Female golden orbweavers--tropical spiders known for weaving golden-hued webs as wide as five feet in diameter--are sometimes 10 times larger and 100 times heavier than their male counterparts, says Jason Bond, professor and Schlinger Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. And notoriously, the huge females cannibalize the tiny males.
“Sexual size dimorphism (SSD) often seems to be correlated with extreme morphological, behavioral and life history phenotypes in either sex,” says Bond, senior author of a newly published paper in the Journal of Systematic Biology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Systematic Biologists.
Through phylogenomic (the intersection of the fields of evolution and genomics) and comparative analyses, Bond and his colleagues found that golden orbweavers “ignore biological rules.”
The global team of 11 scientists--from Slovenia, China, Taiwan, Czech Republic and the United States (UC Davis, Smithsonian Institution, University of Idaho, University of Florida and University of Vermont)--unraveled a complex evolution of sexual size and dimorphism and found that Nephilid female gigantism is a “phylogenetically ancient phenotype, over 100 million years old, though their magnitudes vary by lineage.”
The spiders belong to the genus Nephila and family Nephilidae; the members are known for constructing huge or exaggerated webs. The species thrive in warmer regions throughout the world, including Australia, Asia, Africa (including Madagascar) and the America. One species, N. clavipes, is found in southern United States, from Texas to North Carolina.
For the paper, “Golden Orbweavers Ignore Biological Rules: Phylogenomic and Comparative Analyses Unravel a Complex Evolution of Sexual Size Dimorphism,” the team tested two biological rules: Cope's rule and Rensch's rule. Cope's rule postulates that population lineages tend to increase in body size over evolutionary time. Rensch's rule is a biological rule on allometric patterns of male and female size. Neither rule applied to the golden orbweavers.
First, the scientists established the backbone phylogeny of Nephilidae, using 367 anchored hybrid enrichment markers, and then combined these data with classical markers for a reference species level phylogeny.
“Second, we used the phylogeny to test Cope and Rensch's rules, sex specific size optima, and the coevolution of web size, type, and features with female and male body size and their ratio, SSD,” they wrote in their abstract. “Male, but not female, size increases significantly over time, and refutes Cope's rule. Allometric analyses reject the converse, Rensch's rule. Male and female body sizes are uncorrelated. Female size evolution is random, but males evolve toward an optimum size (3.2–4.9 mm). Overall, female body size correlates positively with absolute web size. However, intermediate-sized females build the largest webs (of the hybrid type), giant female Nephila and Trichonephila build smaller webs (of the aerial type), and the smallest females build the smallest webs (of the arboricolous type).”
In conclusion, the scientists proposed a new clade, a group of organisms evolving from a common ancestor. They resurrected the family Nephilidae and proposed the new clade, Orbipurae, to contain Araneidae Clerck 1757, Phonognathidae Simon 1894, new rank, and Nephilidae.
The researchers proposed “taxonomic changes based on the criteria of clade age, monophyly and exclusivity, classification information content, and diagnosability. Spider families, as currently defined, tend to be between 37 million years old and 98 million years old, and Nephilidae is estimated at 133 million years old, thus deserving family status.”
“Nephilid female gigantism is a phylogenetically ancient phenotype (over 100 million years old), as is extreme sexual size dimorphism, though their magnitudes vary by lineage,” they wrote. “Despite the sometimes conflicting trends seen within Nephilidae, the clade stands as the most extreme example of female-biased SSD among terrestrial animals, as far as we know.”
The Jason Bond lab and the Chris Hamilton lab, Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Nematology at the University of Idaho, Moscow, provided the anchored hybrid enrichment data and phylogenomic analysis.
Co-authors of the paper, in addition to Bond and Hamilton, are
- Matjaž Kuntner of the National Institute of Biology, Ljubljana, Slovenia; the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.; and Hubei University, China;
- Ren-Chung Cheng, Biological Institute ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana, Slovenia, and National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan;
- Matjaž Gregorič, Nik Lupše and Tjaša Lokovšek, all with the Biological Institute ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana,Slovenia (Lupse is also affiliated with the Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic);
- Emily Moriatry Lemmon and Alan Lemmon, Florida State University, Tallahassee;
- Ingi Agnarsson of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution; and University of Vermont, Burlington; and
- Jonathan Coddington, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
The research drew funds from Slovenian Research Agency grants, from the U.S. State Department through a Fulbright visiting scholar; ZRZ Director's Fund, National Science Foundation, Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant and funds from Auburn University, Alabama. Bond joined the UC Davis faculty in July of 2018 from Auburn University after a seven-year academic career there, where he served as professor of biology and chaired the Department of Biological Sciences. He also curated the arachnids and myriapods (centipedes, millipedes, and related animals) at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History.
Cancer research published by a team of scientists, including the Bruce Hammock laboratory, University of California, Davis, has been named the Journal of Clinical Investigation's Editor's Pick for the month of July.
Scientists from UC Davis and Harvard Medical School co-authored the paper on how blocking inflammation and/or activating the resolution of inflammation before surgery or chemotherapy can eradicate small tumors and promote long-term survival in experimental animal cancer models.
The paper, “Preoperative Stimulation of Resolution and Inflammation Blockade Eradicates Micrometastases,” available online beginning June 17, combines the expertise of Professor Bruce Hammock and researcher Jun Yang of UC Davis with that of the Harvard Medical School team led by Dipak Panigrahy and Allison Gartung; Professor Vikas Sukhatme from Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta; and Professor Charles Serhan from Brigham and Women's Hospital/Harvard Medical School.
“During chemotherapy or surgery, dying cancer cells can trigger inflammation and the growth of microscopic cancerous cells,” said Hammock, a distinguished professor who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“We found that preoperative, but not postoperative, administration of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug ketorolac and/or resolvins, a family of specialized pro-resolving autacoid mediators, eliminated micrometastases in multiple tumor-resection models, resulting in long-term survival,” Gartung said. “Moreover, we found that ketorolac and resolvins exhibited synergistic anti-tumor activity and prevented surgery or chemotherapy-induced tumor dormancy escape in our animal models.”
Serhan explained that “Ketorolac unleashed anti-cancer T-cell immunity that was augmented by immune checkpoint blockade, negated by adjuvant chemotherapy, and dependent on inhibition of the COX-1/thromboxane A2 (TXA2) pathway. Pre-operative stimulation of inflammation resolution via resolvins (RvD2, RvD3, and RvD4) inhibited metastases and induced T cell responses.”
“Collectively, our findings suggest a paradigm shift in clinical approaches to resectable cancers," said Sukhatme. "Simultaneously blocking the ensuing pro-inflammatory response and activating endogenous resolution programs before surgery may eliminate micrometastases and reduce tumor recurrence."
This novel approach of blocking inflammation and/or accelerating the resolution of inflammation before a surgical procedure also holds promise for patients who do not have cancer. “More than 30 percent of healthy individuals harbor microscopic cancers," Panigraphy said. "Non-cancer surgery and anesthesia may promote the growth of existing micro-tumors."
- Dipak Panigrahy, Allison Gartung, Haixia Yang, Molly M. Gilligan, Megan L. Sulciner, Jaimie Chang, Julia Piwowarski, Anna Fishbein, and DulceSoler-Ferran, all with the Cancer Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Harvard Medical School (HMS);
- Charles N. Serhan from the Center for Experimental Therapeutics and Reperfusion Injury and Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, HMS;
- Vikas P. Sukhatme from the Department of Medicine and Center for Affordable Medical Innovation at Emory University School of Medicine;
- Jun Yang and Bruce D. Hammock from the Department of Entomology and Nematology and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of California, Davis;
- Swati S. Bhasin and Manoj Bhasin from the Division of Interdisciplinary Medicine and Biotechnology, Department of Medicine, at BIDMC, HMS;
- Diane R. Bielenberg, Birgitta A. Schmidt and Steven J. Staffa from the Vascular Biology Program, Department of Pathology, and Department of Anesthesiology, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital (BCH), HMS;
- Matthew A. Sparks from the Division of Nephrology, Department of Medicine at Duke University and Durham VA Medical Centers;
- Vidula Sukhatme from GlobalCures Inc.;
- Mark W. Kieran from Division of Pediatric Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Center Institute and Department of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at BCH, HMS; and Sui Huang from the Institute of Systems Biology.
The researchers said the project drew generous support from the National Cancer Institute (Panigrahy and Serhan), Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Credit Unions Kids at Heart Team (Panigrahy), C.J. Buckley Pediatric Brain Tumor Fund (Kieran), the Kamen Foundation (Kieran), the Joe Andruzzi Foundation (Kieran), National Institute of Environmental Health Science Superfund Research Program (Hammock); National Institute of Environmental Health Science (Hammock), Sheth family (Sukhatme), Stop and Shop Pediatric Brain Tumor Fund (Kieran), Molly's Magic Wand for Pediatric Brain Tumors (Kieran), the Markoff Foundation Art-In-Giving Foundation (Kieran), and Jared Branfman Sunflowers for Life (Kieran).
For 20 years, the Hammock lab has been researching an inhibitor to an enzyme, epoxide hydrolase, which regulates epoxy fatty acids, but the inhibitor drug was not involved in this particular research. However, many other publications and ongoing cancer research projects are. "My research led to the discovery that many regulatory molecules are controlled as much by degradation and biosynthesis," Hammock said. "The epoxy fatty acids control blood pressure, fibrosis, immunity, tissue growth, depression, pain and inflammation to name a few processes.”
Hammock and colleague Sarjeet Gill, now a distinguished professor at UC Riverside, discovered the target enzyme in mammals while they were postgraduate students at UC Berkeley.
Williams was nominated by Academy Fellow James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology, and seconded by Academy Fellow Claire Kremen of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley.
In his letter of nomination, Carey wrote that Williams is “widely known and respected for his excellence in research, extension, outreach, teaching and leadership” and “is not only one of the stars of our campus, and the UC system, but is an internationally recognized leader in pollination and bee biology and strong voice in the development of collaborative research on insect ecology. He has organized national and international conferences, leads scores of working groups, and guides reviews of impacts of land use and other global change drivers on insects and the ecosystem services they provide.”
Williams is one of 13 Fellows in the Class of 2019, which also includes UC Davis physician Emanual Maverakis of the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Dermatology, nominated by Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. The Fellows will be inducted at the organization's annual meeting and gathering on Oct. 15. The academy, a scientific and educational institution based in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, is dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on earth. The Fellows extend the academy's impact on research, public engagement, and education.
Williams' research spans the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinating insects and their interactions with flowering plants. “He has become a leading voice for pollinator diversity and conservation in the California and The West,” wrote Carey. “One focus of his work has been in understanding the responses of bees to different environmental drivers and developing practical, scientifically grounded actions to support resilient pollinator communities. These efforts are particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.”
The UC Davis professor is co-chair of the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference (with Extension apiclturist Elina Lastro Niño). a four-day conference focusing on pollinator biology health and policy. It is set from Wednesday, July 17 through Saturday, July 20 in the UC Davis Conference Center. The conference, themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will cover a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations.
Williams seeks and finds found common solutions for sustaining both wild and managed bees and communicates that information to the public and stakeholder groups. Said Carey: “This is a critical perspective in natural and agricultural lands, but also in urban landscapes in northern and southern California.”
Each year Williams speaks to multiple beekeeper, farmer and gardener groups, and provides guidance to governing bodies, including the state legislature, and environmental groups. He and his lab are involved in a newly initiated California Bombus assessment project (https://calibombus.com/), which is using both museum and citizen scientist records to understand past, current and future distributions and habitat use by bumble bees. This program will host a series of workshops this spring and summer open to practitioners and the public.
Williams received his doctorate in ecology and evolution in 1999 from the State University of New York, Stony Brook and served as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Bryn Mawr (Penn.) College from 2004 to 2009. He joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009, advancing to full professor in 2017. He began making his mark early in his career. In 2013, he and several UC Davis honey bee colleagues won the Team Research Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). In 2015, the UC Davis chancellor singled him out as one of the 11 Chancellor's Fellows; the five-year of $25,000 supported his research, teaching and public service activities. This year Williams received PBESA's Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award, presented annually for outstanding accomplishments in the study of insect interrelationships with plants.
Williams also holds a three-year visiting professorship to the Swedish Agricultural University in Uppsala. The award is to lead work in sustainable agriculture, focusing in integrating multiple ecosystem services.
In addition to Carey, other Fellows of the Academy from the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology include
- Professor Phil Ward
- Frank Zalom, distinguished professor of entomology and a former vice chair of the department
- Robert E. Page Jr., distinguished emeritus professor and a former chair of the department
- Walter Leal, distinguished professor and a former chair of the department (he is now with the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology) and
- Visiting scientist Catherine Tauber, formerly of Cornell University.
Former Fellows from the department included Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, and visiting scientist Maurice Tauber (1931-2014), formerly of Cornell University.
The event is free and open to the public and will be hosted by Jared Shaw of the UC Davis College of Letters and Science.
“It is actually going to be a very basic talk aimed at lay audiences and kids,” Attardo says. “I'll be talking about my background, how I became an entomologist and how I ended up working on tsetse flies. Then I am going to discuss the life history of tsetse flies, where they can be found, why they are of medical importance and how their reproductive biology differs so dramatically from other flies that people are familiar with. My plan is to go over their reproductive cycle, how they develop intrauterine larvae, the reproductive adaptations that allow them to perform this feat and then go over what we know about tsetse milk secretions and how they compare to mammalian milk in terms of nutritional content.”
“The aim is for it to be very informal, with very little scientific jargon and to be discussion-oriented so that there is lots of questions and answers. I am also bringing some items from the lab that can be passed around the audience for show and tell (homemade tsetse cages, the blood feeding system we use to feed the flies and some tsetse flies preserved in alcohol).
Attardo focuses his research on numerous aspects of the physiology of tsetse fly reproduction, with the goal to identify and understand key aspects of its reproductive biology. He joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2017 from the Yale University School of Public Health, New Haven, Conn., where he researched tsetse flies in the lab of Serap Aksoy.
Attardo considers the tsetse fly "one of the champions of the insect world."
"In addition to being vectors of a deadly disease, Trypanosomiasis, these flies have undergone amazing alterations to their physiology relative to other insects," he says. "Some examples of this are their ability feed exclusively on blood, their obligate relationship with a bacterial symbiont, the fact that they lactate and that they give birth to fully developed larval offspring."
Attardo is the co-author of Adenotrophic Viviparity in Tsetse Flies: Potential for Population Control and as an Insect Model for Lactation, published in January 2015 in the Annual Review of Entomology.
Dr. Thorp, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, achieved emeritus status in 1994 but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death.
A tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, Dr. Thorp was known for his expertise, dedication and passion in protecting native pollinators, especially bumble bees, and for his teaching, research and public service. He was an authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, native bees and crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes.
“Robbin's scientific achievements during his retirement rival the typical career productivity of many other academic scientists,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “His contributions in support of understanding bee biodiversity and systematics are a true scientific legacy.”
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, said: "I've known Robbin since I was a graduate student at UC Davis. Even though he wasn't my major professor, my project was on bees and he was incredibly helpful and supportive. His enthusiasm about pollinators and bees in particular actually grew after he retired, and he continued helping students and researchers and was the backbone of so much research. His support and kindness was matched by his undemanding assistance and expertise. What a terrible loss to his family and to the research and conservation communities."
Colleague Norman Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, commented earlier this year in a letter of support for a College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences award: “Robbin is recognized internationally for his expertise and research on bees, especially non-Apis species, known as wild bees. I doubt that there is anyone else in the world who can compete with his expertise in the systematics of the 20,000 species of bees on this earth. He has the perfect balance of research of field research on the biology and behavior as well as laboratory research on the taxonomy of bees.” He was the go-to person to identify a bee by species.
Professor Neal Williams, who organized a symposium in Dr. Thorp's honor at the 2019 Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America meeting in San Diego, said: ‘Through his tireless efforts in research, advocacy and education, he has inspired a new generation of bee researchers…I like many others, feel truly honored, to have received the mentoring of Robbin and to have him as a colleague.”
In his retirement, Dr. Thorp co-authored two books Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014). Locally, he was active in research projects and open houses at the Bohart Museum of Entomology and the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. In his research, he monitored bees in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden on Bee Biology Road operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He established a baseline in 2008 and detected more than 80 species of bees.
Born Aug. 26, 1933 in Benton Harbor, Mich., Dr. Thorp received his bachelor of science degree in zoology (1955) and his master's degree in zoology (1957) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He earned his doctorate in entomology in 1964 from UC Berkeley, the same year he joined the UC Davis entomology faculty. He taught courses from 1970 to 2006 on insect classification, general entomology, natural history of insects, field entomology, California insect diversity, and pollination ecology.
Every summer from 2002 to 2018, Dr. Thorp volunteered his time and expertise to teach at The Bee Course, an annual workshop sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The intensive 9-day workshop, considered the world's premiere native bee biology and taxonomic course, is geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists.
Highly honored by his peers, Dr. Thorp was named a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco in 1986; recipient of the Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship of UC Davis in 2010; and recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Award in 2015. Other honors included: member of the UC Davis Bee Team that won PBESA's Team Award in 2013. In addition, he was a past president (2010-2011) of the Davis Botanical Society, and former chair (1992-2011) of the Advisory Committee for the Jepson Prairie Reserve, UC Davis/Natural Reserve System.
Leslie Saul-Gershenz, who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now an associate director of research with the Wild Energy Initiative, John Muir Institute of the Environment, said “I am heartbroken. I really hoped with all my heart that Robbin was going to get better and we would have more time with him, more of his sweetness, his kindness, his caring. He helped so many people over so many decades, his contributions were immense in his scientific contributions but also in his positive support of students, and colleagues alike and encouragement of public engagement. I miss him so much. “
Williams said the PBESA symposium was “perhaps the greatest honor one can receive from close colleagues--a special symposium honoring him and his contributions to the field of bee biology and pollination. We designed the symposium to honor the impact of Dr. Thorp, on the field of bee biology and conservation, but at the same time present innovative research that brings together bee and pollination biology researchers."
Richard Hatfield, a senior conservation biologist with Xerces' Endangered Species Program presented him with a framed illustration of Bombus franklini, the work of artist April Coppini of Portland, Ore. An authority on Franklin's bumble bee, Dr. Thorp began monitoring the bumble bee population in 1998 in its narrow distribution range of southern Oregon and northern California. He has not seen it since 2006 and was instrumental in placing Franklin's bumble bee on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Long active in the North America IUCN Bumblebee Specialist Group, Dr. Thorp served as its regional co-chair, beginning in 2011.
In August of 2016 a documentary crew from CNN, headed by John Sutter, followed him to a meadow where Dr. Thorp last saw Franklin's bumble bee. Sutter wrote about Dr. Thorp, then 82, in a piece he titled "The Old Man and the Bee," a spinoff of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."
“Robbin has done so much for me over the years,” Hatfield said. “I'm pleased to give back even a small fraction.” Hatfield praised him as a “a Living Legend of North American Bee Conservation” in a Xerces Society blog during Earth Week. “He has made lasting contributions to the bee conservation community in ways that might never be measured, but will certainly be felt.” https://xerces.org/2019/04/24/robbin-thorp-earth-week/.
"It was great to see Robbin interacting and enjoying the conference and the company," said Professor Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, one of the speakers at the Robbin Thorp Symposium. "We all have learned much from him over the years, and this was a good occasion to say thanks and acknowledge Robbin's many contributions."
Professor Diane Ullman, former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, said: “Robbin was my faculty advisor when I was a student! He gave me the courage to stay in graduate school and was a wonderful supporter when I came back to Davis as a faculty member. He was an amazing and passionate scientist and an extraordinary person.”
Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus: "We should not forget that Robbin originally was hired to work on honey bees, and he did. His greatest area of expertise was the use of honey bees in almond pollination. Robbin determined that until the colonies reached the population size of six frames of bees, they did not have enough spare bees to serve as foragers (pollinate almonds) since they were all needed to keep the brood warm. He also noted that the amount of pollen collected by the bees in a colony was pretty much in direct proportion to colony size, peaking at between 10 and 12 frames of bees. It was obvious to Robbin that the bees still visited almond blossoms for nectar, days after there was no pollen left in the flowers and the stigmata were no longer young enough to be pollinated. Other studies determined which blossoms along the branches were pollinated earlier and later during the season. All of those studies were very well designed and the results contributed significantly to our recommendations to growers and beekeepers for obtaining maximum benefit from the bees."
Professor Claire Kremen of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley, praised him in her letter of support for his nomination for distinguished emeritus professor in 2014:
"I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Thorp as a close colleague since 1999. I can definitely say that without his contributions, I could never have developed as extensive and impactful a research program on pollinator conservation and pollination services. It is even more noteworthy that Dr. Thorp's contributions to this research program have all occurred since his 'retirement'– he has had a very active retirement indeed."
"Dr. Thorp has contributed in three main ways. First, he has provided expert input into the design of protocols for the research, including assays for pollinator effectiveness, developing citizen science methods, rearing experimental bumble bee colonies, monitoring bumble bee colony properties in the field, and developing pollinator survey methods. Second, he has provided expert taxonomic services, including personally identifying over 100,000 native bee specimens that we have collected during this work, and working with us to develop a bee traits database. Third, he has trained numerous field assistants and graduate students from my lab in different aspects of bee biology. He's spent long hours with many of my graduate students helping them learn to identify bees. He also helped us develop methods and information sheets for teaching field and lab teams to recognize key generic and family characters for identifying bees in the field and sorting them in the lab. He's advised many of my graduate students on different aspects of their work.
"Collectively, Dr. Thorp's contributions have impacted 35 publications that have emerged from this research program to date, with many more either submitted or nearing the submission stage. He has also been a co-author on a number of these publications. Not only has Dr. Thorp had such a significant effect on the work of my lab, but he conducts his own primary work documenting the status of rare bumble bee species like Bombus franklini and B.occidentalis and contributes at a similar level to other research labs such as with his long-time collaborators Dr. Gordon Frankie and Dr. Neal Williams. It's really quite amazing how he manages to do it all."
In another letter of support, Katharina Ullmann, director of the UC Davis Student Farm, Agricultural Sustainability Institute, and a UC Davis alumnus (doctorate in entomology) wrote:
"I met Robbin Thorp in 2007 and assumed that he was an active professor because of his continued contribution to the field of entomology, teaching activities, publishing in peer-reviewed journals and vocal support of pollinator conservation efforts. For these reasons I considered asking if I could join his lab. I remember telling someone my plan and they said 'That probably won't work. Robbin is retired.' He does so much in the field of pollination ecology that I didn't even realize he was retired.
"...The entire time that I've known Robbin I've been impressed with (1) his depth and breadth of knowledge about bees and crop pollination, (2) his willingness to share what he knows, and (3) how approachable he is. It doesn't matter if you're a MacArthur Genius or a field technician just learning about bees, Robbin always makes time to talk with you and answer your questions.
"Robbin is one of the few people in North America who can identify bees down to the species level,” Ullmann said. As a result he's in high demand and has identified thousands of specimens for numerous lab groups since his retirement. However, he doesn't just identify the specimens. Instead, he's willing to patiently work through dichotomous keys with you so that you can learn those skills."
Research entomologist James Cane of USDA's Agricultural Research Service, Logan, Utah, wrote in 2014 that “Dr. Robbin Thorp should be the first scientist to be cloned, so valuable and broadly integrated are his knowledge about bees and pollination. No one else I know has his combination of skills; normally several people would be needed. Thus, he is a taxonomist of several genera of bees, a competent pollination biologist studying both native bees and honey bees in both natural and agricultural realms (with research experience in several crops), and a conservation advocate for bees. Moreover, I have watched his considerable teaching skills while helping in The Bee Course over the years. There I also get to see what a model human being Robbin is: thoughtful, considerate, a great listener, playful, polite unpretentious, all traits that the students gravitate towards. I have looked to Robbin as a role model for over 30 years, listen carefully to what he has to say, and always look forward to being in his presence. UC Davis is very lucky indeed to have attracted and retained such a fabulous faculty member.”
Ron McGinley, an instructor an organizer of The Bee Course, said “Robbin Thorp converted me from bugs to bees. To say that Robbin changed my life would be a vast understatement! In retirement, Robbin continues to be one of the most highly regarded bee workers in the world. He also continues his outstanding educational/mentoring skills.”
McGinley shared several comments from The Bee Course alumni:
- It was really a pleasure to learn from one of the best "Bee Dudes” out there.
- Professors with a great deal of experience can sometimes find it difficult to teach students who are just being introduced to the material. Their command of the material is so great that it seems second nature and they can forget how to guide students through the labyrinths of taxonomic structures. Not so for Dr. Robbin Thorp. The paths laid out for students in The Bee Course were clear and the light at the end of the tunnel, although sometimes faint, was always visible.
- Robbin even bought me a Dairy Queen treat for being the first to find an active bee nest….Centris. I said ‘Robbin, you don't have to buy me this treat' and he answered ‘Yes, I do, it's tradition.'
- Robbin is fun to be with in the field and welcomes questions for which he gives very clear answers.
- I sincerely hope that I will meet and work with Robbin again in the future. He is just a joy to be with.
Stephen Clement, emeritus lead scientist and research entomologist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, said "He welcomed me back to the department in 1970 after I got out of the Army and a year of combat in Vietnam. He was my major professor for my master of science degree, which I completed in 1972. I did the field research in Yellowstone National Park and he ventured up to the park to mentor my field work (special memories of the time I spent with Robbin in the Park). Robin was instrumental in my development as a field biologist. I had hoped he would be at the recent reunion but now know he was at the ESA Pacific Branch meeting where there was a symposium in his honor."
Dr. Thorp was known for his public service, his response to all requests for bee identifications, and his friendships.
Insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis: “I feel particularly privileged as an outsider to have drawn his friendship, attention and support. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. But a picture with accurate text is a treasure. He has been adding depth and meaning for all of the visitors and friends he has kindly touched.”
Naturalist and bumble bee enthusiast Gary Zamzow of Davis said that “Dr. Thorp frequently helped the Wisconsin Arboretum staff and volunteers. He identified the bumble bees photographed at the Arboretum and other areas. He would confirm our identifications. A great learning experience for all of us. We could have not done it without Dr. Thorp's help.”
His wife, Joyce, 84, preceded him in death on Dec. 9, 2018. Survivors include three children, Kelly, Katie and Jeff, and stepchildren Donna Gary and Steve Gary.