Norman Gary, faculty member from 1962 until his retirement 1994; Distinguished Professor Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), faculty member 1964 to 1994; Distinguished Emeritus Professor Robert E. Page, Jr., who served on the faculty from 1989 to 2004; and Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) from 1976 through 2014. (See history of bee biology program)
Gary led the efforts to obtain funds to construct the bee biology facility (renamed the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility), starting with a National Science Foundation facilities grant. He designed the facility, located his primary office there for almost 25 years, and persuaded the Chancellor office to name the access road as Bee Biology Road.
More current members of the faculty: Neal Williams joined the department in 2009; Brian Johnson, 2012; and Elina Niño. 2014.
'We Are Grateful'
In her talk, Park-Burris said that the “California State Beekeepers' Association is overwhelmed that we have a USDA lab to collaborate with our UC Davis lab. We hope there's a lot of collaboration going on. We really look forward to that. As a stakeholder, my family has been raising queens just north of here (Palo Cedro) for over 80 years. Dr. Laidlaw had worked with my uncle and my father. He's been at my house. And he's been through my bees. Julia (Fine) has even already been up to see the queen farm.”
“The queen bee breeding industry could definitely use you guys,” Park-Burris continued. “California has all the issues because everybody comes here. …it's very important that we have this lab here and how grateful we are that you have all gone to the work to make this happen."
“We look forward to solving some of our problems—varroa, varroa, varroa--and forage and pesticide interaction,” Park-Burris said, “and all that happens in California during the largest pollinator event in the world. So you're in a good place and we're grateful.”
Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen later commented: "I think that the collaboration among the new USDA bee lab personnel, cooperating researchers, and beekeepers should provide an opportunity to probe deeply into potential causes of colony loss. The ability to follow the health of individual bees and colonies, throughout the year, should provide important clues about precursors of colony decline, well in advance of the ultimate collapse."
(Collaborative history of the UC Davis bee biology program.)
George Haymaker Vansell (1892-1954) was a student at UC Davis who eventually helped with the instruction of entomology and apiculture beginning in 1920 and ending in 1931. In 1922 he became the first instructor to establish residence in Davis. This marked a turning point for entomology at UC Davis and reflected the growing popularity and importance of teaching in the discipline. Vansell's appointment was “Instructor in Entomology” as a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employee in the Davis Experiment Station.
In October of 1931 Vansell published the first edition of “Nectar and Pollen Plants of California (Bulletin 517, through UC Berkeley). That publication was later revised by Vansell and Eckert in 1941. Vansell also took an early interest in reports of colony poisoning by California buckeye (Aesculus californica Nuttall). He published the early UC Berkeley Agricultural Experiment station Circular 301, titled “Buckeye Poisoning of the Honey Bee,” in 1926. As a co-author with Frank E. Todd (USDA Bureau of Entomology), they generated two publications in 1932: “Data concerning one method of apiary management for use in the California buckeye area” and “Resistance of Hybrid Honeybee to a Plant Poison in California.”
In 1936 Vansell was an author on “A Search for a Method of Producing Honey in the Poisonous Buckeye Area in California,” in conjunction with E.L. Sechrist and Frank E. Todd, who were with the Bureau of Entomology with the USDA. The same year, Vansell joined C.E. Burnside of the USDA Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine to publish “Plant Poisoning of Bees,” reporting national and international reports of bee poisonings. In 1940, Vansell teamed with William G. Watkins and Lee F. Hosbrook to publish another combined UC Berkeley and USDA report on the topic: “The Distribution of California Buckeye in the Sierra Nevada in Relation to Honey Production.” The publication contained a list of “Plants in the Sierra Nevada Providing Nectar, Pollen, or Honeydew, with their Elevation and Blossoming Period” as well as 18 local maps of the natural distribution of buckeye plants.
Vansell conducted additional research on fruit tree pollination at the USDA Pacific States Bee Culture Laboratory, Davis, California. Vansell passed away unexpectedly in his lab in 1954. A student scholarship in the Department of Entomology and Nematology bears his name.
Frank Edward Todd (1895 - 1969) was assigned to the USDA Pacific States Bee Culture Laboratory at UC Davis from 1931 to 1942. He served as head of the USDA apiculture research branch until retirement in 1965. Following his retirement, he was affiliated with UC Davis Bee Biology during the 1960s and ‘70s when he modified Norman Gary's original device and claimed the well-known “Todd Dead Bee Trap” that still is used in honey bee poisoning research.
Edward Lloyd Sechrist (1873 - 1953) was an associate agriculturist in the USDA Office of Bee Culture. Sechrist published “Transferring bees to modern hives” (Farmers' Bulletin 961) in 1918. Sechrist apparently was the first to propose: United States standards for honey: Recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (Department circular / Unites States Department of Agriculture) in 1927. He published a “Preliminary Report on Apiary Organization and Honey Production in the Intermountain States in 1928.”
In 1930 Sechrist conducted studies on how much weight a honey bee colony gained and lost on a daily basis and reported that a colony could increase in weight by 20 pounds a day. He wrote the textbook “Honey Getting” in 1944. “Amateur Beekeeping” appears to have undergone revision in 1955, and reprinted in ‘58, '71, and ‘76. Sechrist conducted some of his studies with personnel from the Davis bee lab.
John Edward Eckert (1895-1975) joined UC Davis as a professor of entomology and apiculture in 1931 and eventually assumed the title of “Local Chairman” – this was the title of the administrator of the department up to 1934 when the official title of vice chairman, Berkeley-Davis, was established. Eckert finished his appointment as department chairman in 1946. As a master's student, Eckert published a paper on “The Flight Range of the Honey Bee” that remains the definitive statement on the topic. Eckert conducted early studies on effects of pesticides on honey bees and worked very closely with the beekeeping industry on matters of colony management and beekeeping politics. Eckert also conducted studies on potential resistance to buckeye poisoning by various races, and crosses between races, of Caucasian, Carniolan, and Italian stocks. The results were published in 1933 as “Buckeye Poisoning of the Honeybee – A Progress Report.”
Eckert published many articles on beekeeping, edited a California column in "Gleanings in Bee Culture" for decades, and he published the first iteration of “Beekeeping in California, Circular 100,” in 1936. This publication is the basis for many revisions and title changes by various authors over the decades, including one version Eckert titled: “A Handbook on Beekeeping for California (Manual 15, 1954).” He also published a more concise, four-page publication titled “The Home Apiary” in 1943.
Harry Hyde Laidlaw, Jr. (1907-2003) joined UC Davis as a Professor of Apiculture in 1947. His research resulted in his being called the “father of honey bee genetics” and he was the first to develop a functional instrument for artificially inseminating queen honey bees. Laidlaw pioneered research on visible mutants of honey bees (including eye colors, wing lengths, hairlessness, and pigment-free ((blind)) drones). His genetic stocks of eye color mutants led to determination of biochemical pathways for development of eye colors and early genetic mapping of the honey bee genome. Laidlaw garnered campus, national and international awards for his research efforts. His service to the university included being appointed the first dean for research in the UC Davis College of Agriculture. The current Bee Biology Facility is named for Laidlaw, and his family established an endowment fund (student scholarships) in his name. (See In Memoriam)
Norman E. Gary (1933- ) joined UC Davis as a professor of apiculture in 1962. In the 1960s he spearheaded grant funding to construct a new bee research facility and designed our current Bee Biology facility, now the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. Gary specialized in honey bee behavior. He did the most comprehensive research on flight range and dynamic distribution of foraging honey bees in almond orchards and various field crops by developing a novel method to recover magnetically approximately 90 percent of foragers tagged with ferrous metal ID tags, enabling the highest recapture percentage ever recorded for any insect species. During honey bee mating behavior research he was first to identify queen mating pheromones and also first to observe, describe, and photograph aerial mating behavior of queens and drones, develop aerial traps for drones, and make an award winning documentary film on mating behavior. He designed an efficient hive entrance dead bee trap that enables accurate monitoring of bee mortality inside the hive, e.g., bees killed by pesticides and diseases.
Gary led a research team to determine possible effects of microwaves on honey bees and invertebrates, as a part of the Solar Power Satellite project. In the 1970s he spearheaded the organization of the Western Apicultural Society and served as its first president. Since his retirement in 1994, Gary has written chapters for several honey bee text books as well as a book (“Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees,” 2010). For more than 40 years, he consulted with TV and film companies as a bee wrangler and stunt coordinator for producing educational documentaries and entertaining productions, resulting in 17 movies, 6 commercials, and more than 50 television programs. He is also a lifetime professional musician, performing and recording on clarinet, tenor and alto saxophones, and flute.
Robbin W. Thorp (1933 - 2019) joined UC Davis as a professor of apiculture in 1964. Thorp specialized in pollination behavior of honey bee and native bees. Thorp devoted a good deal of time to almond pollination and contributed information that still is applicable in this national, Herculean, single-crop pollination effort. But, he also maintained an interest in non-Apis bees. He published the book “Bumble Bees and Cuckoo Bumble Bees of California (Hymenoptera: Apidae) in the Bulletin of the California Insect Survey, with Lorry Dunning in 1983. As emeritus professor (retired 1994), Thorp continued to work avidly with native bees until his death on June 7, 2019. In 2014, he co-authored a“Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide” (Princeton University Press) and another titled: “California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists" (Heyday).
Ward Stanger (1913-2000) shifted his extension responsibilities from Extension entomologist to Extension apiculturist when the honey bee researchers were being overwhelmed with requests for beekeeping information during the age of counter culturalism in the 1960s and ‘70s. Stanger was readily adopted by the beekeeping industry as a spokesman for their concerns. In 1971 he joined forces with the Davis researchers and California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) representatives to publish “Manual 42: Fundamentals of California Beekeeping.” This publication was revised and retitled “Beekeeping in California,” but the basic information remains pretty similar to the original. In 1969 Stanger co-authored, with Dr. William C. Roberts from what is now known as the USDA-ARS Baton Rouge Bee Lab, an article in the American Bee Journal titled “Survey of the Package Bee and Queen Industry.” It was the first comparison of how the northern California and southeastern Gulf States bee breeders conducted their businesses. Stanger became involved in research of honey bee nutrition, since most honey bee colonies kept commercially in California require some supplemental feed to increase brood rearing for various reasons. Together with Harry Laidlaw, Stanger fed 40 colonies feeds containing various concentrations of pollen, Wheast, and sugar syrup. The results: “Supplemental Feeding of Honeybees” were published the year he retired from the university, 1974.
Christine Y. S. Peng (1944- ) joined the Department of Entomology as a professor of apiculture in 1975. Peng was an insect physiologist and she devoted her studies to searching for solutions to honey bee problems. She spent a good deal of time searching for a replacement antibiotic for oxytetracycline hydrochloride (Terramycin®) when American foulbrood was becoming resistant. With Drs. Terrance Leighton and Eric Mussen, Peng selected tylosin as the top candidate, which is being used internationally today. Peng also provided considerable knowledge on the topic of honey bee nutrition, including determining the best times of the year to provide supplemental feed to the colonies. Peng retired from the University in 2005.
Eric Carnes Mussen (1944- ) joined University Cooperative Extension as extension apiculturist in 1976. Mussen became involved in many different honey bee studies, often in conjunction with one of the department Professors. He became fully integrated into the world of non-commercial and commercial beekeeping. As his experiences broadened, he became a recognizable voice for beekeeping matters with county farm advisors, agricultural organizations, California agencies, NGOs, and the EPA. Mussen retired in 2014, but still remains in contact with industry matters.
Robert E. Page, Jr. (1949 - ) completed his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis, with a strong emphasis on insect genetics. After a couple years as professor at Ohio State University, Page returned to UC Davis in 1989 to further his research in honey bee genetics. During his 15 years at UC Davis, including an appointment as department chairman, and 11 more at Arizona State University (ASU), Page published hundreds of papers, four books, and led to the discovery of many fundamental tenets of honey bee behavior and population genetics and the focus of his current research is on the evolution of complex social behavior. Using the honey bee as a model, Dr. Page has dissected their complex foraging division of labor at all levels of biological organization from gene networks to complex social interactions. Page served as Foundation Chair of Life Sciences at ASU and provost (now emeritus) at Arizona State University.
Current Faculty Members
Neal Williams joined the department in 2009 as an assistant professor, coming from an exemplary background in college teaching to a position that would allow more creative research. Williams is now professor of entomology and a core faculty member with the Agricultural Sustainability Institute. His work ranges from basic research in bee biology and pollination to applied research on native bee conservation and crop pollination. He investigates the evolution and ecology of pollen specialization (oligolecty) by bees and how such specialists contribute to plant reproduction compared to generalists (polyleges). He also explores the role of habitat connectivity for the persistence of bees in agri-natural landscapes and how pollination service by native bee species is affected by land use change and human disturbance. Finally, he is working to develop native plant mixtures to bolster populations of the honey bee and wild bee species and promote sustainable pollination in different agricultural systems.
Brian Ricky Johnson joined the department as a bee behaviorist in 2012. Johnson continues studies on the genetics, behavior, evolution, and health of honey bees. Approaches to honey bee health studies incorporate a combination of genetics, epidemiology, and physiological approaches. His current work focuses on the evolution and genetic basis of social behavior using comparative and functional genomics, task allocation using behavioral and theoretical approaches, and honey bee health using a combination of genetics, epidemiology, and physiological approaches. He also is attempting to better determine where genes from Africanized honey bees have gained entry into the regional bee populations around the state.
Elina Lastro Niño joined the department as Extension apiculturist in 2014. She arrived with a very strong background in bees and beekeeping, and she immediately began visiting beekeepers throughout the state to become familiar with California beekeeping. Niño devotes her major research focus to queen honey bees and the physiological changes they undergo as they mature, become inseminated, and begin laying eggs. But she also is concerned about the pesticide problems vexing honey bee colonies and is conducting research in that area. She established the California Master Beekeeper Program in 2016. She is the bee biology program's third Extension apiculturist and the only Extension apiculturist in California.
You can learn about those topics—and much more—at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology when it hosts an open house themed “Time Flies When You Are Studying Insects: Cutting Edge Student Research,” on Saturday, Jan. 18.
The event, free and family friendly, will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
“We will have a diversity of topics,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum. “I just love how this university excels at interdisciplinary research. We may be the Entomology and Nematology Department but we are connected to so many fields of research. “Our grads are our future's hope and here they are inspiring others."
Doctoral students who will showcase their research are:
- Entomologist Yao Cai of the Joanna Chiu lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology,
- Entomologist Charlotte Herbert Alberts, who studies assassin flies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology
- Entomologist-ant specialist Zachary Griebenow of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Forest entomologist Crystal Homicz who studies with Joanna Chiu and research forest entomologist Chris Fettig, Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Davis. (She formerly studied with the late Steve Seybold of USDA Forest Service and the Department of Entomology and Nematology.)
- Forensic entomologist Alexander Dedmon, who studies with Robert Kimsey, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Ecologist Ann Holmes, affiliated with the Graduate Group in Ecology, Department of Animal Science, and the Genomic Variation Laboratory, studies with major professors Andrea Schreier and Mandi Finger.
Yao Cai, a fourth-year doctoral student, studies circadian clock in insects. “Using Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) and Danaus plexippus (monarch butterfly), as models, we seek to understand how these insects receive environmental time cues and tell time, how they organize their daily rhythms in physiology and behavior, such as feeding, sleep and migration (in monarch butterfly),” Cai said.
“Since clock design is conserved from fly to human, understanding how fly clock works can be translated into knowledge and treatment for people who undergo clock disruption in their daily lives, such as jet lag, shift work,” Cai said.
Visitors will learn how fruit flies and monarch butterflies tell time, why the clock is important to them, and the tools scientists use to study circadian clock.
Zachary Griebenow, a third-year doctoral student, will be showcasing or discussing specimens of the ant subfamily Leptanillinae, most of them male.
“I will be showing specimens of the Leptanillinae under the microscope, emphasizing the great morphological diversity observed in males and talking about my systematic revision of the subfamily," he said. "In particular, I want to explain how the study of an extremely obscure group of ants can help us understand the process of evolution that has given rise to all organisms."
“Did you know that between 1987 and 2017 bark beetles were responsible for more tree death than wildfire?” asks Crystal Homicz, a first-year doctoral student. “Bark beetles are an incredibly important feature of forests, especially as disturbance agents. My research focuses on how bark beetles and fire interact, given that these are the two most important disturbance agents of the Sierra Nevada. At my table, I will discuss how the interaction between bark beetles and fire, why bark beetles and fire are important feature of our forest ecosystem, and I will discuss more generally the importance of bark beetles in many forest systems throughout North America.
“I will have several wood samples, insect specimens and photographs to display what bark beetle damage looks like, and the landscape level effects bark beetles have. I will also have samples of wood damage caused by other wood boring beetles and insects. My table will focus widely on the subject of forest entomology and extend beyond beetle-fire interactions.”
Visitors, she said, can expect to leave with a clear understanding of what bark beetles are and what they do, as well as a deeper understanding of the importance of disturbance ecology in our temperate forests.
Charlotte Alberts, a fifth-year doctoral candidate, will display assassin flies and their relatives, as well as examples of prey they eat and/or mimic. Visitors can expect to learn about basic assassin fly ecology and evolution.
Alberts studies the evolution of assassin flies (Diptera: Asilidae) and their relatives. “Assassin flies are voracious predators on other insects and are able to overcome prey much larger than themselves,” she said. “Both adult and larval assassin flies are venomous. Their venom consists of neurotoxins that paralyze their prey, and digestive enzymes that allow assassin flies to consume their prey in a liquid form. These flies are incredibly diverse, ranging in size from 5-60mm, and can be found all over the world! With over 7,500 species, Asilidae is the third most specious family of flies. Despite assassin flies being very common, most people do not even know of their existence. This may be due to their impressive ability to mimic other insects, mainly wasps, and bees.”
For her thesis, she is trying to resolve the phylogenetic relationships of Asiloidea (Asilidae and their relatives) using Ultra Conserved Elements (UCEs), and morphology. "I am also interested in evolutionary trends of prey specificity within Asilidae, which may be one of the major driving forces leading to this family's diversity."
Ecologist Ann Holmes is a fourth-year doctoral student. Her research interests include conservation genetics, environmental DNA, molecular ecology,aquatic food webs, marine ecology and bats. "I will be talking about my research project that looks at insects eaten by bats in the Yolo Bypass. The insects eat crops such as rice, so bats provide a valuable service to farmers. Hungry bats can eat as much as their own body weight in insects each night."
"Visitors can expect to learn how DNA is used to detect insects in bat guano (poop)."
"Insects in bat poop are hard to identify because they have been digested, but I can use DNA to determine which insects are there," she said. "We care about which insects bats eat because bats are natural pest controllers. With plenty of bats we can use less pesticide on farms and less mosquito repellent on ourselves."
Forensic entomologist Alex Dedmon, a sixth-year doctoral student, will display tools and text and explain what forensic entomology is all about. "My research focuses on insect succession. In forensic entomology, succession uses the patterns of insects that come and go from a body. These patterns help us estimate how long a person has been dead. Visitors can expect to learn about the many different ways insects can be used as evidence, and what that evidence tells us."
Dedmon recently won first place in a contest at the Entomological Society of America meeting in St. Louis. As he explained in a Facebook post: "Trécé, Inc. is a company that creates olfactory baits and traps for insects. They had a contest at their booth looking for ideas to expand their research and product line. Most of this sort of thing is generally used for surveillance of insect pests, which I don't do much work in. Still, I figured I had nothing to lose by at least trying. So, I pointed out that forensic entomologists often have to sample blowfly populations from the region in order to establish species presence for future casework"
"To sample those flies, we usually use a carrion source like a dead pig. Unfortunately, carrion tends to be surprisingly expensive. Also, we have to usually place it in a remote location (the general public doesn't care much for seeing rotting pigs)."
"However, we know that blowflies mainly orient themselves off of smell. In other words, they are attracted by the aromatic compounds emitted as part of the decomposition process. It's these compounds that make the pigs "stink." Many of them have been identified, and have wonderfully illustrative names like 'cadaverine.' So, if those compounds were applied to a sticky trap, you'd (hypothetically) have a cheaper, less unsightly method for sampling blowflies."
"Not bad for improvising an idea on the spot," he quipped.
Other Activities at the Open House
The family craft activity will be painting rocks, which can be taken home or hidden around campus. "Hopefully some kind words on rocks found by random strangers can also make for a kinder better future,” Yang said.
In addition to meeting and chatting with the researchers, visitors can see insect specimens (including butterflies and moths), meet the critters in the live “petting zoo” (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and browse the gift shop, containing books, insect-themed t-shirts and sweatshirts, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum, founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), 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 insect biodiversity.
The insect museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com.