Jill Oberski, who studies with professor and ant specialist Phil Ward, submitted an infographic titled “Discovery and Diversity: The Importance of Systematic Entomology in Today's World in the Systems,” in the Evolution and Biodiversity (SysEB) Section and won a second-place award.
Oberski also won a second-place award for her dissertation research “Unraveling the Phylogeny and Biogeography of Dorymyrmex, a New World Amphitropical Disjunct” in the category SysEB: Phylogenetics 2.
The research presentations are highly competitive. "Entomology 2019 was an exciting four days filled with 236 scientific sessions featuring 2,205 oral and 680 poster presentations with 3,653 attendees from 61 different countries," an ESA spokesman said. "This year was a record setting event with 1,150 students attending!"
Those in the (SysEB) Section study insect anatomy, classification, and history. The section focuses on systematics, evolution, and biodiversity, but it also includes morphology, ecology, population dynamics, genetics, phylogeny, nomenclature, biogeography, zoology, and other specialties.
Those in the PI-E section deal with insect interactions with plants. Topics include behavioral, ecological, and evolutionary relationships in natural landscapes, as well as integrated pest management (IPM) in agriculture, horticulture, forests, and lawn and garden. This includes such aspects as crop protection, host-plant response, plant pathology/vectors, pollination, biological control and microbial control.
Both Oberski and Kahl also served as members of the UC Linnaean Games Team, comprised of UC Davis and UC Berkeley graduate students, that competed with other university teams throughout the nation. The Linnaean Games, launched in 1983, are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts. The teams score points by correctly answering random questions.
The team was eliminated in the first round. Some logistics issues--microphone mishaps and difficulty hearing the questions (issues later resolved)--complicated the session.
Previously the UC team won three national championships. This year the University of Florida team triumphed.
The Linnaean Games, launched in 1983, are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts and played by winners of the ESA branch competitions. The teams score points by correctly answering random questions.
The 2019 UC team, captained by Ralph Washington Jr., a UC Berkeley public policy graduate student who received his bachelor's degree in entomology at UC Davis, included five UC Davis doctoral students in entomology: Brendon Boudinot, Zachary Griebenow and Jill Oberski, all of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and alternates Miles Dakin of the Christian Nansen lab and Hanna Kahl of the Jay Rosenheim lab.
Washington captained all four recent teams, and Boudinot helped anchor all of them.
- 2018: UC won the national championship (link to news story) in Vancouver, B.C., defeating Texas A&M Graduates, with Washington captaining the team and joined by Boudinot, Oberski and Griebenow, and Emily Bick (who received her doctorate this year) of the Christian Nansen lab. (No video of the championship round)
- 2017: The UC team did not compete. (Texas A&M won the national championship; see championship round on YouTube)
- 2016: UC won the national and international championships at the University of Florida, at the joint and international meeting of ESA and the International Congress of Entomology (ICE), defeating the University of Georgia. (See championship round on YouTube)
- 2015: UC won the national championship at the games held in Minneapolis, Minn., defeating the University of Florida. (See championship round on YouTube)
Some of the previous questions asked of the UC team during the championship rounds:
Question: What is the smallest insect that is not a parasite or parasitoid?
Answer: Beetles in the family Ptiliidae.
Question:Some species of mosquitoes lay eggs that can undergo diapause or aestivation. Give at least three cues that trigger the aquatic eggs to hatch.
Answer: Temperature, immersion in water, concentration of ions or dissolved solutes.
Question: Chikungunya is an emerging vector-borne disease in the Americas. Chikungunya is derived from the African Language Makonde. What means Chikungunya in Makonde?
Answer: Bending up.
Question: A Gilson's gland can be found in what insect order?
Question: The first lepidopteran sex pheromone identified was bombykol. What was the first dipteran sex pheromone identified? Give the trade or chemical name.
Answer: Muscalure, Z-9-Tricosene. It is also one of the chemicals released by bees during the waggle dance.
Question: What famous recessive gene was the first sex-linked mutation demonstrated in Drosophila by T.H. Morgan?
Question: Cecidomyiidae are known as the gall flies. What is unique about the species Mayetiola destructor, and what is its common name?
Answer: Mayetiola destructor is the Hessian Fly, a tremendous pest of wheat. It does not form galls.
Question: Nicrophorus americanus is listed under what legislative act?
Answer: The Endangered Species Act
Question: In what insect order would you find hemelytra?
Answer: The order Hemiptera.
Question: A 2006 Science article by Glenner et al. on the origin of insects summarized evidence that Hexapods are nothing more than land-dwelling crustaceans, which is to say that the former group Crustacea is paraphyletic with respect to the Hexapoda. What hierarchical name has been used to refer to this clade?
Question: What are the three primary conditions that define eusociality?
Answer: Cooperative brood care, overlapping generations, and reproductive division of labor
Founded in 1889, ESA is the world's largest organization serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. It is comprised of more than 7000 members, who are affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students, pest management professionals, and hobbyists.
The review paper, “Drones: Innovative Technology for Use in Precision Pest Management,” is one of the first of its kind to summarize scientific literature on the use of agricultural drones for pest management.
In advocating the need for more research, the authors said that drones are becoming an important part of precision pest management, from detecting pests to controlling them.
“We propose extensive communication and collaboration between scientists from various disciplines, extension agents, industry professionals, and commercial growers to reach drones' optimal potential to help with pest management and control,” said De Lange, the corresponding author and a postdoctoral fellow in the Christian Nansen lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology who assembled the team of authors.
The paper covers the use of drones with remote sensing equipment, to detect pest problems from the air. It calls for the increased use of actuation drones, to provide solutions such as spraying pesticides and releasing biocontrol organisms.
“Most literature concerns remote sensing,” said de Lange.
"Drones became indispensable for IPM programs in Brazil, specially for Biological Control," said lead author and entomologist Fernando Iost Filho of the Department of Entomology and Acarology, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. "They are currently being used for releasing parasitoids in thousands of acres of field crops, such as sugarcane and soybean,
said Filho, a former exchange student at UC Davis. "Their use for monitoring crop health is also expected to increase in the Brazilian fields in the next few years."
“Early outbreak detection and treatment application are inherent to effective pest management, allowing management decisions to be implemented before pests are well-established and crop losses accrue,” the authors wrote in their abstract. “Pest monitoring is time-consuming and may be hampered by lack of reliable or cost-effective sampling techniques. Thus, we argue that an important research challenge associated with enhanced sustainability of pest management in modern agriculture is developing and promoting improved crop monitoring procedures.”
Drones can target pest outbreaks or hot spots in field crops and orchards, such as Colorado potato beetle in potato fields or sugarcane aphid in sorghum, the scientists pointed out. “Pests are unpredictable and not uniformly distributed. Precision agricultural technologies, like the use of drones, can offer important opportunities for integrated pest management (IPM).”
De Lange, noting that drones are increasingly used in agriculture for various purposes, commented: “They are often equipped with remote sensing technology, for yield predictions, evaluation of crop phenology, or characterization of soil properties.”
“There are myriad possibilities for use of drones in pest management,” she said. “Sensing drones, equipped with remote sensing technology, could help detect pest hotspots. Pests are often small and hard to find, so indirect detection, through changes in how plants reflect light, has the potential to find the pest earlier, treat earlier, and keep damage in check.”
“Furthermore, actuation drones, equipped with precision spray rigs or dispensers of biocontrol organisms, could apply localized solutions. Pesticide sprays exactly where needed would reduce the needs to spray an entire field. More efficient distribution of biocontrol organisms would make them a more competitive alternative to pesticides.”
“Remote sensing equipment,” she added, “can also be placed on manned aircraft and satellites. However, drones fly lower, increasing images' spatial resolution, and making clouds less of an issue. They are generally cheaper and can be flown more frequently. Compared to ground-based devices, drones can cover much more ground in a shorter period of time.”
The authors said that drones could also be used to distribute sterile insects and mating disruption, and contribute to pest outbreak prevention, rather than provide only solutions to existing problems.
De Lange, who holds a doctorate in chemical ecology from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, joined the Nansen lab in 2016. Her research interests include plant-insect interactions, integrated pest management, chemical ecology and precision agriculture. She does much of her research on California strawberries.
“I am interested in understanding and predicting how microbial communities influence interactions between plants and insects,” she says. The Vannette lab “uses tools and concepts from microbial ecology, chemical ecology, and community ecology to better understand the ecology and evolution of interactions among plants, microbes and insects."
Now the UC Davis assistant professor has two more opportunities that will enable her to pursue her research: she recently received two National Science Federation (NSF) grants.
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.” NSF grants CAREER awards to early career faculty “who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” a NSF spokesman said.
The other is a three-year collaborative grant, “The Brood Cell Microbiome of Solitary Bees: Origin, Diversity, Function, and Vulnerability.”
Vannette serves as a co-principal investigator with professor Bryan Danforth, Cornell University; research entomologist Shawn Steffan of the USDA's Agricultural and Research Service, University of Wisconsin; and assistant professor Quinn McFrederick, UC Riverside.
“Plants interact with a variety of organisms. The flowers and the nectar plants produce are adapted to attract beneficial organisms like bees or hummingbirds. However, microbes like bacteria and fungi also inhabit flowers and can reduce plant reproduction. Plant traits can reduce microbial growth in nectar, but this may also reduce pollinator visitation. This project will investigate if plants that are pollinated by different organisms (e.g. birds vs bees vs flies) differ in their ability to reduce microbial growth and if nectar chemistry is associated with microbial growth. This project will examine if nectar traits can be used to breed plants to be more resistant to harmful microbes without reducing attraction to pollinators. Resistance to microbes is beneficial in agricultural contexts where floral pathogens can limit food production but crops still rely on pollination.
“This research will link variation in plant phenotype to microbial abundance and species composition, and microbial effects on plant-animal interactions,” she noted. “This project will use a tractable system: the microorganisms growing in floral nectar, which can influence floral visitors and plant reproduction. The underlying hypothesis tested is that plant traits can facilitate or reduce microbial growth, and the community context (e.g., presence of pollinators) influence ecological and evolutionary outcomes.”
Vannette will perform the research activities using 1) a community of co-flowering plant species and 2) genotypes within California fuchsia (Epilobium canum). “Experiments will characterize variation in microbial growth, nectar chemistry, and microbial effects on plant reproduction and floral visitor behavior and the interactions of these factors,” she related in her abstract. “ Experiments and analysis will reveal how variation in nectar chemistry is associated with microbial growth and species composition in nectar, and subsequent effects on plant-pollinator interactions including plant reproduction. Experiments across Epilobium genotypes will elucidate how microbes affect microevolution of floral traits in a community context.”
The project “will engage students from a large undergraduate class to participate in practitioner-motivated research projects,” she wrote. “Students from the Animal Biology major, including in the class ABI 50A will participate in outreach on pollinator-friendly plantings for horticultural and landscaping. The project will support students recruited from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds to participate in independent projects related to project objectives, including hosting students through the Evolution and Ecology Graduate Admissions Pathway (EEGAP), a UC-HCBU program." The program connects faculty and undergraduate scholars at both UC (University of California) and HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) campuses
The collaborative grant will enable the researchers to do cutting-edge research as they investigate the diverse community of bacteria and yeasts in the pollen and nectar diet of bees.
“Bees are the single most important pollinators of flowering plants worldwide,” the co-investigators wrote in their abstract. “Over 85% of the 325,000 flowering plant species on earth depend on animals for pollination, and the vast majority of pollination is carried out by bees. Annually, bees are estimated to contribute $15 billion to US crop production and $170 billion to global crop production. High-value bee-pollinated crops include apple and other early spring tree fruits, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, squash and pumpkins, tomatoes, almonds, and many others. The economic viability of US agricultural production is dependent on stable and healthy wild and domesticated bee populations.”
“However, bee populations are threatened by a variety of factors, including habitat loss, pathogen spillover, invasive plants and animals, and pesticide use, which can disrupt the normal microbial symbionts essential for bee larval development (the ‘brood cell' microbiome),” they pointed out in their abstract. “This research project focuses on understanding what role microbes play in the larval nutrition in a wide variety of bee species. Previous research has documented a diverse community of bacteria and yeasts in the pollen and nectar diet of bees. As larvae consume these pollen/nectar provisions they are ingesting microbes, and our preliminary results indicate that these microbes form an essential component of the larval diet. This project has the potential to significantly modify how we view the 120 million-year-old partnership between bees and flowering plants, and will provide essential information for developing long-term bee conservation efforts. Project outreach efforts include educational activities on solitary bees for K-12 students and interactive demonstrations of bee-microbe-flower interactions for broad audiences.
The co-principal investigators said that the project will use cutting-edge methods to (1) document the microbial diversity in flowers and pollen provisions, (2) determine the nutritional role of microbes in larval development and health, and (3) understand how alterations in microbial community impact larval development.
To document microbial diversity in both host-plant flowers and pollen provisions, the research team will use amplicon sequencing and microbial metagenomics. These methods will document the microbial species present in pollen provisions as well as the metabolic activities these microbes perform during pollen maturation. Screening the pollen and nectar of host-plant species will provide key insights into the source of the brood cell microbiome. To determine the nutritional role of the microbial community the research team will use two methods from trophic ecology: compound specific isotope analysis and neutral lipid fatty acid analysis. These analyses will permit the research team to track the origin (floral or microbial) of amino acids and fatty acids in the larval diet of 15 focal bee species.
Finally, through manipulative laboratory experiments, the research team will determine how modifications of the microbial communities impact larval development. They hope by combining the results of these studies, the researchers will provide a comprehensive understanding of how bees and flowering plants interact via their shared microbial partners.
The collaborative project is funded jointly by the Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences Cluster (Division of Environmental Biology) and the Symbiosis, Defense and Self-recognition Program (Division of Integrative Organismal Systems).
Vannette, a Hellman Fellow, joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2015 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's biology department. As a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow from 2011 to 2015, she examined the role of nectar chemistry in community assembly of yeasts and plant-pollinator interactions.
A native of Hudsonville, Mich., Vannette received her doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan, in 2011. Her dissertation was entitled “Whose Phenotype Is It Anyway? The Complex Role of Species Interactions and Resource Availability in Determining the Expression of Plant Defense Phenotype and Community Consequences.”
Leal, a distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology) is one of 168 distinguished academic inventors who will be inducted April 10 at NAI's ninth annual meeting in Phoenix. The only other UC Davis recipient: Cristina Davis, the Warren and Leta Geidt Endowed Professor and Chair, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
“I am humbled by this honor,” said Leal, who was nominated by UC Davis chancellor emerita Linda Katehi, an NIA fellow inducted in 2012. “To express my sentiment I have to paraphrase my predecessor as president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology, late Professor Thomas Hartmann, who said in our meeting in Prague in 1996: ‘In academia, students, postdocs, and other associates do most of the work and professors received the honors.' I look forward to opportunities to support NAI's mission of promoting innovation and celebrating invention.”
Katehi, now of Texas A&M, where she is a distinguished TEES (Engineering Experiment Station) chair and professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, praised Leal's “novel, sustainable and continued contributions to the field of entomology and for their greater implications in molecular and cellular biology and the understanding of disease and prevention.” Leal holds 28 Japanese and two U.S. patents.
Leal is the second faculty member affiliated with the Department of Entomology to be selected an NIA fellow. Distinguished professor Bruce Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, received the honor in 2014. (See news story.)
Said Hammock: “When Walter Leal reached UC Davis, he came with the reputation of being a 'one man army in research.' This reputation was well deserved. I know of no one at UC Davis who matches Walter in taking his remarkable fundamental advances in science and translating them to increase the safety and magnitude of world food production.”
Leal, an expert in insect communication investigates how insects detect odors, connect and communicate within their species; and detect host and non-host plant matter. His research, spanning three decades, targets insects that carry mosquito-borne diseases as well as agricultural pests that damage and destroy crops. He and his lab drew international attention with their discovery of the mode of action of DEET, the gold standard of insect repellents. (See the Leal lab's work on DEET in Entomology Today.)
He and his collaborators, including Nobel Laureate Dr. Kurth Wuthrich (Chemistry 2002), unravel how pheromones are carried by pheromone-binding proteins, precisely delivered to odorant receptors, and finally activated by pheromone-degrading enzymes.
That led to Leal's identification of the sex pheromones of the navel orangeworm (Amyelois transitella), a pest of almonds, figs, pomegranates and walnuts, the major hosts. This has led to practical applications of pest management techniques in the fields.
Leal, a fellow of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), "has greatly advanced scientific understanding of insect olfaction," said Joe Rominiecki, communications manager, Entomological Society of America. "He has identified and synthesized several insect pheromones, and his collaborative efforts led to the first structure of an insect pheromone-binding protein."
'Tangible Impact on Quality of Life'
“The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society,” said NIA director Jayde Stewart. “Election to NAI Fellow is the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors. To date, NAI Fellows hold more than 41,500 issued U.S. patents, which have generated over 11,000 licensed technologies and companies, and created more than 36 million jobs. In addition, over $1.6 trillion in revenue has been generated based on NAI Fellow discoveries.”
A native of Brazil, educated in Brazil and Japan, and fluent in Portuguese, Japanese and English, Leal received his master's degree and doctorate in Japan: his master's degree at Mie University in 1987, and his doctorate in applied biochemistry at Tsukuba University in 1990. Leal then conducted research for 10 years at Japan's National Institute of Sericultural and Entomological Science and the Japan Science and Technology Agency before joining the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 2000. He served as chair of the department from July 2006 to February 2008.
Leal co-chaired the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting, "Entomology Without Borders," in Orlando, Fla., that drew the largest delegation of scientists and experts in the history of the discipline: 6682 attendees from 102 countries.
Leal served as president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology and ESA's Integrative Physiological and Molecular Insect System Section. He co-founded the Asia Pacific Association of Chemical Ecologists and played a key role in founding the Latin American Association of Chemical Ecology.
Among his many other honors, Leal is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the California Academy of Sciences; an honorary fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and an inductee of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. He received a silver medal from the International Society of Chemical Ecology. Leal recently presented the Founders' Memorial Lecture at the ESA meeting in St. Louis, the first UC Davis scientist selected to do so.
“Walter is an amazing person and an amazing scientist,” said Fred Gould, distinguished professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University. “His work has opened new doors to the understanding of how insects receive and perceive odors and has saved farmers in California and Brazil more than $100 million. He's at a point where he could sit back and bask in the glory of his accomplishments, but that is not Walter. He remains as prolific as ever.”