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."
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.
The nine-member research team, led by Frank Schroeder, a BTI professor and also a professor in Cornell University's Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, detailed how plants speak “roundworm language” for self-defense. The work is published Jan. 10 in the journal Nature Communications.
The researchers studied chemicals called ascarosides, which the worms produce and secrete to communicate with each other. Williamson helped analyze the data and helped make some key insights toward the paper's conclusions, the BTI scientists related.
The team found that plants “talk” to nematodes by metabolizing ascarosides and secreting the metabolites back into the soil.
“It's not only that the plant can ‘sense' or ‘smell' a nematode,” Schroeder said in a BTI news release. “It's that the plant learns a foreign language, and then broadcasts something in that language to spread propaganda that ‘this is a bad place.' Plants mess with nematodes' communications system to drive them away.”
The study built on the team's previous work showing that plants react to ascr#18 – the predominant ascaroside secreted by plant-infecting nematodes – by bolstering their own immune defenses, thereby protecting them against many types of pests and pathogens.
In those earlier studies, “We also saw that when ascr#18 was given to plants, the chemical disappears over time,” according to lead author Murli Manohar, a senior research associate at BTI.
That observation, along with published literature suggesting plants could modify pest metabolites, led the team to hypothesize that “plants and nematodes interact via small molecule signaling and alter one another's messages,” Schroeder said.
To probe that idea, the team treated three plant species – Arabidopsis, wheat and tomato – with ascr#18 and compared compounds found in treated and untreated plants. They identified three ascr#18 metabolites, the most abundant of which was ascr#9.
The researchers also found Arabidopsis and tomato roots secreted the three metabolites into the soil, and that a mixture of 90% ascr#9 and 10% ascr#18 added to the soil steered nematodes away from the plant's roots, thereby reducing infection.
The team hypothesized that nematodes in the soil perceive the mixture as a signal, sent by plants already infected with nematodes, to “go away” and prevent overpopulation of a single plant. Worms may have evolved to hijack plant metabolism to send this signal. Plants, in turn, may have evolved to tamper with the signal to appear as heavily infected as possible, thereby fooling would-be invaders.
“This is a dimension of their relationship that no one has seen before,” said Manohar. “And plants may have similar types of chemical communication with other pests.”
Although the mixture of ascr#9 and ascr#18 could serve as a crop protectant, Schroeder said there should be no detriment to using straight ascr#18 on crops, as described in the team's earlier research.
“Ascr#18 mainly primes the plant to respond more quickly and strongly to a pathogen, rather than fully inducing the defensive response itself,” he said. “So there should be no cost to the plant in terms of reduced growth, yield or other problems.”
The team also showed that plants metabolize ascr#18 via the peroxisomal β-oxidation pathway, a system conserved across many plant species.
“This paper uncovers an ancient interaction,” Schroeder said. “All nematodes make ascarosides, and plants have had millions of years to learn how to manipulate these molecules.”
He added: “Plants aren't passive green things. They are active participants in an interactive dialog with the surrounding environment, and we will continue to decipher this dialog.”
These discoveries are being commercialized by a BTI and Cornell University-based startup company, Ascribe Bioscience, as a family of crop protection products named PhytalixTM.
Scientists affiliated with four institutions--BTI, Cornell, UC Davis and the USDA's Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health--co-authored the paper. Grants from USDA and the National Institutes of Health funded the research.
Moreau is the Moser Professor of Biosystematics and Biodiversity, Departments of Entomology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. and the curator of the Cornell University Insect Collection.
"Moreau and colleagues were the first to establish the origin of the ants at 140 million years ago using molecular sequence data (40 million years older than previous estimates), and that the diversification of the ants coincided with the rise of the flowering plants (angiosperms)," according to an entry in Wikipedia. "In addition, Moreau and Charles D. Bell showed that the tropics have been and continue to be important for the evolution of the ants. Moreau and colleagues have demonstrated the importance of gut-associated bacteria in the evolutionary and ecological success of ants through targeted bacterial and microbiome sequencing, including showing that bacterial gut symbionts are tightly linked with the evolution of herbivory in ants."
Her honors are many. In 2018 she was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Also in 2018, she was featured in National Geographic as a "Woman of Impact." In 2015, she was included in "15 Brilliant Women Bridging the Gender Gap in Science."
A native of New Orleans, Moreau holds degrees (bachelor and master's) from San Francisco State University and a doctorate in biology from Harvard University (2007). At Harvard, she studied with major professors E. O. Wilson and Naomi Pierce. Wilson featured her in his 2013 book, Letter to a Young Scientist.
"There was no bravado in Corrie, no trace of overweening pride, no pretension," Wilson wrote. "The story of Corrie Saux Moreau's ambitious undertaking is one I feel especially important to bring to you. It suggests that courage in science born of self-confidence (without arrogance!), a willingness to take a risk but with resilience, a lack of fear of authority, a set of mind that prepares you to take a new direction if thwarted, are of great value – win or lose."
Moreau will cover diverse topics in her talk. "To fully understand the macro evolutionary factors that have promoted the diversification and persistence of biological diversity, varied tools and disciplines must be integrated," she says in her abstract. "By combining data from several fields, including molecular phylogenetics/phylogenomics, comparative genomics, biogeographic range reconstruction, stable isotyope analyses, and microbial community sequencing to study the evolutionary history of the insects, we are beginning to understand the drivers of speciation and the interconnectedness of life. Comparative phylogenetic analysis reveals the interconnectedness of ants and plants and that ants diversified after the rise of the angiosperms. Comparative genomics has permitted the exploration of the role of symbiosis on genome evolution and behavioral gene evolution demonstrating that Red Queen dynamics are at play in obligate mutualisms..."
"Microbial contributions to ants are not limited to diet enrichment," she says, "and we find evidence for their role in cuticle formation. These multiple lines of evidence are illuminating a more complete picture of ant evolution and providing novel insights into the role that symbiosis plays to promote biological diversity."
UC Davis graduate student Marshall McMunn of the Phil Ward lab is the host. Community ecologist Rachel Vannette, assistant professor (firstname.lastname@example.org), coordinates the weekly seminars. See seminar schedule.