The award-winning UC Berkeley-UC Davis Linnaean Games Team will vie for the national championship at the Entomological Society of America's annual meeting, set Nov. 11-14 in the Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, B.C.
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 UC Berkeley-UC Davis team is comprised of captain Ralph Washington Jr., a UC Davis entomology graduate who is studying public policy at UC Berkeley; UC Davis doctoral students Brendon Boudinot, Jill Oberski and Zachary Griebenow, all of Phil Ward lab, specializing in ants; and UC Davis doctoral student Emily Bick of the Christian Nansen lab, a lab that specializes in insect ecology, integrated pest management and remote sensing.
The UC Davis Linnaean Games Team, captained by Washington, won the national championship twice, defeating the University of Georgia in 2016 and the University of Florida in 2015. Boudinot served on both championship teams, and Bick, the 2016 team.
Last year UC Davis did not compete. Texas A&M won the national championship, with Ohio State University finishing second.
The national preliminaries will begin at noon Sunday, Nov. 11 while the finals will get underway at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Members of the winning team will each receive a gold medal and and a plaque for the team's department.
The UC Berkeley-UC Davis team won the regional championship at the Linnaean Games hosted by the Pacific Branch of ESA at its meeting June 10-13 in Reno. They defeated Washington State University in a sudden death overtime to win the title.
Among the questions asked at the regional competition:
Question: Name the fungal agent that grows naturally in soils throughout the world and causes white muscardine disease and is commercially packaged as a biological insecticide for the control of termites, whiteflies, and other insect pests?
Answer: Beauveria bassiana
Question: Name the process through which spiders use silk to fly and disperse.
Question: Where are you most likely to encounter a rheophilic insect?
Answer: In moving streams.
Theme of the ESA meeting is “Sharing Insect Science Globally.” This year it is a joint meeting with the Entomological Societies of Canada and British Columbia.
The 7000-member ESA, founded in 1889, is the world's largest organization serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. It is affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government.
Videos of the championship matches:
All videos of the national Linnaean Games championships are posted here.
Entomology Today, published by ESA, posted a preview of the 2018 Linnaean Games. Author Emily Justus, a graduate student in entomology, Ohio State University, interview some of the participants. She wrote: "Another common thread between teams is that they believe having a well-rounded team gives them an edge. Zach Griebenow, a member of UC Davis/Berkeley team, attributes their success to the members of his team being broadly knowledgeable, and he says he believes that all successful teams have this in common."
A new display, designed and coordinated by Bohart associate and UC Davis biological sciences graduate Emma Cluff, showcases stick insects and insect digestion. A research grant donated by Brian Johnson, associate professor of entomology, funded the project.
“I have always thought stick insects were pretty amazing,” said Cluff, who worked on the project over a six-month period. “I loved making the display visually catching as well as informative. I spent a lot of time reading papers and communicating with graduate students who worked with Brian Johnson, and I enjoyed figuring out how to translate their science into terms that the public would find accessible.” The Johnson lab studies the genetics, behavior, evolution, and health of honey bees and currently focuses on the evolution and genetic basis of social behavior using comparative and functional genomics.
Stick insects, most abundant in the tropics and subtropics, belong to the order Phasmatodea and are found on all continents except Antarctica. They derive their name from the ancient Greek “Phasma,” meaning an apparition or phantom, referring to their resemblance to sticks or leaves.
The finished project, mounted on a wall, includes a wood sculpture of a stick insect by Leo Huitt of Woodland, and illustrations by UC Davis entomology student Karissa Merritt, who drew the anterior midgut, Malpighian tubules, crop and hindgut. The display also includes stick insect facts, with lift off tabs.
“People seem surprised that we know so much about stick insect digestion,” Cluff commented. “Visitors have also commented on how incredible it is that a fairly complex digestive system can fit in such a slender organism.”
In her display, Cluff explains cellulose and why it is difficult to digest. She defines cellulose as “a molecule made of linked sugars. It is found in plants and forms plant cell walls. This moleculre provides the rigid structure in plants, like stems and wood (this means that wood is made mostly of sugar!)”
Why is it difficult to digest? “Cellulose has a very stable structure and forms strong fibrous strands. Because of this, animals need enzymes (proteins which enable chemical reactions) to break the cellulose apart into sugars.”
This was her first experience designing an exhibit. “It was a really wonderful experience,” she said.
“Emma is very talented and I would really like to see her continue doing science outreach,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Cluff, from Turlock, plans to attend graduate school and become a marine biologist. “I love marine bio and I am also passionate about education so I would like to somehow combine the two. I always loved marine science as a kid, and taking a research course at Bodega Bay re-inspired me. I think marine science is so important for the future of our planet, and I also fell in love with research and the creativity of it.”
The Bohart Museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a live “petting zoo” that includes stick insects, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, tarantulas and praying mantids; and a year-around gift shop.
Richard “Doc” Bohart (1913-2007), former professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology), founded the insect museum in 1946.
The Bohart Museum is open to the general public Mondays through Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., plus occasional, weekend open houses. Admission is free. The next weekend open house is from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 18 and centers around urban entomology..
The 5x6-foot photographic image dwarfs its real-life counterpart, Parnopes grandior, commonly known as the “ruby-tailed wasp,” which measures 1.2 centimeters or about 0.5 inches in length.
Visiting scientists, schoolchildren and the general public who enter the door to Room 1124, Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, are marveling at Biss's intricate work, which encompasses more than 8,000 separate images, said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
The ruby-tailed wasp image may rival Dorothy's ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz. Chrysidid wasps are renowned for their highly sculptured, brilliant metallic colors.
“We chose it partly to honor the work that the museum founder, Richard ‘Doc' Bohart did,” said Kimsey, who was one of his last graduate students. ”It belongs to the group that he researched. He spent much of his career studying chrysidid wasps or parasitoid wasps.”
The “cuckoo” name refers to the fact that the female lays her eggs in the nests of unsuspecting hosts, including the sand wasp, one of its major hosts. Its larvae consume the host eggs, larvae and the stored food.
“It's a European species, found throughout Europe but not here in the United States,” Kimsey related. The wasp, most diverse in arid regions, prefers dry and sandy soils in subtropical and Mediterranean climates.
Members of the Bohart Museum Society funded the wasp image project, part of the museum's major redesign, which includes new signage, graphics and paint in the hallway.
Levon Biss, based in London, works across many genres, including news, sports, portraiture and insects. He developed his interest in insects after his son, Sebastian, found a ground beetle in their backyard. He photographed it and other insects, showed them to the Oxford Museum of Natural History, and gained access to the museum's historical collection of insects, including some collected by Charles Darwin.
Biss now creates micro-scale images for what he calls his Microsculpture series. Over the course of two years, he photographed 37 insects from the Oxford collection. To create the final insect portraits, he composites thousands of images using multiple lighting setups. Biss photographed most of them in about 30 sections, “each section lit differently with strobe lights to accentuate the microsculpture of that particular area of the body.”
In October 2017, Biss drew rave reviews for his TED talk, “Mind-Blowing Magnified Portraits of Insects.”
The British photographer launched a world gallery tour of his images two years ago; the show is now at the Houston (Texas) Museum of Natural Science, July 13, 2018 through Jan. 13, 2019.
Richard “Doc” Bohart (1913-2007), former professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology), founded the Bohart Museum of Entomology in 1946. He was an authority on the family Chrysididae, which includes more than 3000 described species. During his 32-year academic career, he identified more than one million insect specimens, many of which are housed in the museum that bears his name. Today the museum, dedicated to teaching, research and public service, houses nearly eight million specimens, collected throughout the world. It also includes a live “petting zoo” of stick insects, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, tarantulas and praying mantids, as well as a year-around gift shop.
The museum is open to the general public Mondays through Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., plus occasional, weekend open houses. The next weekend open house is from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 18 and centers around urban entomology.
The Hellman Family Foundation contributes funds to support and encourage the research of promising assistant professors who exhibit potential for great distinction in their research. The fellowship is designed to support research and creative activities that will promote career advancement.
Vannette's project, “Characterizing the Structure and Function of Pollinator Microbiomes,” will investigate the communities of bacteria and fungi in flowers and pollinators including bees and hummingbirds. “Our work to date suggests that microbes in flowers are common and influence pollinator behavior,” says Vannette. The current funding will allow her to link microbial communities in flowers with their influence on pollinators by examining microbial modification of nectar and pollen chemistry, and examine how microbial effects vary among plant and pollinator species, and with environmental variation.
The 11 assistant professors will receive a total of $244,000 in grants for research in a wide range of disciplines. Since 2008, UC Davis has received nearly $3 million in Hellman grants, awarded to 136 early-career faculty members. The Hellman Fund provides grant monies to early career faculty on all 10 UC campuses, as well as to four private institutions.
Vannette is one of two recipients from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The other is Frances Moore, an assistant professor, Environmental Science and Policy. Her project title: "Quantifying the Costs of Ecosystem Damages from Climate Change for Improved Climate Policy Analysis.”
The community ecologist joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2015 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's biology department, where she was a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow from 2011 to 2015 and examined the role of nectar chemistry in community assembly of yeasts and plant-pollinator interactions.
Vannette received her bachelor of science degree, summa cum laude, in 2006 from Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., and her doctorate from the University of Michigan's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Ann Arbor, in 2011. Her thesis: “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.”
(Editor's Note: See UC Davis Dateline story on 11 recipients)
Nansen, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, published his observations in a recent edition of PLOS ONE, the Public Library of Science's peer-reviewed, open-access journal. He researches the discipline of remote sensing technology, which he describes as “crucial to studying insect behavior and physiology, as well as management of agricultural systems.”
Nansen demonstrated that several factors greatly influence the reflectance data acquired from an object. “The reflected energy from an object--how it looks-- is a complex cocktail of energy being scattered off the object's surface in many directions and of energy penetrating into the object before being reflected,” Nansen pointed out. “Because of scattering of light, the appearance--or more accurately the reflectance profile--of an object depends on what is next to it! And because of penetration, the appearance of an object may also be influenced by what is behind it!”
“We don't think of us humans having x-ray vision, but part of what we see is actually reflectance from layers/tissues below the surface,” Nansen related. “Like the fairy tale about how a true princess can feel a pea underneath many mattresses, penetration of light affects what we consider surface reflectance. This is easily demonstrated by placing a white sheet of paper on top of a paper with colored dots--even with a few sheets of white paper on top of the dots, it is still possible to see the colored dots--so some level of penetration is detectable by the human eye. But advanced cameras are much more sensitive to penetration than the human eye.”
Biomedical researchers “take great advantage of penetration--the ability of radiometric energy to penetrate into soft human tissues, such as the brain, liver, lung, skin--to characterize the function or structure of tissues as part of disease diagnosis and image-guided surgery,” Nansen said. “But in non-medical classifications of objects, penetration and scattering represent a challenge, because these optical phenomena can lead to unexpected ‘noise' in the reflectance data and therefore reduced performance of reflectance based classifications of objects.”
“The findings are of considerable relevance to research into development of remote sensing technologies, machine vision, and/or optical sorting systems as tools to classify/distinguish insects, seeds, plants, pharmaceutical products, and food items.”
In the PLOS ONE article, titled “Penetration and Scattering—Two Optical Phenomena to Consider When Applying Proximal Remote Sensing Technologies to Object Classifications,” Nansen defines proximal remote sensing as “acquisition and classification of reflectance or transmittance signals with an imaging sensor mounted within a short distance (under 1m and typically much less) from target objects.”
In recent years, Nansen has shown that reflectance profiling of objects can be used to differentiate viable and non-viable seeds; insects expressing terminal stress imposed by killing agents; developmental stages of fly pupae; and insect species in a cryptic complex.
“Even though the objects may look very similar--that is, indistinguishable--to the human eye, there are minute/subtle differences in reflectance in some spectral bands, “ Nansen said, “and these differences can be detected and used to classify objects.”
With this newly published study, Nansen has demonstrated experimentally that imaging conditions need to be carefully controlled and standardized. Otherwise, he said, “penetration and scattering can negatively affect the quality of reflectance data, and therefore, the potential of remote sensing technologies, machine vision, and/or optical sorting systems as tools to classify objects. “
Nansen described the rapidly growing number of studies describing applications of proximal remote sensing as “largely driven by the technology becoming progressively more robust, cost-effective, and also user-friendly.”
“The latter,” he wrote, “means that scientists who come from a wide range of academic backgrounds become involved in applied proximal remote sensing applications without necessarily having the theoretical knowledge to appreciate the complexity and importance of phenomena associated with optical physics; the author of this article falls squarely in that category!”
“Sometimes experimental research unravels limitations and challenges associated with the methods or technologies we use and thought we were so-called experts on,” Nansen commented.
Nansen, who specializes in insect ecology, integrated pest management, and remote sensing, joined the UC Davis faculty in 2014 after holding faculty positions at Texas A&M, Texas Tech and most recently, the University of Western Australia.