The honor is awarded to those scholars “whose work has been internationally recognized and acclaimed and whose teaching performance is excellent.”
The UC Davis Department of Entomology now has a total of nine distinguished professors: six current faculty--Bruce Hammock, Frank Zalom, Lynn Kimsey, James R. Carey, Jay Rosenheim, and Richard Karban--and three emeriti faculty--Harry Kaya, Howard Ferris and Thomas Scott. (In addition, emeritus professor/chair Robert E. Page Jr. is a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, as was the late Robbin Thorp, who died in 2019.)
Karban, whose research interests include the population regulation of animal species and the interactions between herbivores and their host plants, currently focuses his research on two main projects: volatile communication between sagebrush plants that affects resistance to herbivory and factors that control the abundance and spatial distribution of wooly bear caterpillars.
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.”
On his website, he explains his research on volatile communication: “When sagebrush is experimentally clipped, it releases volatile cues that undamaged branches on the same plant, on different sagebrush plants, and on some other plant species respond to. These volatile cues cause many changes in neighboring plants and some of these changes make the undamaged neighbors better defended against their herbivores. We currently know little about the nature of these cues.
“Blocking air contact between branches makes responses undetectable, indicating the involvement of airborne cues. Methyl jasmonate has the ability to serve as the signal although it remains unclear if it acts in this capacity in nature. I would like to understand the costs and benefits of releasing volatiles cues and of responding to them. I am examining the multiple consequences of emitting cues. For example, cues affect neighboring plants, nearby herbivores, as well as predators and parasites of those herbivores. I am currently examining the long-term fitness consequences for sagebrush of responding to volatile cues.”
On his research on the abundance and distribution of caterpillars, Karban writes: “Many workers define ecology as the science that explains the abundance and distribution of species. Despite a century of work on these questions, our field has only a rudimentary grasp on the factors that are important. I have been censusing populations of wooly bear caterpillars at Bodega Bay for 30 years and have relatively little understanding of the factors that produce patterns in abundance and distribution. The ‘usual suspects' all have relatively little explanatory power: weather, food limitation, and parasitoids all fail to provide much insight. Indeed, caterpillars often recover from the attacks of their tachinid parasitoids and alter their diets when parasitized to increase their chances of surviving. Including a more complete food web in our analysis does not appear to provide more resolution although ants may be unappreciated as predators and food quality may also be important. I am collaborating with Perry de Valpine to attempt to develop new analytical techniques that will account for more of the variance in abundance data. I am collaborating as well with Marcel Holyoak to examine spatial patterns of abundance.”
Karban is the author of landmark book, Plant Sensing and Communication. He is a fellow of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the recipient of the 1990 George Mercer Award from ESA for outstanding research.
The UC Davis ecologist is featured in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker in Michael Pollan's piece, The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants. Zoe Schlanger featured him in a Nov. 21, 2020 Bloomberg Quint article titled The Botanist Daring to Ask: Do Plants Have Personalities?
Karban received his bachelor's degree in environmental studies from Haverford (Penn.) College in 1977 and his doctorate in biology from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in 1982. He served as a lecturer at Haverford College for six months before joining the UC Davis faculty in May 1982 as an assistant professor. He advanced to associate professor in 1988 and to full professor in 1994.
Niño, known internationally for her expertise on honey bee queen biology, chemical ecology, and genomics, joined the faculty in September of 2014 and maintains laboratories and offices in Briggs Hall and at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Niño serves as the director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), which she launched in 2016. The California Master Beekeeper Program is a continuous train-the-trainer effort. CAMBP's vision is to train beekeepers to effectively communicate the importance of honey bees and other pollinators within their communities, serve as mentors for other beekeepers, and become the informational conduit between the beekeeping communities throughout the state and UCCE staff.
Niño is also the faculty director of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the department's half-acre educational bee garden located next to the Laidlaw facility, which serves as the outdoor classroom for the Pollinator Education Program, lovingly known as PEP.
“My research interests are fluid and designed to address immediate needs of various agriculture stakeholder groups,” she writes on her website. “Projects encompass both basic and applied approaches to understanding and improving honey bee health and particularly honey bee queen health. Ongoing research projects include understanding queen mating and reproductive processes, discovery and evaluation of novel biopesticides for efficacy against varroa mites, and evaluating orchard management practices with a goal of improving honey bee health. Some of our more fun projects revolve around precision beekeeping and investigate the use of cutting edge technologies to make beekeeping more efficient and sustainable.”
Niño says she “greatly enjoys working with the community and especially with children. To ensure that our future researchers, agriculture leaders and innovators and future voters understand the importance of honey bees and other pollinators to our agroecosystems.”
“Our Pollinator Education Program at the Häagen Dazs Honey Bee Haven garden has been working with the Farms of Amador County to serve third grade students and we are planning on expanding our efforts in the near future and as the pandemic hopefully resolves.”
Niño received her bachelor's degree in animal science from Cornell University in 2003; her master's degree in entomology at North Carolina State University in 2006; and her doctorate at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) in 2012. She served as a postdoctoral fellow, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA), as a member of the PSU Center for Pollinator Research.
Niño has a varied entomology background. While working on her bachelor's degree at Cornell, she was involved in studies on darkling beetle control in poultry houses, pan-trapped horse flies, and surveyed mosquitoes in New York state. While working toward her master's degree at North Carolina State University, she studied dung beetle nutrient cycling and its effect on grass growth, effects of methoprene (insect grown regular) on dung beetles in field and laboratory settings, and assisted in a workshop on forensic entomology.
Two UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members are now full professors, and a third faculty member has achieved tenure as associate professor.
Molecular geneticist and physiologist Joanna Chiu, vice chair of the department, and community ecologist Louie Yang were promoted from associate professors to professors, effective July 1. Community ecologist Rachel Vannette was promoted from assistant professor to associate professor.
Professor Chiu joined the Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2010 as an assistant professor and advanced to associate professor and vice chair in 2016. She received her bachelor's degree in biology and music from Mount Holyoke College, Mass., and her doctorate in molecular genetics in 2004 from New York University, New York. She served as a postdoctoral fellow from 2004 to 2010 in chronobiology (biological rhythms and internal clocks)--molecular genetics and biochemistry--at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Chiu's research expertise includes molecular genetics of biological timing and posttranslational regulation of proteins. She uses animal models including Drosophila melanogaster and mice to study the mechanisms that regulate circadian and seasonal physiology and behavior. Major grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation fund her biological rhythms research. In addition to her research in biological rhythms, Chiu also aims to leverage her expertise in genomics to address key issues in global food security.
In 2019, she was named one of 10 UC Davis Chancellor's Fellows, an honor awarded to associate professors who excel in research and teaching.
Chiu and Yang co-founded and co-direct (with Professor Jay Rosenheim) the campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, launched in 2011 to provide undergraduates with a closely mentored research experience in biology. The program crosses numerous biological fields, including population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; entomology; and cell biology. The goal is to provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research.
Professor Yang, who holds a bachelor's degree (ecology and evolution) from Cornell University, 1999, received his doctorate from UC Davis in 2006, and joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009. In 2013, he received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award of $600,000. He was named a UC Davis Hellman Fellow in 2012; the Hellman Family Foundation contributes funds to support and encourage the research of promising assistant professors who exhibit potential for great distinction in their research. He was promoted to associate professor in 2015.
Yang won the 2018 Outstanding Faculty Academic Advising Award from NACADA, also known as the Global Community for Academic Advising; and the 2017 Faculty Advisor Award of Excellence in NACADA's Pacific Region 9, comprised of California, Nevada and Hawaii.
Yang says of the research underway in his lab: “We study how species interactions change over time. We apply a diversity of approaches and perspectives to a diversity of systems and questions. We do experimental community ecology. We also use observational methods, meta-analysis, conceptual synthesis, ecosystem perspectives, and theoretical models. We like data, and we like learning new things.”
Associate Professor Vannette joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2015 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's biology department, where she was a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow from 2011 to 2015 and examined the role of nectar chemistry in community assembly of yeasts and plant-pollinator interactions.
Vannette received her bachelor of science degree, summa cum laude, in 2006 from Calvin College, Grand Rapids,Mich., and her doctorate from the University of Michigan's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Ann Arbor, in 2011. She received a Hellman Fellowship grant in 2018 and a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award in 2019 to study microbial communities in flowers and a National Science Foundation grant to support work on solitary bee microbiomes.
Of her research, Vannette says: “ All plants are colonized by microorganisms that influence plant traits and interactions with other species, including insects that consume or pollinate plants. 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.”
“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),” she says. “We often study microbial communities in flowers, on insects or in soil. 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?)”
Zemenick, who began work July 1, first traveled to Sagehen while in graduate school and conducted dissertation research there on how plant visitors shape floral microbial communities.
What sparked Ash's interest in entomology? "I first became interested in entomology as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. I learned how important insects are in agroecosystems, and how their intricate, overlapping interactions can have strong impacts on sustainable management and crop production."
As a youngster, "I was kind of afraid of bugs--at least when they were in the house--but once I started learning about them I was so fascinated. This was solidified when I took Bug Boot Camp (the Insect Taxonomy and Field Ecology" course taught at the Sagehen Field Station by ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) where I fell in love with parasitoid wasps."
Zemenick, a native of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., received a doctorate in ecology from UC Davis in September 2017, studying with Jay Rosenheim, distinguished professor of entomology, and with assistant professor Rachel Vannette, a Hellman fellow.
And now, in a near full-circle move, Zemenick is back home.
The Sagehen Field Station, headquartered in Truckee on a 9000-acre site on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, has focused on research and teaching since 1951. It serves as the hub of a broader network of research areas known as the Central Sierra Field Research Stations, comprised of not only the Sagehen Creek Field Station, but Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, Onion Creek Experimental Watershed, Chickering American River Reserve, and North Fork Association Lands, according to the website.
The surrounding watershed is also available to researchers and classes through an agreement with the Forest Service and includes extensive stands of yellow pine, mixed conifer, and red fir forests, as well as sagebrush fields, scattered mountain meadows, and fens (marshland).
More than 80 graduate students--including Zemenick--have worked on their projects at Sagehen, completing their degrees on such topics as behavioral studies of dark-eyed juncos, stream runoff modeling, bees/butterflies in mountain montane meadows, and GIS as a tool for reserve master planning.
In addition to managing the Sagehen Creek Field Station, Zemenick will coordinate requests to work at Chickering American River Reserve as well as North Fork Association Lands. As Chickering and the North Fork lands are privately owned, user visits are negotiated with the private land partners.
Zemenick returns to California after serving as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the Weber lab at Michigan State University. "I studied how plant-mite interactions directly and indirectly influence leaf microbial communities and subsequent invasibility by pathogens."
"I co-created, built and directed Project Biodiversify, an online repository of teaching tools to promote diversity, inclusion and belonging in STEM classrooms," said Zemenick. The federally funded Michigan State University project "includes how biological research applies to current societal problems and highlighted what it is like to be a biologist. The materials are comprised of examples provided by biologists that self-identify as being part of underrepresented group(s) in STEM (e.g. in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexuality, income, nationality, immigrant status, cognitive and physical ability, etc.)." The project was recently awarded a University Level Excellence in Diversity Award for work promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in biology education.
Zemenick will continue pursuing ecology and environmental science involving plants, insects, microbes, ecological networks, natural history, and discipline-based education research. Leisure time includes such interests as naturalizing, backpacking, climbing and biking. "I hiked the Nüümü Poyo (John Muir) Trail in 2009 and love the mountains," the ecologist related.
(Editor's Note: Science writer Kathleen Wong of the UC Natural Reserve System contributed to this story.)
The Staff Assembly will honor her and other award recipients at a ceremony in late summer or early fall, said Tasha Burr and Danielle Kehler, co-chairs of the Citations of Excellence Committee. McReynolds will receive a $1500 check.
“Our nominee, a 10-year UC Davis employee and longtime scientist with a master's degree in pharmacology and a bachelor's degree in animal science, excels at program management, research administration, and research itself,” wrote nominators Bruce Hammock, forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey and communications specialist Kathy Keatley Garvey.
“She was the lead author of research that may be ‘the missing link' as to why some COVID-19 patients recover and some don't,” they wrote. “Her innovative work on a blood plasma biomarker discovered in hospitalized COVID-19 patients may not only predict the severity of adult respiratory distress syndrome but further research may lead to inhibiting its progression. She initiated the collaborative research to test specialized pro‑resolving mediators (SPM) for their therapeutic potential against COVID-19 in a preclinical model at Rutgers University. This ongoing study is expected to provide ‘proof-of-concept' for a novel treatment to COVID-19.”
The trio pointed out that “her expertise includes grants management (applying and budgeting), organizing program outreach, coordinating training grants for trainees funded by a multi-million national grant, and mentoring students, whether in the lab or in the classroom. Our nominee goes above and beyond what is expected of her. Her supervisor says she is ‘the most amazing person I've ever met. For her entire career at UC Davis, she has been a phenomenal asset to the laboratory and campus. In her role in the laboratory, she oversees an accountant who handles the complex budget problems of the federally funded UC Davis Superfund Program Project. This multi-college, multi-principal investigator program has essentially five separate NIH grants, each of which itself is multi-departmental and multi-college supported by three cores.”
In addition, McReynolds also helped establish a community research program on human and environmental health in Northern California with the Yurok Indian Tribe, and a research translation program with several state agencies to identify STEM opportunities between UC Davis and surrounding communities.
Coordinated National Meeting
Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and for nearly four decades has directed the UC Davis Superfund Research Program (funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) noted that in 2019-20, McReynolds coordinated the national meeting of the Superfund Programs with multiple state and federal agencies. “She played an integral and critical role in submitting a competing renewal for years 30-35 of the program. This massive effort involved integrating multiple budgets across campus and coordinating with NIH, the campus research office, and multiple colleges.”
“On all of these projects, her knowledge of accounting and grantsmanship, coupled with her personal skills (always congenial and eager to help) proved critical,” Hammock said. “She was involved even to the point of editing specific objectives to make the projects more integrated, which relied on her knowledge as a scientist as well.” This was on top of being office manager for the large Hammock research laboratory involving a team of multiple disciplines.
“During this time, she served as both the lab manager and the accountant/business manager, replacing a retiree,” Hammock noted.
The nominators pointed out that McReynolds is a doctoral candidate (now PhD graduate), wife, mother of two, and a community volunteer. Known for sharing her scientific expertise, she organized a “Science Day” with UC Davis and Davis primary schools; organized speakers for “Meet a Scientist”; judged Davis science fairs; helped struggling high school students with their science projects; and coached the Davis Youth Robotics Team.
“She balances her multiple difficult tasks with skill, efficiency and good humor,” the nominators wrote. “She is always eager to help, even to transporting a colleague's newly eclosed, out-of-season monarch butterfly to an overwintering site in Santa Cruz!”
'Brilliant Researcher and Wonderful Instructor'
Kimsey praised her work in teaching and mentoring students in his animal biology classes. “She has not only made their time and efforts highly productive in the research arena, but provides effective counseling on their career trajectories, how to balance personal life, kids and family with university life,” Kimsey said. “She is not only a brilliant researcher, a wonderful instructor for undergraduates that enter the laboratory, but is a dedicated and caring mentor. Her principal investigator has stated that she is possibly the most amazing person he has ever met. I very certainly concur in all regards.”
McReynolds, who received her doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology in June, initially sought a career as a veterinarian. She received her bachelor's degree in animal science from UC Davis in 1999, and her master's degree in animal science from Washington State University, Pullman, in 2001.
“After receiving a master's degree in animal science, I quickly realized that I had an interest and passion for understanding the roles of nutrition and environment on disease outcomes in both human and animal health,” McReynolds related. “Instead of continuing my research career in animal science, I left to gain experience in development therapeutics for humans and animals. My work in understanding the role of bioactive lipid mediators began in 2006 when I joined Arete Therapeutics, South San Francisco, as project manager to advance soluble epoxide inhibitors through clinical trials for treating hypertension. After leaving Arete, I joined Dr. Hammock's laboratory as a research administrator where I gained important experience in project management, budgeting and grants administration. Once my children were old enough to accommodate the often-inconsistent schedule of laboratory work, I continued my career goals of becoming a PhD scientist.”
McReynolds traced her interest in scientific research to her “formative years in a small town in western Kentucky, cataloging observations of animals in a notebook.”
Understanding the Roles of Lipid Mediators
McReynolds has studied the biological activity of lipid mediators for the past 12 years. “My current efforts focus on understanding the roles of lipid mediators in inflammation especially relating to pain and degenerative disease,” said McReynolds, who is a member of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics and the American Chemical Society. “My research focuses on developing tools for use in in vitro and in vivo knockout studies to understand their role in inflammation with a focus on mechanism of pharmacokinetics.”
McReynolds said her “career aspirations are to lead collaborative research programs that will use science to improve overall health outcomes by developing disruptive treatment or diagnostic capabilities to predict early responders/nonresponders to therapies,” she said, adding that “I approach problems and challenges now, not with a pass/fail approach, but with an understanding of how to address the problem at hand.”
“In my career, I strive to make significant contributions in advancing science to understand disease so that there are better treatment options for everyone; I strive to provide encouragement to women struggling to balance a family and career, to lead by example that it is possible to be a mom and scientist; I strive to motivate others, as I have been motivated by my mentors, that their fears are not too big to prevent them from reaching their goals; I strive to create a positive, collaborative work environment. Ultimately, I strive to share my enthusiasm for science and learning as well as unique background to advance a basic understanding of biology that will benefit global health outcomes for all.”
The Staff Assembly's annual awards program provides recognition for individual staff and staff teams “who have demonstrated outstanding achievement that go above and beyond the requirements outlined in their position descriptions.” Staff Assembly presents Individual awards in the categories of innovation, research, service, supervision and teaching; and team awards for project or program staff, office staff, or other similar groups.