Her appointment, announced last week by Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, was confirmed Monday, March 10 by Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef. She will serve until July 2009.
Chemical ecologist Walter Leal, professor of entomology, served as chair from July 2006 through February. The chair is a rotational position shared among faculty.
Kimsey, professor of entomology and an insect taxonomist specializing in bees and wasps and insect diversity, joined the UC Davis faculty in 1989. She received her doctorate in entomology in 1979. She has served as director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology since 1989.
Kimsey said she plans to follow the tradition of the late Richard Bohart by bringing her microscope to the chair's office. Bohart, who was Kimsey's major professor, chaired the department from 1956 to 1965 and retired in 1980 as an emeritus professor. During his career, Bohart identified more than one million mosquitoes and wasps, many now displayed at the Bohart Museum, a teaching, research and public service facility that he founded on campus in 1946. The museum collection totals more than seven million specimens, and focuses on terrestrial and fresh water invertebrates.
Kimsey's other office is in Academy Surge, where the Bohart Museum is housed.
As to future plans, “We're continuing to build up our bee biology program,” Kimsey said. “We'll be hiring a bee pollination biologist soon and are now accepting applications for the Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.” The premier ice cream company recently donated $100,000 to the Laidlaw facility to address the bee population decline.
“I can empathize with colony collapse disorder (CCD) because the hive we have in our backyard in Davis is the victim of CCD,” she said. “The bees vanished, leaving all the honey there.”
The faculty completed interviews for the bee pollination biologist in January. The new position will be housed at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus.
Kimsey's husband, Robert Kimsey, a forensic entomologist, is an adjunct professor in the department.
The Department of Entomology is ranked No. 1 in the country by the Chronicle of Higher Education, considered the top news and job-information source for college and university faculty members, administrators, and students.
Known as the “quintessential biological control researcher,” Ehler joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 1973 as the first biological control specialist on campus. He retired Jan. 3 as an emeritus professor. During his 34.5-year career at UC Davis, he developed innovative and environmentally friendly ways to manage pests. In his retirement, he will seek innovative ways to manage what's on the end of his fishing pole.
“Les began teaching biocontrol classes for our department in 1974, drawing hundreds of students,” said Walter Leal, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. “He was trained in the 1960s by the founders of integrated pest management (IPM) and he advocated biological control methods as an important IPM pest control strategy. His work led to a better understanding of how predators and parasites can control pests without pesticides.”
Ehler co-edited the 1990 book, “Critical Issues in Biological Control” and served four years as president and four years as past president of the International Organization for Biological Control. He also chaired the Entomological Society of America's Biological Control Section.
At UC Davis, Ehler battled pests such as obscure scale and aphids on oaks, stink bugs on tomato, aphids on sugar beet and white fir, and beet armyworm on alfalfa and sugar beet. His expertise ranges from the theory and practice of biological control to the ecology and management of insects and mites in natural, agricultural and urban environments.
“When biocontrol is successful, it's permanent,” Ehler said. “Pesticides are no longer needed. You can get complete success with biological control, but it must be very specific to the pest to eliminate unwanted environmental effects."
In the late 1990s, Ehler discovered that pill bugs, also known as roly-poly bugs, prey on the eggs of stink bugs. Up to then, most entomologists classified pill bugs as strictly vegetarians. Stink bugs, major agricultural pests, suck the juices from legume and brassica seeds and fruit of other crops.
In the early 1980's, Ehler led the Davis team that documented the environmental impact of malathion-bait sprays used to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly. The organophosphate was credited with killing the medfly, but also beneficial insects such as honey bees, and natural enemies of various insect pests.
In one study, Ehler assessed the non-target effects of malathion in the Bay Area. His studies in Woodside, a San Mateo County community on the San Francisco Peninsula, revealed that populations of a native gall midge exploded 90 times the normal level. Ehler compared the gall midge population in Woodside -- where planes sprayed up to 24 malathion applications -- to the untouched Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve near Stanford University. The gall midge is a gnatlike insect pest that lays its eggs in plants; the burrowing larvae form galls.
Entomologist Michael Parrella, associate dean of agricultural sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, praised Ehler's “heart-and-soul” work.
“Les was the first faculty member hired in the Department of Entomology to teach and advance the science and practice of biological control,” he said. “Trained in classical biological control at UC Berkeley, he was the heart and soul of biological control at UC Davis, and worked in many biological systems from tomatoes to urban landscapes.”
“For many years, Les maintained his own USDA-certified quarantine laboratory which allowed him to work with biological control agents from all over the world,” Parrella said. “He was a meticulous researcher who maintained a ‘hands-on' approach with all the projects done in his laboratory and he trained many students who are now leaders in the field of biological control around the world.”
Ehler also helped organic farmers solve problems. Ehler designed a stink bug management program for Yolo County organic farmer Robert Ramming of Pacific Star Gardens after learning of the stink bug invasion in his tomato fields.
“The stink bugs were overwintering in his backyard and in the spring, emerging to dine on mustard and then tomatoes,” Ehler said. “Stink bugs don't seem to prefer tomatoes — they like mustard and wild radish — but when these hosts were plowed under and no longer available, the bugs went for the tomatoes.” Solution: Don't cut the mustard. Plow it under only when the stink bugs aren't a threat to the tomatoes — that is, before they develop wings and disperse.
“Les was most helpful,” said Ramming, who began Pacific Star Gardens 15 years ago and grows tomatoes, melons, strawberries, blackberries, apricots and other produce on his 40-acre farm. “Les determined what stink bugs prefer, their habitat and where they were overwintering,” he said. “We planted a five-foot strip of ‘trap' or ‘bribe' crops (mustard and wild radish) around the tomato fields and got rid of 90 percent of the stink bugs.”
Rachael Long, a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Yolo, Solano, Sacramento Counties, praised Ehler for his expertise and assistance.
“I greatly admire Les for his contributions to IPM that have helped us better understand the biology of some of our major agricultural pests and how to manage them,” she said. “Les is one of those extraordinary field researchers with a broad knowledge of entomology that make him a great resource for information. In collaborating with Les on various projects I have a much better understanding on how landscapes impact IPM in cropping systems which I believe will help conservation efforts and improve pest control in our agricultural systems.”
Ehler, born in Lubbock County, Texas and reared on a family farm near the small town of Idalou, received his bachelor's degree in entomology from Texas Tech University, and his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley. He joined UC Davis in 1973 as an assistant professor, advancing in 1985 to professor of entomology and entomologist in the UC Davis Experiment Station.
Ehler's retirement plans include helping with a stink bug project directed by researchers at UC Berkeley. And fishing with fellow entomologists Larry Godfrey and Harry Kaya, farm advisors Gene Miyao and Mario Moratorio, and weed scientist Tom Lanini. An avid fisherman, Ehler plies the waters of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and Lake Berryessa in his 18-foot boat. His catches include a 44-pound salmon in the Sacramento River.
One net for another.
“This was for our remarkable performances in faculty scholarly productivity, scientific citations per faculty, percentage of faculty with a journal publication, number of journal publications per faculty, and grantsmanship, among other factors,” said Walter Leal, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology.
Last year the Chronicle ranked the UC Davis Department of Entomology as No. 8 in the country. “We're back at the top where we belong,” Leal said.
The Chronicle of Higher Education is considered the top news and job-information source for college and university faculty members, administrators, and students.
The 2007 index compiles overall institutional rankings on 375 universities that offer the Ph.D. degree. Faculty members can be judged on as many as five factors, depending on the most important variables in the given discipline: books published; journal publications; citations of journal articles; federal-grant dollars awarded; and honors and awards.
The University of Wisconsin at Madison came in second, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; UC Riverside; University of Arizona; University of Maryland at College Park, Cornell University; North Carolina State University; University of Kentucky; and the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities.
UC Davis scored 1.87 in the faculty scholarly productivity index, outdistancing the 1.44 index of the University of Wisconsin, the runner-up.
UC Davis scored a perfect 100 percent for percentage of faculty with a journal publication. Other top categories included journal publications per faculty, an average of 12.39; and percentage of faculty with a journal publication cited by another work, 94 percent. Citations of journal articles per faculty averaged 70.28.
The average amount of grant funding per faculty member for the past fiscal year totaled $412,251. Thirty-three percent of the faculty received a new grant. Eleven percent of the faculty received an award, according to the data. collected.
Grant data were collected from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and from three programs in the Department of Energy.
For awards and honors, data were collected from the Web sites of 357 organizations that grant awards and honors and they are matched to names and programs.
The department traces its beginnings back to 1907 when a UC Berkeley professor lectured on whiteflies at a farmers' short course in Davis. UC Davis launched its two-year entomology program in 1913, leading to degrees offered in 1923-24.
Areas of emphasis include biological control, economic entomology, pollination biology, insect chemical ecology, insect olfaction, insect demography, insect physiology, insect toxicology, integrated pest management, ecology and evolution, forensic entomology, medical entomology (human and animal health) and systematics.
Headquartered in Briggs Hall, the department enjoys a fusion of teaching faculty, Cooperative Extension specialists, professional researchers, international scholars, graduate and undergraduate students, and academic and staff support. The department's work on fundamental and applied problems has led to ground-breaking scientific discoveries, integrated pest management approaches in California's agricultural and urban environments, management of insect-vectored human diseases and a global impact that stretches from UC Davis to Africa and South America and beyond, Leal said.
The Entomology Department is the home of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, which houses more than seven million specimens; the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility; UC Davis Superfund Basic Research and Training; and the Mosquito Research Lab. Department faculty housed at the UC Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier, conduct research involving insect-plant interactions, economy entomology, and mosquito-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus and malaria. In addition, related research spans a variety of UC ecological preserves and biological field stations, including the Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve in the Vaca Mountains; Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, in Northern California's foothills; Sagehen Creek Field Station, near Truckee; Jepson Prairie Reserve in Vacaville; Bodega Marine Reserve; Hopland Field State near Ukiah; Wolfskill Experiment Orchard in Winters; UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine; and the Blodgett Experimental Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Graduate students in the entomology program, or housed in entomology, conduct research in insect demography, medical entomology, insect systematics, biological control, integrated pest management, insect biochemistry, insect ecology, insect pathology, biology and evolution of insects, aquatic ecology, insect physiology, environmental toxicology, apiculture, horticultural entomology, and insect vectors of plant pathogens.
Many of the UC Davis Department of Entomology alumni now chair entomology departments at other universities or hold higher administrative posts; head professional scientific organizations; or lead teams advancing scientific studies. Fifty-five alumni hold university faculty positions
Bee breeder and geneticist Susan Cobey, who leads the bee breeding program at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Biology Research Facility at the UC Davis, scours a hive for the queen bee.
Her trained eye quickly spots the elongated queen. Dozens of worker bees circle the queen. Their job is to protect and nurture the matriarch of the 50,000- to 80,000-member colony. The queen's sole job is to reproduce; typically she lays about 2,000 eggs a day during her two-year life span.
And it's Cobey's job to ensure that queen bee breeding programs thrive, that bees literally be all they can be.
“The queen, mother of all individuals in a hive, determines the inherited characteristics of the colony,” she wrote in a published paper. “Her success, productivity and lifespan are dependent upon the number and genetic diversity of drones with whom she mates.”
“The challenge with honey bee genetics is that queens always mate in flight,” Cobey said. “They'll mate with multiple drones, as many as 60, although average about 10, within a couple of days. The drones die after mating and the impregnated queen settles down to begin her lifelong egg-laying.”
“With instrumental insemination, we can control mating, enabling selection to enhance commercial stocks and maintain desired traits, including temper and resistance to disease and parasites.”
Cobey, a 30-year veteran of bee fertility research programs, is considered the world's most renowned bee insemination authority and instructor. Hired by UC Davis in May, she teaches courses on “The Art of Queen Rearing,” “Instrumental Insemination and Bee Breeding” and “Advanced Instruction Instrumental Insemination.”
Over the last 25 years, she's taught researchers and beekeepers from Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, France, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, China, India, United Kingdom, England, New Zealand. Korea, Israel, Egypt, Kuwait, and Nigeria.
By invitation, she's also taught in Canada, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Egypt and South Africa.
Cobey's job is basically to build a better bee by maximizing the good traits and minimizing the bad traits. “Controlled mating,” she said, “is the basic foundation of all stock improvement programs.”
The issue is timely, especially since CCD — “colony collapse disorder” or “massive honeybee die-off” — killed a quarter of the nation's 2.4 million commercial bee hives last winter, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Colony collapse disorder appears to be a complex issue,” Cobey said. “Similar situations have been experienced in the past. CCD may involve a variety of factors; parasitic mites, bee pathogens, chemicals (both miticides used in the colony and pesticides in the environment), changing climates, loss of forage, poor nutrition and loss of genetic diversity. Overall, I think it is stress, caused by the combination of these factors.”
However, by controlling the genetics of honey bees, researchers can breed stronger, more survivable bees, bees able to withstand such pests as varroa mites, she said.
Honey bees, crucial to the nation's multi-billion agricultural industry, pollinate one-third of the food crops, including fruits, legumes and vegetables, according to the USDA. They account for 80 percent of all insect crop pollination. They produce around 200 million pounds of honey a year in the United States, or about 84 pounds of honey per colony. California's honey production averages $25.2 million a year, just behind national leader North Dakota's $27.2 million.
Bees are especially critical to almond growers.
“Without honey bee pollination, crop yields would not be economically viable,” Cobey said. California, accounting for half of the world production of almonds, requires between 900,000 and 1 million colonies of honey bees to pollinate the state's 420,000 acres of almonds, figures the National Honey Board.
Insects first sparked Cobey's interest during her childhood in Lancaster County, Pa. She remembers bringing insects into her elementary school classroom for show and tell, until she was told to choose something different.
“Insects are like jewelry,” she said. “They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.”
And bees? The social insects fascinate her. “The beehive is so efficient. The queen is the soul of the colony. She sets the tone and the production rate. Every bee has a task.”
After enrolling in a student exchange program in entomology in 1975 at Oregon State University, Corvallis, Cobey received her bachelor's degree in entomology in 1976 from the University of Delaware, Newark. From 1978 to 1980, she worked at UC Davis, where she was influenced by Harry Laidlaw (1907-2003).
Known as the “father of honeybee genetics,” Laidlaw perfected artificial bee insemination technology. “He discovered the valve fold in the queen bee which hinders injection of semen into the lateral oviducts,” Cobey said. “He developed instrumentation to bypass the valve fold enabling the success of bee insemination.”
Utilizing the training, Cobey established the Vaca Valley Apiaries in Vacaville in 1982, developing the highly regarded New World Carniolan (a black race of bees) Breeding Program. In 1990 she pulled up roots—and hives—and settled in Ohio, serving as staff apiarist at the Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Research Laboratory at Ohio State University until accepting the research associate position at the UC Davis facility in May. She joins Eric Mussen, a longtime UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist.
Cobey is part of the overall plan to launch the UC Davis bee biology research program back to international prominence, said Walter Leal, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology. Over the past decade, budget cuts, resignations and retirements took their toll. The department is now recruiting a professor specializing in bee pollination.
Cobey's expertise includes establishing and managing a closed population breeding program for more than 30 years, researching and writing scientific publications, and teaching bee breeders how to inseminate queen bees. She developed techniques and equipment for instrumental insemination, including a ruby-tipped hook, but has no plans for patent rights.
“The world of bee breeding is so small,” she said.
At Ohio State University, she developed an independent research program on post-insemination survival of honey bee queens and the selection of behavioral traits. Selection for hygienic behavior, the ability to detect and remove varroa mites and bee diseases from brood, is one trait of natural resistance. The varroa mite, a native of Asia, dines on bee larvae and occasionally an adult bee.
In her instrumental insemination classes, Cobey teaches students how to extract semen from a drone, and inseminate an anesthetized virgin queen. Magnified images on a computer screen help illustrate the procedure.
Students highly praise her skills and teaching ability. In a thank-you note to Leal, bee breeder Dave Welter of Welter Apiaries of Stuart, Fla., wrote: “Thank you for hosting the Honeybee Instrumental Insemination short course. It was first rate. I am from South Florida where we are trying to develop strategies to deal with the arrival of the African Honey Bee. The skills that I developed in Sue's class will provide me with a valuable resource as I move forward in this endeavor. Sue really did an incredible job teaching this class. Her patience, professionalism and vast experience created an environment highly conducive to learning. I am very pleased with what I learned and the skills I developed.”
Cobey's New World Carniolan bees also draw international acclaim. Wrote Honey Run Apiaries of Delphos, Ohio: “Our breeder queens are obtained directly from Sue Cobey's New World Carniolan Breeding Program. These queens have been selected for productivity, rapid spring buildup, overwintering ability, tracheal mite resistance, hygienic behavior, pollen collection, gentle temperament and high brood viability. We have been impressed with their performance and with their calm, gentle nature they are a pleasure to work.”
“I love my work,” said Cobey, who is partial to blue jeans and t-shirts. “I get to work outside and enjoy the change of seasons, the smells and sounds, and be close to nature. And my bees.”
She admits to having a soft spot for drones. Once the honey-gathering season is over, the worker bees kick the drones out of the hive, as their only function is to mate.
“They're cold and hungry, sitting there on the doorstep and wanting to go back in. They're attacked and they die. Well, it's a matriarchal society.”
Husband Timothy Lawrence, an analyst with UC Davis Extension, shares her interest in bees. A wedding portrait shows them bearded with bees.
Cobey also enjoys working with bee breeders. Beekeeping is a hard life, but it's a lifestyle for many.
“They just fall in love with their bees.”
As does she. “Breeding them so they're strong and healthy and resilient, so they will bounce right back, it's a passion and an increasing challenge.”
Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said he pleased to have Leal on board. “Professor Leal's leadership will strengthen our world-renowned Department of Entomology,” the dean said. “His research is innovative and respected by entomologists throughout the world and has a beneficial impact on pest management in California agriculture.”
“The UC Davis Entomology Department is one of the leading entomology departments in the nation and the world,” Leal said, “and what we do here reflects on entomology everywhere.”
Leal said he accepts the leadership challenge and opportunities “that will take us to new directions and to move forward.”
Entomology professors Frank Zalom and Thomas Scott will serve as the vice chairs.
Leal joined the UC Davis entomology faculty in 2000 as an associate professor and advanced to professor in 2002. He is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); a past president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology ISCE); and secretary and upcoming chair-elect of Section B--the Physiology, Biochemistry, Toxicology, and Molecular Biology section--of the Entomological Society of America.
Leal received his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in his native Brazil and advanced degrees from universities in Japan: his master's degree in agricultural chemistry from Mie University, and his doctorate in applied biochemistry from the University of Tsukuba.
Before joining the UC Davis faculty, Leal served as research leader of the Science and Technology Agency of Japan and the Bio-Oriented Technology Research Advancement Institute (BRAIN) and head of the Laboratory of Chemical Prospecting at the National Institute of Sericultural and Entomological Sciences in Tsukuba.
When Leal received the AAAS Fellow award earlier this year, entomology professor John Hildebrand of the University of Arizona praised him as “an international leader in entomology and one of the top chemical ecologists in the world.”
“UC Davis achieved a coup when it attracted Dr. Leal to its faculty in 2000,” Hildebrand said, adding that that Leal's “exceptional abilities and promise benefit the students and research enterprise of UC Davis as well as the entomological and chemical-ecological communities in the United States.”
UC Davis entomology professor James Carey (who teamed with Hildebrand and Robert Page, director of the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, to nominate Leal for the AAAS Fellow award), described him as “one of the most gifted scientists I know—intelligent, disciplined, creative and motivated.”
“Young scientists seek him, funding agencies support him, honorific committees award him prestigious prizes and honors, UC Davis hired him, scholars respect him and his colleagues befriend him,” Carey wrote in the nomination papers.
Leal is best known for his research on the identification and synthesis of insect sex pheromones and on the chemical ecology and chemical communication of insects and potential applications for pest control. His research has practical implications in explaining how insects communicate within species, how they detect host and non-host plants, and how insect parasites detect their prey.
Leal was just named the recipient of the 2007 Silverstein-Simeone Award in Chemical Ecology at ISCE's 22nd annual conference in Barcelona, Spain, July 15-19. Cited for “outstanding work at the frontiers of chemical ecology,” he will be presented the lecture award in Jena, Germany, in 2007. The award is named for Robert M. (Milt) Silverstein and John B. Simeone, founding editors of the Journal of Chemical Ecology.
The Department of Entomology, headquartered in Briggs Hall, is a large academic department in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences with instructional, research and outreach programs. The department is comprised of 23 faculty, 1 adjunct faculty, 4 Cooperative Extension specialists, 54 professional researchers, 18 lecturers, 9 teaching assistants, 32 graduate student researchers, and 35 academic and staff support personnel. The department currently has 23 undergraduate students and 36 graduate students.
On and off-campus sites house academic and administrative offices, laboratories, field buildings and other special facilities, including those at the UC Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier. The department's annual operating budget, including contracts and grants, gifts, and endowments, totals approximately $31 million.