But if you're Jasmin Ramirez Bonilla, a UC Davis graduate student in entomology, you're seeking to control these agricultural pests through more effective integrated pest management (IPM) strategies.
Jasmin, who plans to complete her master's degree in the spring of 2022, recently presented her thesis proposal, “Advancing Integrated Pest Management Strategies for Cucumber Beetles in California,” to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology at a Zoom session.
“The beetle of focus for my thesis is the Western striped cucumber beetle, Acalymma trivittatum,” said Jasmin, who studies with major professor and agricultural entomologist Ian Grettenberger, a Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “A second species, the Western spotted cucumber beetle, Diabrotica undecimpunctata undecimpunctata--a milder pest but still a pest of melons-- is also part of my project but not the primary subject of my studies.”
Her thesis project consists of three objectives:
- Characterize the non-crop and overwintering habitat
- Clarify short-distance dispersal dynamics after harvest
- Evaluate the utility of the aggregation pheromone, vittatalactone
Both species feed on muskmelons, Cucumis melo. “These include honeydew melon, cantaloupe, crenshaw, and cassava,” she said. “However, Acalymma is the specialist.” Cucumber beetles are pests of plants in the Cucurbitaceae family,which includes melons, gourds, cucumbers, squash and pumpkin.
Of key concern is “the lack of effective IPM tools for the management of cucumber beetles, especially the western striped cucumber beetle,” she said. “There is a critical need to visit this system and revisit the ecology to have a clearer understanding of the non-crop habitat uses and dispersal dynamics to improve and optimize the scouting and monitoring strategies. In addition, one way to monitor and manage insect pests is using semiochemicals such as aggregation pheromones and kairomones—for example, cucurbit blossom volatiles--which are of interest to be combined and studied their efficacy attraction.”
Preliminary data for one of her experiments indicates that the synthetic aggregation pheromone, vittatalactone, attracts the western striped cucumber beetle and the spotted cucumber beetle. “This pheromone was mimicked from airborne volatiles produced by male beetles, Acalymma vittatum, the cousin of the western striped cucumber beetle,” Bonila related. “This pheromone is a potential monitoring tool for managing these beetles and minimize the intensive applications of insecticides on the field.”
What sparked her interest in entomology? When she worked as a field research assistant for six months in 2017 with the UC Cooperative Extension in Woodland and sampled Lygus damage in sunflower fields.
“After this field assistant position, I worked as a junior specialist on an alfalfa weevil project to improve management in alfalfa,” Jasmin related. This was a research grant of the late Larry Godfrey (1956-2017), an Extension entomologist based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Godfrey, the principal investigator of the grant, worked with co-principal investigator Yolo County Farm Advisor Rachael Long until his death in April.
Long invited Jasmin to apply for the position. “That increased my interest in bugs,” Jasmin said. “There were so many different species and I was constantly collecting plethora of insects in each sample!”
A native of Guatemala, Jasmin moved to the United States at age 15 with her family. “Even though I wasn't born here, I still consider myself Guatemalan,” she related. “My family lives in Los Angeles and I attended Reseda High School in the San Fernando Valley.”
Jasmin, who received her bachelor's degree in earth system science at UC Merced in 2016, worked as a vegetation and ecological restoration intern with the National Park Service before enrolled in the UC Davis graduate program.
But it's the insects—particularly cucumber beetles—that fascinate her.
Three UC Davis-affiliated communication specialists won a total of six writing or photography awards in a global competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE).
Steve Elliott, communications coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, Davis, won one silver (second-place) and two bronze (third-place) for his writing and photography; Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, two silvers for her writing and photography; and Diane Nelson, communication specialist for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, won a bronze for her writing.
Elliott's entries and the categories:
- Writing for the Web, silver award for “IPM in Yellowstone”
- Photo Essay, bronze award for “Growing in Guam”
- Social media, bronze award for single blog post, “To Communicate Better, Start with Audience”
Garvey's entries and the categories:
- Writing for Newspapers, silver award for “Paying It Forward,” about the successful career of award-winning academic advisor Elvira Galvan Hack
- Picture Story, silver award for “Kira Meets a Stick Insect” (at Bohart Museum of Entomology)
Nelson's entry and category:
- Writing for the Web, bronze award for "Can Science Save Citrus?"
The awards will be presented during ACE's virtual conference June 24-25. ACE is an international association of communicators, educators and information technologists who focus on communicating research-based information. The organization offers professional development and networking for individuals who extend knowledge about agriculture, natural resources, and life and human sciences.
The Western Integrated Pest Management Center, also known as the Western IPM Center, is housed within the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program and funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It promotes "smart, safe and sustainable pest management to protect the people, environment and economy of the American West," which includes 17 Western states and Pacific island territories.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is world-renowned for its quality research, education and public service. Faculty are globally recognized for their expertise in insect demography, systematics and evolutionary biology of ants, pollination and community ecology, integrated pest management, insect biochemistry, molecular biology, and the systematics and evolutionary biology of nematodes. The department is one of 14 in the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES) is one of four colleges on the UC Davis campus. It is dedicated to "solving real-world problems in the agricultural, environmental, and human sciences to produce a better world, healthier lives, and an improved standard of living for everyone." It is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the world for agricultural sciences and forestry by QS World University Rankings; ranked No. 1in the world in plant and animal sciences by U.S. News & World Report; and ranked No. 1 in agricultural economics and policy research by the Center for World University Rankings.
“Most current control methods rely on chemical nematicides, but their use is increasingly limited due to environmental concerns,” wrote Siddique and colleague Clarissa Hiltl of the University of Bonn, Germany, in a newly published News and Views column, “New Allies to Fight Worms,” in the scientific journal Nature Plants.
In commenting on Washington State University (WSU) research published in the same edition, they wrote that the proposed alternative pest management strategy--naturally occurring molecules or plant elicitor peptides (Peps)—shows promise: “Engineering a naturally occurring rhizobacterium to deliver Peps to the plant root system offers a new opportunity in integrated pest management.”
It's better to build up the host plant's immune system rather than directly target the pathogen with chemical nematicides which “are highly toxic and have negative effects on the ecosystem,” declared Siddique, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“Plant-parasitic nematodes are among the world's most destructive plant pathogens, causing estimated annual losses of $8 billion to U.S. growers and of nearly $78 billion worldwide,” he said.
The root-knot nematode Meloidogyne chitwoodi is a noted pest of potato production in the Pacific Northwest. Idaho leads the nation in commercial potato production, followed by Washington. Oregon ranks fourth. California, which ranks eighth, grows potatoes year around due to its unique geography and climate.
In their article, Siddique and Hiltl analyzed research published by WSU Department of Pathology scientists Lei Zhang and Cynthia Gleason who demonstrated the effective use of Peps to combat root-knot nematodes in potato (Solanum tuberosum). The WSU scientists engineered a bacteria, Bacillus subtillis, to secrete the plant-defense elicitor peptide StPep1. Pre-treatment of potato roots “substantially reduced root galling, indicating that a bacterial secretion of a plant elicitor is an effective strategy for plant protection,” the Zhang-Gleason team wrote. (See article.)
Earlier scientists discovered that Peps could effectively manage nematodes in soybeans. Unlike the seed-grown soybeans, however, potatoes grow from small cubes of potatoes known as seed potatoes.
“Besides chemical nematicides, methods of nematode management include the use of crop rotation, microbial biocontrol agents, cover crops, trap crops, soil solarization, fumigation and resistant plant varieties,” wrote Siddique and Hiltl. “However, several of these strategies are not effective or available for all crops. Nematicides are highly toxic, and their use is strictly limited due to environmental concerns. Resistant plants are often ineffective or unavailable. Microbial biocontrol agents have produced inconsistent results. In this context, the current work provides a new opportunity to manage plant-parasitic nematodes by combining two progressive strategies: the use of plant elicitors to enhance crop resistance to pathogens and the use of B. subtilis to deliver.”
UC Davis biology lab manager Ivana Li, who received her bachelor's degree in entomology from UC Davis in 2013, is the recipient of a major UC Davis Staff Assembly award for her contributions to the campus community.
Li won the Staff Assembly's Citation for Excellence Individual Award, Service Category. She will receive a cash award of $1500 for the “efforts and positivity” she brings to the community, said spokesperson Darolyn Striley.
The Staff Assembly traditionally hosts an awards ceremony in the fall, but this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic precautions, it is likely to be postponed, Striley said.
A trio nominated Li for the honor: Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, Bohart Museum of Entomology; supervisor Pat Randolph, academic coordinator, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, College of Biological Sciences; and Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Also contributing to the nomination were Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology; and forensic entomologist/faculty member Robert Kimsey, who advises the UC Davis Entomology Club. Li is a past president of the club.
The award is confidential, with names, gender and identification removed from the nomination form.
"Our nominee is exemplary as a scientist, artist and chef, going above and beyond the job description,” the nominators wrote. “As a teaching lab coordinator of the largest biology course at UC Davis, (Li) coordinates up to 1300 students and meets the unexpected challenges in ingenious, ‘can-do' and innovative ways. For example, when the lab desperately needed a large mosquito culture, (Li) contacted area vector control agencies, collected the mosquitoes, and delivered them to the lab."
“Without her tenacity in locating materials, that lab would have been a failure for that quarter,” supervisor Pat Randolph, said.
The trio wrote that Li "exemplifies the kind of leader and community organizer that UC Davis seeks to produce. As one professor (forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey) said: (Li) “is the ideal person for teaching and teaching support, intensely curious, very independent, and highly imaginative. (Li) is thus highly motivated and original in problem-solving. (Li) is the ideal collaborator, very cooperative, consistently cheerful, dependable, stable and delightful to work with.”
As a scientist and artist, Li is always willing to share her time and talents to fulfill the UC Davis mission of public service, the trio noted. For some 20 years, she has eagerly volunteered at the annual UC Picnic Day, both as an undergraduate student and as an employee. She coordinates department exhibits and displays. She also "interacts enthusiastically" with the public, even engaging in creative face-painting.
Li “organized the Invertebrate Collection and display for the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, an annual science-based day formed nine years ago that draws 4000 people to our campus. This involved wrangling faculty to participate, developing a kid-friendly shell identification game to give them an idea how scientists go about identifying animals.” She “passionately draws people into science and serves as a role model with a welcoming, 'I'm-glad-to-be-here' smile and a genuine 'let's talk-science' friendly approach.”
This year Ivana Li designed the t-shirt that the volunteers wore. It featured a double-decker bus with the “passengers” as organisms showcased in the 13 museums or collection.
On the nomination form, Lynn Kimsey and Tabatha Yang noted that Li creates “amazing dioramas in the hallway of the Lab Sciences Building” and created the “incredible dioramas in the hallway of Briggs Hall.” She developed and created exhibits, t-shirts, and other informational materials for the Bohart Museum.
In addition, Li has served as an instructor at a summer bio boot camp for youngsters and agreed to be the chef for a professor's summer boot camp for graduate and undergraduate students. She also cooks for a scientific society at its annual meeting.
As a senior majoring in entomology in 2013, Li won the "UC Davis Outstanding Senior in Entomology" from the Cal Aggie Alumni Association, and the department's “Outstanding Senior Award.”
In conclusion, Li "continues to exhibit a strong sense of community and humanity,” her nominators wrote, and her “high productivity, engagement, inclusion, generosity and kind personality make for a combination that makes us all proud.”
Li grew up in Monterey Park, near east Los Angeles where she learned to love insects. Professor Sharon Lawler of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who nominated her for the outstanding senior award, related that “Ivana Li exemplifies the kind of leader, community organizer and entomology that our department seeks to produce. "She has especially excelled in her entomology courses and in leadership. Ivana Li is a true entomology and UC Davis success story.”
In a newly published article on “The School of Food” in Futurum, Nansen advocates that all school curricula be “rooted in a single dominator: food.”
Biology, ecology and environmental science should be “taught based on subjects related to the growth of plants and animals,” Nansen writes. Literature, history, sociology and humanities should focus on “the importance of food concepts, like ‘breaking bread,' feasts and banquets.”
“What I am proposing here is already being done, in part, as individual initiatives and projects,” he writes. “For example, many schools have a butterfly garden, biology labs keep colonies of insects, students grow some vegetables and have a few livestock animals. In some schools, students learn how to eat and cook healthy food.”
Futurum is a website geared toward students and teachers to become inspired and interested in science. It focuses on research, analysis and insights.
Nansen, whose research interests include insect ecology, integrated pest management, and remote sensing, says that such a focus on food “would strengthen, not weaken, the academic rigor that could be delivered to students of all age groups.”
“That is, ‘food' as an educational denominator can be taught and approached with multiple goals in mind, and these would be similar to the current distinctions between practical and more theoretical classes. By engaging with students through the prism of food, we can make math, physics, history, biology, literature--all these topics more relevant to students and make the teaching more interactive and challenge-based.”
Nansen acknowledges that it is crucial that schools teach students about traditional subjects and provide them with essential skill sets regarding problem solving, critical thinking and basic knowledge, but that that students “can all be taught very effectively through an underlying emphasis on food.”
For example, he mentions that students of all ages can grow crop plants in small pots inside a classroom or outside (small plots and roof gardens), “and study growth as a function of time and growing conditions.” More advanced practical tasks could include developing irrigation systems, and plant and animal breeding programs.
Another example: for engineering, computer sciences and food production, students could delve into solar panels, rainwater catchment systems and water recycling methods. At the more advanced level, they could integrate robotics and machine learning system.
Nansen, linking chemistry with cooking, comments: “Cooking is nothing more and nothing less than applied chemistry. How does the pickling of vegetables work? What is happening when cream is whipped? What happens to food during heating and/or frying? Salting olives, fish and other types of meat has been practiced for thousands of years—how does this means of preserving food actually work?”
In his article, Nansen also explains how food can be incorporated in such subjects as humanities, human history, social studies and math.
Eating has changed over time, the professor acknowledges, “and it varies among countries and cultures, meaning that not all students view food in the same way.” But teachers can capitalize on diversity in the classroom, he relates. They can also address “societal challenges, such as obesity” and elevate levels of empowerment related to stresses, such as fear.
In the article, Nansen shared a project he assigned to his 11-year daughter, Molly, during the sheltering-in requirements: “How much cabbage would be needed to meet the Vitamin K requirements for her entire class for a whole year?”
In addition to learning about the metric system, using Excel spread sheets, regression analyses and calculus, Molly investigated websites and came to several conclusions:
- A person can harvest about 3 kg per m2 (kilograms per square meter)
- A student her age has to have 105 grams of cabbage to meet daily vitamin K requirements
In addition, she created a cabbage-muffin recipe and calculated she would need to eat four muffins per day to meet the daily Vitamin K requirements. She also calculated she would need 2,291 m2 to grow enough cabbage to meet the daily vitamin K requirement for her entire school. It is age-dependent, so that was a bit tricky to figure out.
And lastly, using Google Earth, Molly suggested where to place the cabbage field next to her school. (Her entire project is online as a sidebar.)
Virtual Youth Summit on Food and Education 2021
Nansen said he seeks contact with teachers and headmasters "interested in pursuing this approach at some level at their school."
"The idea is now to take this several steps further, through collaboration with teachers and their students, and set up a web-based platform to host an annual virtual youth summit on food and education!" he said. "That is, groups of students, in collaboration with their teachers and as part of course curricula, produce a 3-5 minute video describing a particular project they have executed. These videos would then be shown at the virtual youth summit, and we will organize review panels of students, teachers, and scientists to comment on the videos. These video projects would be divided into age groups and topics – still to be determined."
"I am hoping that we will be able to create a very special category of video projects describing two schools (have to be on separate continents) doing a project together," Nansen said. "As a start, we are pursuing the potential of a school in California working with a school in Uganda… which would be awesome!"
"We may be able to obtain corporate sponsorships and therefore be able to offer prizes/awards to participating schools, teachers and student groups. With corporate sponsorships, we may also be able to offer logistical support to schools – computers, software licenses (to create videos), basic lab supplies and equipment to conduct experiments.'"
"Just imagine a school being able to put on its website that a group of students competed in the Virtual Youth Summit on Food and Education 2021 and was selected as one of the winners! Students can put this experience on their resume when they later apply to university or jobs. Teachers can include this in their evaluation dossiers."
"Initially, we need to identify teachers interested in joining this effort--ideally teachers from multiple countries," Nansen related. "Once we have 5-10 teachers committed, then we can start putting together the virtual platform and invite schools and teachers more broadly." School teachers and others potentially interested in getting involved can contact him at email@example.com.