The Multistate Research Fund supports agricultural innovation and sustainability by providing federal funds to collaborative research projects led by State Agricultural Experiment Stations and land-grant universities. These projects bring together scientists, Extension educators, and other university, federal, and industry partners to tackle high-priority regional or national issues in agriculture, a spokesman said.
Under the category, “Researchers studied chemical cues that mediate interactions among plants, pests, and predators,” UC Davis (Karban) is credited with identifying “the sagebrush cues that trigger resistance against chewing herbivores” and also finding that “plant cue effectiveness is affected by the geographic proximity of the source of the cue.”
Under the category, “Researchers used chemical ecology to protect pollinators from pesticides and disease,” UC Davis (Vannette) is credited with identifying “floral chemistry traits and microbial communities that affect the patterns or preferences of hummingbirds, honey bees, and carpenter bees.”
Professor Karban, an international authority on plant communication, is the author of the landmark book, Plant Sensing and Communication (University of Chicago Press).
Karban has researched plant communication in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) on the east side of the Sierra since 1995. His groundbreaking research on plant communication among kin, published in February 2013 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, drew international attention. In that study, Karban and his co-researchers found that kin have distinct advantages when it comes to plant communication, just as “the ability of many animals to recognize kin has allowed them to evolve diverse cooperative behaviors.”
Karban is a fellow of Ecological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Michael Pollan featured him in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker: “The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants."
Vannette, an assistant professor who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2015 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's biology department, seeks to unlock the mysteries of flower microbes: how do plants protect against them, and can bees benefit from them?
The Vannette lab is a team of entomologists, microbiologists, chemical ecologists, and community ecologists trying to understand how microbial communities affect plants and insects (sometimes other organisms too). “We often study microbial communities in flowers, on insects or in soil,” according to her website. “We rely on natural history observations, and use techniques from chemical ecology, microbial ecology and community ecology. In some cases, we study applied problems with an immediate application including pathogen control or how to support pollinators. Other questions may not have an immediate application but are nonetheless grounded in theory and will contribute to basic knowledge and conservation (e.g. how can dispersal differences among organisms affect patterns of abundance or biodiversity?).
All plants are colonized by microorganisms that influence plant traits and interactions with other species, including insects that consume or pollinate plants, Vannette explains. “I am interested in the basic and applied aspects of microbial contributions to the interaction between plants and insects. I also use these systems to answer basic ecological questions, such as what mechanisms influence plant biodiversity and trait evolution.”
“Much of the work in my lab focuses on how microorganisms affect plant defense against herbivores and plant attraction to pollinators. For example, we are interested in understanding the microbial drivers of soil health, which can influence plant attractiveness to herbivores and the plant's ability to tolerate or defend against damage by herbivores. In addition, we are working to examine how microorganisms modify flower attractiveness to pollinators. This may have relevance in agricultural systems to improve plant and pollinator health.”
Vannette, who holds a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology (2011) from the University of Michigan, was selected a UC Davis Hellman Fellow in 2018.
Her recent research grants include two from the National Science Federation (NSF). One is a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award, titled “Nectar Chemistry and Ecological and Evolutionary Tradeoffs in Plant Adaptation to Microbes and Pollinators.” The other is a three-year collaborative grant, “The Brood Cell Microbiome of Solitary Bees: Origin, Diversity, Function, and Vulnerability.”
Agrawal is one of 120 newly elected members, of which 59 are women. The number of NAS members now totals 2,461, according to NAS president Marcia McNutt.
Agrawal received his doctorate in population biology in 1999 from UC Davis, working with major professor Richard "Rick" Karban, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Anurag is an inspiration as a scientist and as a person," Karban said. "I've learned a lot from him."
At Cornell, Agrawal researches the ecology and evolution of interactions between wild plants and their insect pests, including aspects of community interactions, chemical ecology, coevolution and the life cycle of the monarch butterfly.
Agrawal authored the celebrated book, Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution, published in 2017 by Princeton University Press. He investigated "how the monarch butterfly has evolved closely alongside the milkweed—a toxic plant named for the sticky white substance emitted when its leaves are damaged—and how this inextricable and intimate relationship has been like an arms race over the millennia, a battle of exploitation and defense between two fascinating species," according to the publisher.
The book won a 2017 National Outdoor Book Award in Nature and Environment and an award of excellence in gardening and gardens from the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. It was also named one of Forbes.com's 10 best biology books of 2017.
“It's a tremendous honor and totally unexpected,” Agrawal told the Cornell Chronicle in a recent news release. “I look forward to representing Cornell and also playing a part in the NAS role of advising the U.S. government on science policy.”
"A key research focus for Agrawal's Phytophagy Lab is the generally antagonistic interactions between plants and insect herbivores," according to the news release. In an attempt to understand the complexity of communitywide interactions, questions include: What ecological factors allow the coexistence of similar species? And what evolutionary factors led to the diversification of species? Agrawal's group is currently focused on three major projects: the community and evolutionary ecology of plant-herbivore relationships; factors that make non-native plants successful invaders; and novel opportunities for pest management of potatoes. Recent work on toxin sequestration in monarch butterflies was featured on the cover of the April 20 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
Members are elected to NAS in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Membership is a widely accepted mark of excellence in science and is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive. Among those elected to NAS: Bruce Hammock, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. He was elected to NAS in 1999.
Agrawal holds two degrees from the University of Pennslvania, a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in conservation biology. He joined the Cornell faculty in 2004 as an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, with a joint appointment in the Department of Entomology. He advanced to associate professor in 2005, and to full professor in 2010. He was named the James A. Perkins Professor of Environmental Studies in 2017.
A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2012), and recipient of the American Society of Naturalist's E.O. Wilson Award in 2019, Agrawal won the Entomological Society of America's 2013 Founders' Memorial Award and delivered the lecture on Dame Miriam Rothschild (1908-2005) at ESA's 61st annual meeting, held in Austin, Texas.
Agrawal was at UC Davis in January of 2012 to present a seminar on "Evolutionary Ecology of Plant Defenses." His abstract: "In order to address coevolutionary interactions between milkweeds and their root feeding four-eyed beetles, I will present data on reciprocity, fitness tradeoffs, specialization and the genetics of adaptation. In addition to wonderful natural history, this work sheds light on long-standing theory about how antagonistic interactions proceed in ecological and evolutionary time."
Not so taxonomist and arachnologist Rebecca Godwin, who holds a 2020 doctorate in entomology from the University of California, Davis and just published a comprehensive taxonomic revision of the New World members of the trapdoor spider genus, Ummidia.
In a nearly 10-year project that encompassed 800 specimens from 16 natural history museums throughout the world (including the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis), she updated the descriptions of the 20 known New World spiders, and described 33 new species.
“This study, along with many others conducted utilizing museum collections, is indicative of the importance of natural history collections and their usefulness in discovering unknown biodiversity,” said Godwin, who joined the faculty of Piedmont University, Demorest, Ga., last August as an assistant professor of biology.
Ummidia are medium-sized trapdoor spiders that construct silk-lined burrows, usually with cork-type doors. Their burrows, often covered with leaf litter, are difficult to find.
“The revision was an undertaking,” Godwin said. “I first started working on it almost ten years ago, but it was really only scratching the surface of the stories these spiders have to tell.”
Her major professor, Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, co-authored the paper, “Taxonomic Revision of the New World Members of the Trapdoor Spider Genus Ummidia Thorell (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Halonoproctidae),” published April 2 in ZooKeys.
Importance of Taxonomy
"The Ummidia revision really highlights the importance of taxonomic work and typifies the large number of arthropod species that remain to be described, even in North America,” Bond said. “In many instances, taxonomic work alone stands between a species being lost to both extinction and obscurity, particularly in light of the current human driven wave of mass extinction. As such, one could argue that never before has the discipline been so important; it is impossible to ‘save,' conserve, and/or inventory undiscovered species.”
Godwin's “richly descriptive taxonomic monographs represent important, hypothesis-driven science,” Bond said. “Rebecca started her work with a collection of specimens and then postulated tests of what constituted the limits of a species; where in the hierarchy of life that species is placed; and what homologous characters support her hypotheses."
At the onset of the UC Davis research, the number of described species in the genus, plus one subspecies, totaled 27. Of that initial number, 20 were considered New World species or in the Western hemisphere (the Americas.) The distribution ranged from North America and South America to Asia, Northern Africa and Europe.
“I am continually blown away by how little we know about what is out there living on this planet with us,” Godwin commented. “I think that anytime we can learn more about the organisms we share this planet with, it's a valuable endeavor. Most people don't even realize they are sharing their space with these spiders, literally right under their feet—not to mention the fact that these spiders tend to have very limited ranges and have very low dispersal. They can be winked out of existence without our ever knowing they were here, and I find that kind of heartbreaking.”
“Additionally, I think Ummidia is a fascinating group for evolutionary and population dynamic studies,” Godwin said. “Within a single genus there are the ‘traditional' extremely non-vagile species sympatric with species that appear to have mastered ballooning, potentially giving them much greater dispersal capabilities.”
Godwin said that “there are incredibly small species living alongside relatively quite large species. Is this dwarfism? Paedomorphism? Are there potentially sneaker males at work? We know so little about the actual life history and behavior of these spiders and how it might be varying from species to species.”
The authors examined trapdoor specimens from natural history museums in five countries—United States, Mexico, Italy, England, Germany and Colombia. Within the United States, they researched collections from 10 states: New York, California, Ohio, Colorado, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and Virginia.
“Ummidia is a wide-ranging genus, found in the southwestern Mediterranean, Central Asia, and in the Americas from as far north as Ohio and Maryland west to Arizona and south to Brazil, including the Greater and Lesser Antilles,” they wrote.
Ballooning, a behavior that distinguishes some Ummidia, “facilitates the dispersal of individuals over geographic features that would otherwise serve as barriers to gene flow,” they noted.
“Although species of Ummidia are very widespread and occur in a number of habitats, they tend to be very patchy in their distribution,” they wrote. “This, paired with the highly cryptic nature of their burrows, make them very difficult to collect, and so by necessity this revision is based almost entirely on historic rather than newly collected material. Much of this material was amassed from a number of collectors and institutions by the late Dr. Willis Gertsch, who spent over 40 years working on a revision of the group. Gertsch never published his work on Ummidia prior to his passing in 1999, but his notes and correspondence, stored in the archives of the American Museum of Natural History proved useful and insightful in the completion of this work.”
Godwin, citing the difficulty of revising the morphologically homogenous group, quoted Gertsch in one of his writings: “This is the most difficult ctenizid genus I know with such feeble, variable, erratic, aberrant characters that I find myself uncertain as to...what is a species.”
The Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowment primarily funded the trapdoor spider research. Godwin also received a $2000 Auburn University Museum of Natural History Collection Improvement Grant in 2015; and a $500 Auburn University Graduate School Research Fellowship in 2015-2016.
Godwin's research on trap spiders won high honors in graduate student competitions at the 2019 American Arachnological Society (AAS) meeting, held in Lexington, Va., and the 2018 Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting, held in Vancouver, BC. She won first place in the AAS student poster competition, and second in the ESA President's Prize graduate student competition.
Godwin holds two degrees from Auburn University: a bachelor's degree in zoology (2004) and her master's degree in wetland biology (2011). She began her doctoral studies at Auburn University in 2014, and transferred to UC Davis in 2018 when Bond, her major professor, accepted his UC Davis position.
At Piedmont University, Godwin teaches a number of biology classes, including introductory biology and invertebrate zoology. Her main research interests include the phylogenetics, taxonomy, and systematics of trapdoor spiders.
She is also keenly interested in science communication. “I have a true passion for effectively communicating science both with students in the classroom as well as with the public,” she said. “I believe that effective science communication at all levels and societal science literacy are crucial to create an informed society.”
“However, the plants that are keeping up with climate change might also experience costs to earlier leaf-out,” said Meineke, lead author of the first-of-its-kind study, Phenological Sensitivity to Temperature Mediates Herbivory.
One of the costs is that “early” species get eaten more in warmer years. “This seems to be because when they leaf out earlier,” she said, “they also lengthen the amount of time herbivores have in a given year to eat their leaves.”
Two plant species that showed higher insect damage due to rising temperatures were two native blueberries: Vaccinium angustifolium, a wild lowbush blueberry native to eastern and central Canada and the northeastern United States, and Vaccinium corymbosum, the northern highbush blueberry, a native North American species and a significant commercial food crop.
The publication is the result of a massive five-year research project involving herbarium specimens collected from the northeastern United States and France from 1900 to 2015. These two areas have warmed more than the global average, Meineke said, and the plants studied are distributed widely across them.
Meineke, an assistant professor who joined the UC Davis faculty in March 2020, launched her research while a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard University Herbaria, where she studied how worldwide urbanization and climate change have affected plant-insect relationships over the past century.
“This was a true collaboration,” Meineke said. “Each of us was interested in different pieces of the research. Davies and Davis brought the phenology hypotheses and expertise, and I brought an interest in/knowledge of herbivory and how it may change as the climate warms.”
The authors wrote that “both insect and plant development are sensitive to temperature, though the specific cues plants and associated insects use to time life history events may differ and include photoperiod, chilling, ‘forcing' and precipitation. For the vast majority of insect and plant species, the combined and relative contributions of these cues have not been well characterized.”
The specimens studied were selected first on the basis of the availability of previously published phenological sensitivity metrics: flowering sensitivity and leaf-out sensitivity. “We use the general term ‘phenological sensitivity' to refer to the extent to which a particular life event (e.g., for plants, budbreak, leaf-out, flowering, fruiting) responds to temperature from year to year (e.g. days change in phenology per ‘C' warming),” they explained.
The next step? “We are now beginning to look into whether and how herbivory might have shifted over time in California native plants,” Meineke said. “Our focal species so far is the valley oak, Quercus lobata, but we hope to eventually expand these observations to more taxa. We're also looking into other mechanisms that might drive herbivory shifts here in the west, where phenology is driven more by moisture than by temperature.”
A native of Greenville, N.C., Meineke holds a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina in environmental science, with a minor in biology, and a doctorate in entomology from North Carolina State University where she completed her dissertation, "Understanding the Consequences of Urban Warming for Street Trees and Their Insect Pests.”
The project was supported by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology in a grant awarded to Meineke.
Species interactions drive ecosystem processes and are a major focus of global change research. Among the most consequential interactions expected to shift with climate change are those between insect herbivores and plants, both of which are highly sensitive to temperature. Insect herbivores and their host plants display varying levels of synchrony that could be disrupted or enhanced by climate change, yet empirical data on changes in synchrony are lacking. Using evidence of herbivory on herbarium specimens collected from the northeastern United States and France from 1900 to 2015, we provide evidence that plant species with temperature‐sensitive phenologies experience higher levels of insect damage in warmer years, while less temperature‐sensitive, co‐occurring species do not. While herbivory might be mediated by interactions between warming and phenology through multiple pathways, we suggest that warming might lengthen growing seasons for phenologically sensitive plant species, exposing their leaves to herbivores for longer periods of time in warm years. We propose that elevated herbivory in warm years may represent a previously under appreciated cost to phenological tracking of climate change over longer timescales.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the Bohart Museum of Entomology will be participating in the virtual 107th annual UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 17, a traditional event being held untraditionally this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The entomological events will include cockroach racing and a series of talks. Among them: Bohart Museum associate and natural historian Greg Kareofelas will present a pre-recorded video on Gulf Fritillary butterflies and entomologist Jeff Smith, the Bohart's volunteer curator of the Lepidoptera collection, will deliver a live Zoom talk on butterfly and moth mimicry from 1 to 2 p.m.
Said Smith: "For my presentation on mimicry within Lepidoptera, it will briefly mention camouflage and spend most of the time on mimicry for defense-- mimics of toxic or distasteful species, mimicry using odors or sounds, mimics of snakes or spiders, and mimics of non-food materials such as bird feces."
More events--and the schedule--are pending.
The Bohart Museum, temporarily closed, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. Directed by Professor Lynn Kimsey, the Bohart Museum includes nearly eight million insect specimens, a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas) and an online gift shop stocked with insect-themed t-shirts, jewelry, hoodies, books, posters and more.
Discovering Silver Linings
This year's theme is “Discovering Silver Linings.” Despite all that has happened this year, the UC Davis community has continued to find silver linings everywhere, the Picnic Day officials reported on their website. "Our campus always strives to inspire hope and works towards a better and brighter tomorrow."
Last year's in-person events also were canceled and some virtual events took place.
"This long-standing campus tradition began in 1909 when the University Farm invited the surrounding community to view their new dairy barn. Two thousand visitors attended, bringing picnics to complement the coffee, cream, and sugar provided by the University. Following the success of the 1909 picnic, the faculty of the University Farm continued to plan and sponsor the event until a student committee took over the task in 1912. Through the years of Picnic Day history, the event has only been canceled five times. In 1924, an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease among the cowherds caused the first cancellation. In 1938, delayed construction of the gymnasium, which was needed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of participants, led to a second cancellation. During World War II, the Army Signal Corps controlled the campus, and Picnic Day disappeared from 1943 to 1945. Since 1946, Picnic Day has been growing strong and now boasts an annual attendance of more than 70,000 people. This year, there will be more than 200 events on campus and an estimated 75,000 visitors attending this special event. Since 1959, the parade was extended to include downtown Davis to celebrate the fact that Davis became a separate UC campus and not just the Farm School for UC Berkeley."