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.)
Olivia Winokur of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and Charlotte Ambrozek of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, both trained and experienced outdoor educators, developed and created “The Academic Expedition,” which includes a series of four podcasts and an infographic to translate skills from outdoor education into a toolkit for academics to help them communicate better and be more effective. Winokur designed the infographic art and podcast cover art.
In their project, they use such acronyms as VOEMP (Vent, Own, EMpathize and Plan) and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic and Timely) to get their points across. The podcasts are accessible to the public, free of charge, at https://anchor.fm/academic-expedition and on Spotify.
Episode 2: Feedback, Academia and Conflict: An Interview with Mark Holton (co-director of Cornell Outdoor Education)
Episode 3: Communication, Feedback and Power Dynamics: An Interview with Sidney Woodruff (a UC Davis Ecology graduate student and mentor for MUSE (Mentorship for Underrepresented STEM Enthusiasts)
Winokur, who researches the transmission dynamics of mosquito-borne viruses, and Ambrozek, who studies how “U.S. food assistance polices are shaped by the vendors,” met as students at Cornell University while working at Cornell Outdoor Education.
“We believe this project is important, especially for graduate students and postdocs, because we don't receive this training formally in graduate school,” said Winokur, who works in the laboratory of associate professor Christopher Barker of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology.
Winokur and Ambrozek were among 12 fellows selected to participate in PFTF's 2020-2021 program, which aims “to recognize and develop the leadership skills of outstanding graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who have demonstrated their commitment to professionalism, integrity, and academic service.” Since its inception in 1992, more than 250 doctoral students or postdoctoral scholars have completed the program.
During the year, the PFTF fellows received formal training-in-teaching methods and course design; participated in a seminar course on ethics and professionalism, and met regularly for roundtable panel discussions to promote their professional development, intellectual growth and leadership skills. The fellows launched either individual or team projects to enhance their graduate or postdoctoral experience and professional development of their colleagues. They then summarized their projects in end-of-the-year reports.
Winokur served as the president of the Entomology Graduate Student Association for two years. Active in STEM projects, Winokur co-founded GOALS (Girls' Outdoor Adventure in Leadership and Science) in 2017, a program that develops and runs free two-week summer science programs for high school girls and gender expansive youth from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM fields. The girls learn science, outdoor skills and leadership hands-on while backpacking in Sequoia National Park.
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.
Jacob “Jake” Francis, a member of the Vannette lab since 2020, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology (PRFB) to study secondary metabolites in nectar and their consequences for microbes and pollinators. His project is titled “Genetic Signal and Ecological Consequences of Toxic Nectar in Plant-Pollinator Microbe Interactions.”
Jacob “Jake” Cecala, who just received his doctorate from UC Riverside and will join the Vannette lab this fall, received a postdoctoral fellowship granted by the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to study the effects of water availability and pesticide use on bees and bee-microbe associations.
Jacob 'Jake' Francis
“Plants produce complex suites of chemicals in their vegetation and flowers that impact ecological interactions with herbivores, microbes, and pollinators,” Francis explained in his application. “These plant-produced chemicals are important to human society; they can be poisonous to livestock, mediate crop disease, and offer natural chemical libraries for drug discovery. While the consequences of these compounds in vegetative tissues has been extensively studied, much less is known about how specialized chemicals in pollen and nectar impact plants' interactions with pollinators and flower-inhabiting microbes.”
“Many flowers harbor communities of beneficial and/or pathogenic fungi and bacteria that can impact pollinator behavior and health,” Francis pointed out. “Through a combination of genomic studies, manipulative experiments, and simulation modeling, this postdoctoral project will test the link between plant genomes, specialized chemistry, floral microbiome, and pollinator behavior.”
Francis will focus on a highly bioactive class of nectar compounds, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, produced by the naturalized non-native plant purple viper's bugloss, Echium plantagineum. He will characterize the alkaloid content of the nectar and vegetation of 150 plants across three populations.
His NSF grant involves collecting and isolating nectar microbes from Echium and co-flowering species and testing whether Echium-collected microbes are better able to grow in the presence of toxic alkaloids than other nectar microbes. Francis also will test how microbial growth and nectar alkaloid content interactively impact nectar consumption by bumblebees. Throughout this process, he will receive extensive training in microbiological and genetic techniques from his sponsoring scientists, assistant professor Rachel Vannette and Daniel Kliebenstein, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
Francis received his doctorate in 2020 from the University of Nevada, Reno, working with advisor Anne Leonard of the Department of Biology's Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville (2011) in ecology and evolution, summa cum laude, with distinction as both a research scholar and an honors scholar.
Active in the Ecological Society of America (ESA), Francis delivered an invited presentation at ESA's 2021 meeting on “Pollinator Nutrition from a Plant's Eye View: Floral Reward Macronutrients Predict Patterns of Pollen Movement in a Co-Flowering Plant Community.” Francis is also interested in sharing the excitement of entomology with students: At ESA's 2011 meeting, he presented at an organized session on “Pair Power Collaboration with ESA's Next Generation of Ecologists (undergraduates) as Evidence of Earth Stewardship.” He has also delivered presentations at the Entomological Society of America meetings.
Francis most recently has co-authored research on “Microbes and Pollinator Behavior in the Floral Marketplace” in Current Opinions in Insect Science; and has published in journals such as Current Biology and Behavioral Ecology.
Cecala joined the doctoral program at UC Riverside in 2015, receiving his PhD in entomology in 2021. He was advised by associate professor Erin Wilson-Rankin (formerly of the Louie Yang lab, UC Davis). His dissertation: “Commercial Plant Nurseries as Habitat for Wild Bees.”
“Microbes inhabiting floral nectar have garnered attention due to their potential to alter interactions between bees and flowers, and thus influence pollination,” Cecala related. “These bacteria and yeasts, just like macroorganisms, can be subjected to non-target impacts of agricultural pesticides, potentially affecting bee behavior and crop pollination. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of insecticides worldwide and can alter certain microbial communities, yet we know nothing of how they impact nectar microbes. Furthermore, irrigation (i.e., plant water availability) influences neonicotinoid translocation through plant tissues and nectar properties, yet the impacts of this agricultural practice on nectar microbes also remain unstudied.”
Jake Cecala will investigate how neonicotinoids and plant water availability interact to affect nectar microbes and ultimately pollination. “Specifically, I will test (1) how neonicotinoids affect the taxonomic composition of nectar microbes in plants grown under differing watering regimes; (2) how these altered microbial communities affect nectar consumption by solitary bees; and (3) how this translates to pollination and seed set under semi-field conditions.”
“This project aims to understand how these commonplace agricultural practices may influence pollination via the floral microbiome, in hopes of further integrating sustainable pest and pollinator management in North American agriculture,” noted Cecala. The project aligns with the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Farm Bill Priority Area "Plant Health, Production, and Plant Products.”
Cecala holds a master's degree in biological sciences (2015) from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he completed his thesis, “Bee Visit Frequency and Time of Day Effects on Cumulative Pollen Deposition in Watermelon” with professor Joan Leong, who was a doctoral student of the late Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor. Cecala was awarded his bachelor's degree in biology, summa cum laude, with a minor in French, also from Cal Poly Pomona.
Cecala is also a 2013 graduate of The Bee Course, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History, held annually at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. Professor Thorp served as one of the longtime instructors.
At the Wilson-Rankin lab, Cecala researched wild bee biodiversity and resource use in agricultural areas; floral resource quality, pesticides and their impacts on bee health and fitness; and plant-pollinator interaction networks in coastal sage scrub habitats.
Among his most recent research publications, he co-authored articles on
- “Diet Quality and the Effects of Chronic Oral Imidacloprid Exposure on the Alfalfa Leafcutting Bee, Megachile rotundata” in the Journal of Economic Entomology.
- “Differential Feeding Responses of Several Bee Species to Sugar Sources Containing Iridomyrmecin, an Argentine Ant Trail Pheromone Component” in the Journal of Insect Behavior.”
- “Floral Bagging Differentially Affects Handling Behaviors and Single-Visit Pollen Deposition by Honey Bees and Native Bees,” in Ecological Entomology.
- “Mark-Recapture Experiments Reveal Foraging Behavior and Plant Fidelity of Native Bees in Plant Nurseries” in Ecology.
- “Wild Bee Conservation within Urban Gardens and Nurseries: Effects of Local and Landscape Management” in Sustainability.
Active in the Entomological Society of America and its Pacific Branch (PBESA), Cecala drew recognition at PBESA meetings for his award-winning poster and an oral presentation.
His presentation on “Pollinators and Plant Nurseries: How Ornamental Plant Management Impairs Solitary Bee Fitness” won “best lightning talk” at EcoSlam 2019, hosted by the UC Riverside's Center for Conservation Biology./bold>
A UC Davis communications specialist who creates habitat for monarch butterflies in her family's pollinator garden, won a silver award or second-place honors, in a photography competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE). ACE announced the award June 22 at its virtual conference.
Kathy Keatley Garvey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology captured the image of a monarch egg with a Canon MPE-65mm lens.
“The purpose of my image is to draw attention to the dwindling monarch butterfly population,” Garvey wrote. “They are on life support.” The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation's reports that overwintering monarchs have declined 99 percent in coastal California since the 1990s.
Garvey posted the image at https://bit.ly/3cUx358 Aug. 10, 2020 on her daily (Monday-Friday) Bug Squad blog on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website.
Wrote the judge: “Capturing a subject this small is really quite impressive. I appreciate the photographer sharing their equipment and process to capture this image of such a delicate and beautiful little butterfly egg. Very well done.”
The image scored 25 out of 25 points in creativity/originality, audience interest/impact, and overall evaluation.
In her contest entry, Garvey described the egg “as an incredible work of nature! The intricate egg is about the size of a pinhead, 0.9mm wide and 1.2mm high. It's creamy yellow with narrow longitudinal ridge. Unless it encounters a predator or parasitoid or another life-threatening factor, the egg will usually hatch 3 to 4 days after Mama Monarch deposits it beneath a milkweed leaf.”
“A good place to see butterfly specimens from all over the world is at the Bohart Museum of Entomology (now temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic)," Garvey wrote. “Of the nearly eight million specimens in the Bohart, some 500,000 are in the Lepidoptera collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith.“ She also drew attention to the butterfly-rearing process of Bohart associate and natural historian Greg Kareofelas.
In addition to the silver award, the UC Davis communicator won a bronze award or third-place honors for her photo series of male and female Gulf Fritillaries, Agraulis vanillae, “keeping busy.” Her post, “Fifty Shades of Orange, with a Touch of Silver,” appeared July 13, 2020 on her Bug Squad blog at https://bit.ly/2Q6cU3q.
Wrote the judge: “This submission was a delight! I adored the written piece that accompanied the photos, describing the insect wedding during COVID times. To take notice of these delicate creatures, which many people just pass by without noticing, and to document them in photos is unique…. When photographing subjects of this size, the tack-sharp focus which captures the details that our eyes cannot normally see is what makes them so captivating. It's also incredibly difficult to capture--the photographer did a lovely job.”
“So there they were," Garvey wrote. "The two of them. The blushing bride and the quite dapper-and-dashing groom. They didn't invite me to their wedding. I was an uninvited guest, the only guest. So, I felt obliged to crash their wedding and capture some images…Who can resist insect wedding photography? That's about the only wedding photography happening during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Garvey also drew her readers to the research website of butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, and his information on A. vanillae (see https://bit.ly/3uw9Yf1), and to specific work of insects “keeping busy” (see https://bit.ly/3rVU1xg) by UC Davis alumnus and renowned macro photographer Alex Wild, curator of entomology at the University of Texas, Austin.
ACE, founded in 1913 primarily for ag communicators, is now an international association of professionals who practice in all areas of communication.
(Editor's Note: Last year three UC Davis-affiliated communication specialists won a total of six writing or photography awards in the ACE global competition for work accomplished in 2019 (pre-COVID pandemic). Steve Elliott, communications coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center,Davis, won one silver (second-place) and two bronze (third-place) for his writing and photography; Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, two silvers for her writing and photography; and Diane Nelson, communication specialist for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, won a bronze for her writing.)