Doctoral candidate and nematologist Corwin Parker of the Steve Nadler lab won the Picnic Day design with his illustration of a bee barbecuing.
And an ant design for a onesie, “My Sister Loves Me,” by doctoral student and ant specialist Jill Oberski of the Ward lab rounds out the winners' circle.
Boudinot, a fourth-year doctoral student and president of EGSA, said the ant featured on his design “is a minor worker of the Drogon ant and described recently by our post-doc Eli Sarnat." Sarnat, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 2009, is now a post-doctorate researcher in the Okinawa Instituite of Science and Technology in the Economo lab. The ant in Boudinot's design is based on Sarnat's work, published in AntWiki and in The Guardian.
Oberski's adult ant is “loosely based on Ochetellus, a mostly-Australian genus.” After admiring an image taken by Alex Wild, also a Phil Ward lab alumnus (doctorate in entomology in 2005) and “I went from there.” Wild, a renowned macro photographer, is the curator of Entomology at the University of Texas/Austin.
The winning T-shirts and other previous winners can be ordered online at https://mkt.com/UCDavisEntGrad/ and also will be available at Briggs Hall on April 21 at the annual UC Davis Picnic Day and future Picnic Days. Doctoral student and medical entomologist Olivia Winokur of the Chris Barker lab, serves as treasurer of EGSA and t-shirt sales coordinator. She may be reached for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The EGSA is comprised of UC Davis graduate students who study insect systems. Its objectives are to connect students from across disciplines, inform students of and provide opportunities for academic success, and to serve as a bridge between the students and administration. The officers, in addition to Brendon Boudinot, are Emily Bick of the Christian Nansen lab, vice president; Maureen Page of the Neal Williams lab, secretary; Olivia Winokur of the Chris Barker lab, treasurer; and two Graduate Student Association representatives, Charlotte Herbert of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and Nick Booster of the Jay Rosenheim lab.
Sarah Silverman, a doctoral candidate who is studying insect demography at UC Davis with major professor James R. Carey, won a second-place award in her category.
Boudinot, who studies classification and evolution of morphology, delivered a 10-minute oral presentation in the Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section on "The Protopodal Theory of Genitalic Evolution in the Hexapoda (Arthropoda: Mandibulata: Pancrustacea)."
Boudinot completed his undergraduate work at the Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., and spent a year working as a research technician at the University of Utah before starting his graduate work in 2014 with advisor Phil Ward. He focuses his research on evolution and ecology, approached from the perspective of systematics. “I integrate several lines of inquiry to answer historical evolutionary questions, including morphological and molecular phylogenetics, paleontology, and traditional comparative morphology,” Boudinot related. “I specialize on the skeletomusculature system of the male genitalia of the Hexapoda and the classification of the Formicoidea.”
Silverman gave a 10-minute oral presentation in the Diptera-Mosquitoes category of the Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Section, on “Population as Cohort: Interpreting the Mortality Patterns of Wild-Caught Adult Mosquitoes of Unknown Ages.”
Silverman completed her bachelor's degree in environmental science at McGill University in Montreal. For her undergraduate thesis, she studied the phenology of wild Osmia bees. Her work at UC Davis is in the field of insect demography. “I specifically study insect lifespan in the wild, as well as the the age-structure of insect populations in the wild using an innovative methodological approach: the capture of live-insects in the wild which are then maintained and observed in the lab until death,” she said.
At its annual meetings, the ESA offers graduate students the opportunity to present their research and win coveted prizes. The first-place President's Prize recipient receives a one-year free membership in ESA, a $75 cash prize, and a certificate. The second-place winner receives a one-year free membership in ESA and a certificate.
The oral presentations are evaluated on scientific content (50 percent) and presentation (50 percent). For scientific content, judges score them on introduction and background with pertinent literature cited; objectives clearly stated and concise; materials and methods (study design) clear and concise; results and discussion clear, concise and accurate; and significance of results to field of study. Judges evaluation the presentation on organization, slides and delivery.
Boudinot's previous President's Prizes were for work on the male genitalia of ants, and for providing the first male-based identification material for the ant genera of the New World.
Ants are highly diverse, with over 13,000 known species, Boudinot said. "They are, however, but one stitch in the diversity of all insects, and we are entering a new era for the study of morphology in the 21st century."
The genitalia of male insects are fascinating, he said. "Both male and female insect genitalia are derived from the appendages of a pair of abdominal segments. Evidence from the skeletomusculature indicates that these structures are really legs of a crustacean ancestor that have been modified for numerous reproductive tasks--from copulation and insemination, to singing and silk-spinning."
The event, free and open to the public, takes place from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the half-acre bee garden, located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus.
Among the native ants at the haven are
- Dorymyrmex insanus (workers small, ~3 mm long, black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
- Dorymyrmex bicolor (workers small, ~3 mm long, bicolored, dull orange and black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
- Prenolepis imparis (also known as the “winter ant” or “winter honey ant”; workers small (3-4 mm long), brown, with shiny gaster; inconspicuous nests in soil)
- Formica moki (sometimes called “field ants”; workers medium-sized (6 mm long), with a dark head, orange-brown mesosoma (thorax) and silvery-gray gaster; nest in soil)
Images of these species can be found on the AntWeb (www.antweb.org).
The haven is home to many insects other than bees, noted Christine Casey, director of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, which is owned and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It was planted in the fall of 2009.
Approximately six other species of native ants reside in the vicinity of the garden, including Formica aerata, Pogonomyrmex subdentatus, and Solenopsis xyloni. The introduced Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) occurs around the Bee Biology building, but it appears not to have colonized the bee garden.
Attendees will learn how to observe and identify California native ants, and learn about the differences between bees and ants.
John "Jack" Longino, professor and associate chair of biology at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and the adjunct curator of entomology, Utah Museum of Natural History, University of Utah, will speak on "Project ADMAC or Ant Diversity of the Mesoamerican Corridor" from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall.
Ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will introduce and host him.
"The MesoAmerican corridor is a zone of complex tectonic history, episodic biotic interchange between large continents, and frequent mountain-building," Longino said. "Ants blanket this landscape, forming a tapestry of fine-scale habitat specialization and geographic replacement. Many taxonomists have contributed to the description of species in the region and this fundamental 'biodiversity mapping' continues apace. Project ADMAC (Ant Diversity of the MesoAmerican Corridor) combines morphological analysis with large-scale DNA sequencing (targeted enrichment of Ultra-Conserved Elements) to reveal the evolutionary history and geographic structure of ant species in MesoAmerica.
"Ants show very strong patterns of elevational specialization and geographic turnover, and Project ADMAC will address questions of (1) how and when montane species evolve, (2) the effects of differing mountain ages on communities, (3) the impact of lowland barriers on montane ant dispersal, and (4) whether ants experienced a major biotic interchange on the closure of the Panamanian isthmus."
Longino addressed the Entomological Society of America meeting last November on the topic. He told of plans
1. to build a detailed biodiversity map for an ecologically dominant group of insects (ants) in a biogeographically important region of the world (the MesoAmerican corridor);
Longino's fascination with insects began in his childhood. His research statement:
"We share the planet with millions of species, and many of them are insects. A childhood fascination with insects led me to an interest in ecology and the desire to explain patterns of diversity, and I settled on ants as an ecologically dominant group of insects worthy of study. As it became clear that I was living during a time of enormous biotic change caused by human activities, I developed a strong conviction that it was important not only to understand patterns of diversity but to document it in detail for this time in history. I divide my time between two research fields: taxonomy and ecology. On the taxonomy side, I have coordinated large-scale inventories of Neotropical insect biodiversity, I discover and describe new species of ants, and I further refine our understanding of species ranges and morphological variability. I make use of advanced imaging technology, specimen-level databases, and Web-dissemination to make biodiversity data available to the widest audiences. On the ecology side, I use quantitative inventory techniques that allow analysis of diversity patterns. I am interested in how species are distributed on tropical mountainsides, what ecological factors explain the elevational range limits of species, and how species might respond to climate change."
Longino was interviewed in August of 2013 by NPR on his research. He told NPR he started out collecting stamps in his childhood, but that bored him. He decided to "get small."
"If you're shopping for a home entertainment system," he says, "you can't do better than a good dissecting microscope," he said. At the time of the NPR interview, Longino had just published two papers describing 33 new species of ants, bringing his personal "new species" total to 131, NPR reported. In the article, Longino described himself as "average" among entomologists, pointing out that some entomologists have described thousands of new species.
Longino received his bachelor's degree in zoology, with distinction, in 1978 from Duke University, and his doctorate in zoology in 1984 from the University of Texas, Austin. He then served as an assistant research biologist at UC Santa Barbara; academic director of the Monteverde Tropical Biology Quarter, UC Education Abroad Program; adjunct assistant curator of the Florida State Museum of Natural History (Allyn Museum of Entomology), and scientific director of Project ALAS. He joined the Evergreen State College, Washington, serving from 1991 to 2011 before becoming a professor in the Department of Biology, University of Utah.
His recent publications include:
Longino, J. T., M. G. Branstetter, and R. K. Colwell. 2014. How ants drop out: ant abundance on tropical mountains. PLoS ONE 9:e104030.
Longino, J. T. 2013. A revision of the ant genus Octostruma Forel 1912 (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Zootaxa 3699:1-61.
Longino, J. T. 2013. A review of the Central American and Caribbean species of the ant genus Eurhopalothrix Brown and Kempf, 1961 (Hymenoptera, Formicidae), with a key to New World species. Zootaxa 3693:101-151.
Longino, J. T. 2012. A review of the ant genus Adelomyrmex Emery 1897 (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) in Central America. Zootaxa 3456:1-35.
Longino, J. T., R. K. Colwell. 2011. Density compensation, species composition, and richness of ants on a Neotropical elevation gradient. Ecosphere 2:art29.
Unfortunately, those ant encounters neither cement good relationships with the family of ants, Formicidae, nor the world's family of ant researchers, known as myrmecologists.
“All myrmecologists are united by stories of meeting people and having them ask what they should do to get rid of the ants,” says ant specialist Brendon Boudinot, a doctoral student in Phil Ward's Department of Entomology and Nematology lab, University of California, Davis.
Boudinot, who recently won a first-place President's Award for his presentation on “Revising Our Vision of Ant Biodiversity: Male Ants of the New World” at the 2014 Entomological Society of America meeting in Portland, Ore., is passionate about ants, particularly male ants.
Like the late Rodney Dangerfield who proclaimed “I don't get no respect,” male ants get little respect or attention, said Boudinot, who aims to raise public awareness of their importance and demystify them through his scientific research.
“There are about 12,800 living species of ants described to date,” explained Boudinot, who enrolled in the UC Davis doctoral program after receiving his bachelor's degree at Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., in 2012. “Males are known for only 27 percent of these species, and no identification resource exists for identifying male ants for most bioregions.”
Addressing this concern, he provided the first male-based identification keys to subfamily and genus level for the New World. The keys cover 13 of the 16 subfamilies and 151 of the 324 genera. This, coupled with a global male-based key to all 16 ant subfamilies he submitted in November, will enable male ants to be identified by genus in the New World---encompassing North, Central, and South America---for the first time.
Boudinot's first research publication, “The Male Genitalia of Ants: Musculature, Homology, and Functional Morphology (Hymenoptera: Aculeata: Formicidae),” conducted as an undergraduate, appeared in the January 2013 volume of The Journal of Hymenoptera Research). Subsequently, he guest-blogged about the research for Alex Wild's Myrmecos column. Wild, now with the University of Texas, holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is an alumnus of the Phil Ward lab.
As for telling the difference between a male and a female ant, that's not easy, even for many ant researchers, Boudinot acknowledged. “Males and reproductive females, queens, usually have wings and look different from workers. Males are usually differentiated from females by having slightly different morphology. Besides having complex and strange genitalia, male ants also tend to have one more antennal segment, larger eyes, and in general look more ‘waspy.' "
The genitalia of male ants are fascinating, he said. “Think of a Leatherman or Swiss Army knife which has paired muscular claspers, graspers, and sawblades. Male ants have evolved winglessness and worker-like morphology at least five times in the ants, which has historically led to the accidental description of these wingless males as new species. This is a weird phenomenon which I will be focusing on for a chapter of my dissertation. Why have they evolved winglessness? What are the evolutionary patterns of skeletomuscular reduction? Are there trade-offs for a colony when they lose the ability to produce dispersing males? Anyway, this should be fun.”
In addition to the United States, Boudinot has studied ants in four Latin American countries: Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, and Brazil. “Ant-wise, my colleagues and I have collected numerous new species,” he said. A surprising example is a new species of Aphaenogaster he collected in 2010 in the foothills of Mt. Diablo, outside of Danville. He discovered it in a cow pasture less than 100 feet from suburban sprawl in a densely populated part of the state. On a recent trip to Brazil, he discovered the male of the martian ant (Martialis heureka) which is remarkable, as the martian ant is arguably the earliest branching lineage of living ants and yields important implications about the evolution of ants.
Boudinot looks forward to more ant collecting trips, especially to Brazil. “I really liked visiting Brazil because I had to teach myself Portuguese, had a tiny budget, was traveling alone, met awesome people, and visited some great places,” he recalled. “I worked in museums in São Paulo, Curitiba (in the South East), and Manaus in the Amazon basin. I got to see the Amazon river and rainforest (and ants), discovered some important things for my dissertation, and spent time with amazing people!”
Boudinot became enthralled with ants while volunteering as an undergraduate for a major research project, Leaf Litter Arthropods of Mesoamerica (LLAMA). “Initially I was saddled with the job of sorting and curating hundreds of samples which contained thousands and thousands of ants, but later I became involved in the field expedition to Honduras and independent research,” he said. “In one day I ended up individually counting over 8,000 specimens; at this point I forgot why my mentor made me count them. I was drawn to ants by their spectacular form and variation; every third genus of ants has some bizarre modification of the mandibles, or some weird structure on their body which is mysterious and in many cases simply unexplained. It took me a long time to become familiar with ants, but eventually I developed expertise in male ants, which very few people study.”
Why should people get interested in ants? “Ants are incredibly diverse social animals, with over 12,800 species and many more to be described,” the UC Davis myrmecologist said. “Their biology is spectacular; for example, their diet ranges from granivory and predation to agriculture. Ants invented agriculture about 55 million years before humans evolved, refining their agricultural practices to a remarkable degree at least 20 million years ago. (These are the famous leaf cutter ants and their relatives, see Wikipedia for some more information about them.) Ants are known to be agriculturally important in various parts of the world, are used in food dishes in Latin America and Southeast Asia, and are a critical system for studying sociality and numerous evolutionary and ecological questions.”
Boudinot noted that the inaccurate portrayals of ants in Hollywood movies lead to lifelong misinterpretations. “There is a perception that there are two kinds of ants: red ants and black ants--and sometimes yellow ants--and that the workers of ants include both sexes, as in the Disney movies A Bug's Life and Antz,” Boudinot said. “Really, ants are incredibly diverse---which is why I am fascinated with them in part.”
Reproductory misinformation abounds in “A Bug's Life,” the 1998 American computer-animated comedy adventure film, Boudinot said. All worker ants are female and sterile, but Princess Atta marries a male, Flik. “Flik and Princess Atta wouldn't have married, and if they did, Flik wouldn't be the dad as chances are she, as a worker, would be able to lay only unfertilized eggs which would become clonal males.”
If there's one thing that Boudinot wants youngsters of today to know about ants, it's this: “There are remarkable things to discover everywhere, and unanswered questions abound. Discovery is borne out of observation, and there is so much to observe in any single square meter of Earth's surface. I like ants in this respect because they are everywhere! In tropical rainforests ants and termites (another group of social insects) may make up to one-third of the total animal biomass, dwarfing that of vertebrates such as panthers, birds, and amphibians. There are about 90 species of ants in Sonoma, Napa, Yolo, and Sacramento counties alone, including fungus-cultivating ants!”
Boudinot encourages people to check out AntWeb.org. “This website is a digital database of thousands and thousands of species of ants, many of which look like they are extraterrestrials or are strange beasts out of nightmares,” he said, adding “Okay, and some of which are just fluffy and adorable.”
Ants and honey bees, which belong to the same order, Hymenoptera, are more similar than once believed. “In 2013 scientists discovered that ants are more closely related to bees and bee-like wasps than to yellowjackets and other wasps,” Boudinot said. “Our knowledge of this relationship is so new that we haven't even had time to reevaluate their physical similarity.”
“Ants are terrestrial, with a suite of adaptations for walking, while bees are highly efficient flyers. Bees are much more diverse than most people believe. In addition to the honey bee, there are about 20,000 described species of bees, not all of which are highly social like the honey bee! Unlike bees, there are no known non-social species of ants.”
“Bees are critical pollinators; ants are really poor pollinators. Ants are really good at protecting plants, though. Tight ant-plant mutualism has evolved several times, with the plants providing homes and food for ants while the ants provide protection for the plants from insect and vertebrate herbivores as well as competitor plants.”
After receiving his doctorate in entomology, Boudinot aspires “to be a professor so that I may continue to do research and to fulfill my love of teaching and mentoring.”
In the meantime, “I am just trying to learn as many valuable skills as I can while feeding my burning fascination with ants and insects in general. I have gained so much in terms of learning how to see and think about the natural world. Above all, I want to communicate this knowledge to people in whatever manner I can.”
“There is a logic to the biological universe,” Boudinot said, “and once you start to pick up this logic, interpreting the complex tapestry of life becomes a routine and deeply enjoyable task.”
(Editor's Note: More information on the ant images above: These are all males of the subfamily Leptanillinaea. This plate appears in Brendon Boudinot's manuscript, "Contributions to the Knowledge of Formicidae (Hymenoptera, Aculeata, Formicidae): A New Diagnosis of the Family, the First Global Male-Based Key to Subfamilies, and a Treatment of Early Branching Lineages" which he submitted to the European Journal of Taxonomy in November. "They have highly variably and spectacular morphology, and are extremely poorly known," he said. "Some of these males are so highly modified that they violate the diagnosis of the Formicidae." The genera: A, B, and D are Protanilla; C is a Leptanilla; E is Scyphodon; and F is Noonilla.)