- University of Arkansas and Mississippi State University; their topic was "What is the Best Individual Solution to Preserving the World's Current Biodiversity?"
- Oklahoma State University and Louisiana State University; their topic was "Using Citizen Scientists to Collect Data in Scientific Experiments?"
The rules posted on the ESA website:
Total time for each debate will be approximately 45 minutes.
1. For each topic, there will be a five-minute unbiased introduction. This neutral introduction will be assigned to someone other than the two teams in a particular debate.
2. Following the unbiased introduction, there will be a seven-minute statement by the first team outlining their plan to implement the given topic. Only during this seven minute presentations are teams allowed to use Powerpoint slides. The PPT slides can contain text and only two colors (including background and text).
3. This will be followed by a three-minute cross-examination by the second team. This is an opportunity for the second team to clarify points made by the first team. This time is only for clarification, not for the actual debate.
4. The second team then gives their seven-minute statement. Ideally, they will anticipate some of what the first team has to say and will have enough data researched to be able to show the flaws and problems with the first team's plan. The second team usually does not present an alternative plan, as the status quo is often the alternative.
5. The first team will then have an opportunity for a three-minute cross examination of the second team's argument. This time is also only for clarification.
6. Two-minute second team rebuttal
7. Two-minute first team rebuttal
8. Two-minute second team rebuttal
9. Two-minute first team rebuttal
10. Questions from the judges and the audience (10 minutes)A panel of judges evaluates each team’s argument, which is limited to only 15 of their references. It is submitted to the Student Affairs Committee chair prior to the meeting. Following the meeting, the team has the chance to revise its manuscript, which is then compiled for submission to the American Entomologist journal.
Matan Shelomi, who is studying for his doctorate in entomology with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, captains the 2013 UC Davis Linnaean Team. Others on the team are Mohammad-Amir Aghaee, doctoral student of research entomologist Larry Godfrey; Rei Scampavia, doctoral student who studies with major professors Edwin Lewis and Neal Williams; and Danica Maxwell, who is studying for her master's degree with major professors Michael Parrella, chair of the Department of Entomology, and Edwin Lewis, vice chair. Larry Godfrey serves as the coach.
Linnaean Games are college bowl-style games based on entomological facts and insect trivia. Team members respond to the moderator's questions by buzzing in with the answers. The preliminary rounds conclude with the finals, set for Tuesday, Nov. 12 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The UC Davis Debate team is captained by Aghaee and coached by Parrella. Team members are Shelomi, Danny Klittich, doctoral student of Parrella; and Irina Shapiro, a doctoral student of Lewis. The UC Davis debaters have been assigned the "con" side of the debate, "Using GMOs to Increase Food-Security in Regions Where the Technoogy is Not Universally Accpeted." They will be facing Auburn University, Alabama, which has been assigned the "pro" side. The event takes place at 3:49 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12.
The UC Davis Linnaean Team won the right to compete in the ESA competition after winning second place at the Linnaean Games hosted by the Pacific Branch of ESA (PBESA). First-place honors went to UC Riverside team. The UC Davis team that placed in the PBESA included Shelomi, Aghaee, Scampavia, and Alexander Nguyen, an undergraduate entomology major student who volunteers at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Shelomi and Aghaee are veteran competitors in the Linnaean Games.
The UC Davis team has won either first or second place in the PBESA Linnaean Games since 2010. They won the regional championship in 2012 and 2011, and second in 2010.
In last year’s national finals, held in Knoxville, Tenn., UC Davis lost to the University of Wisconsin, which went on to compete in the finals. The University of Georgia took home the trophy.
The Linnaean Games are named for Swedish-born Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) a renowned taxonomist, ecologist and botanist.
Also at the ESA meeting, Shelomi will be honored as the recipient of the John Henry Comstock Award from the Pacific Branch of ESA.
Shelomi, who studies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, will speak on "Anatomy of the Phasmid Digestive Tract and the Function of the Midgut Appendices” on Wednesday, Aug. 14.
He received $1000 from the Graduate Student Travel Award from the UC Davis Office of Graduates Studies to help fund the trip.
At the conference, Shelomi will present the results from his four-year research, including research he did at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Japan; Academia Sinica in Taiwan; and some of his most recent findings at UC Davis.
“I have focused on the appendices of the midgut, which are a series of tubes found only
in the walking sticks whose function is unknown,” Shelomi said. This is the same project that resulted in him being named a finalist in PhD Comics' Two-Minute thesis competition.” (See video.)
“I have since almost solved the puzzle of what the appendices of the midgut actually do, and the presentation in China will be the first time I reveal my findings to the scientific community,” he said.
Shelomi recently was named the recipient of the coveted John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). He will be one of six John Henry Comstock Award recipients, one from each ESA branch, to be honored at the ESA annual meeting, Nov. 10-13 in Austin, Texas. Each winner receives an all-expenses paid trip to the annual meeting, a $100 cash prize, and a certificate. Shelomi is a member of the UC Davis Linnaean Team and the UC Davis Debate Team team that will compete at the ESA meeting.
He is also known for a humorous paper on Pokémon phylogenetics in the Annals of Improbable Research.
In 2012, he won a Shorty Award, the social-media equivalent of an Oscar, for his answer to an insect question. The Huffington Post recently spotlighted one response. Another was printed in the "Best of Quora 2010-2012" book. His Quora posts have also appeared on Slate.
A native of New York, Shelomi graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University in 2009.
Kathy Keatley Garvey, Diane Nelson and Alison Van Eenennaam are being recognized for their stories, photos and a video highlighting UC Davis’ work in agriculture and the life sciences.
The recognition is from the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences, or ACE, specifically its annual Critique and Awards Program.
The awards presentation is scheduled to take place at the annual ACE conference, scheduled this year from June 11 to 14 in Indianapolis.
Garvey is classified as a senior writer in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, but she is known as much for her writing as her insect photography — for which she is receiving the ACE Outstanding Professional Skill Award for the second year in a row (she won it last year with a bee sting photo).
Her 2013 skill award goes along with two gold awards (first place) in photography, one for a feature photo and the other for a picture story. The feature winner shows a praying mantis lunging at a honeybee (taken in UC Davis’ Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven), in a photo titled Missed! (the caption begins with the word “Danger!” in this post on Garvey’s Bug Squad blog). The picture story shows a gulf fritillary butterfly laying an egg (in Garvey’s back yard); see the picture story on Garvey’s blog.
Garvey received a silver award (second place) in writing for newspapers and an honorable mention in writing for magazines.
The silver recognizes her work in reporting on a doctoral candidate who answers questions on the online site Quora and who received an award for one of his answers, to the question: “If you injure a bug, should you kill it or let it live?”
Matan Shelomi’s answer went viral, according to Garvey’s story, and netted him recognition in the 2012 Shorty Awards, honoring the best in social media — in this case first place for the best answer on Quora.
Nelson, senior writer, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is the recipient of a gold award for promotional writing, for “Hope Dawns for UC Davis Feed Mill,” exploring UC Davis’ effort to replace its aging mill, and why that matters to the people of California, the nation and the world. Nelson won the 2010 ACE outstanding skill award for writing.
Van Eenennaam, a Cooperative Extension specialist in animal genomics and biotechnology, Department of Animal Science, is the recipient of an ACE honorable mention for a video that she wrote and directed: Were Those the Days, My Friend? It previously received the most votes in a contest sponsored by the American Society of Animal Science. Read about the video and see it here.
The competition for the 2012 calendar year also recognizes three editors with UC’s Agricultural and Natural Resources: Janet White, Hazel White and Janet Byron, for their work on “Analysis reveals potential rangeland impacts if Williamson Act eliminated,” which appeared in the October-December 2012 issue of California Agriculture.
A trio of entomologists affiliated with the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, recently published a humorous take on the evolutionary development and history of the 646 fictional species depicted in the Pokémon media over the last 16 years.
“We made a very real phylogeny of the very fake Pokémon creatures,” commented lead author Matan Shelomi, the UC Davis entomology graduate student who conceived the idea.
The article, “A Phylogeny and Evolutionary History of the Pokémon,” appeared in the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), a tongue-in-cheek journal meant “to make people laugh and then think,” according to the editors. In keeping with the “laugh-and-then-think” concept, the journal also awards the highly anticipated IG Nobel Prizes.
Shelomi, a graduate of Harvard where the IG Nobel Prizes are awarded, said he based his idea “in part on other AIR papers like the phylogeny of Chia Pets and the taxonomic description of Barney the Dinosaur.”
Devoted Pokémon fans know that Pokémon, which means “Pocket Monsters,” is the 1996 brainchild of video game developer Satoshi Tajiri of Japan, who collected insects in his childhood and initially toyed with the idea of becoming an entomologist. Today the Nintendo-owned Pokémon is the world’s second most successful video game-based media franchise, eclipsed only by Nintendo’s Mario.
Until now, however, no one has traced the evolutionary history of the 646 fictional species, let alone develop a 16-generation phylogenetic or evolutionary tree.
“I had a lull in his dissertation research and decided to spend the weekends and downtime making this phylogenym,” said Shelomi, who is studying,” said Shelomi, who is studying for his doctorate in entomology with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis. “It took at least a month to actually collect all the data, which I did manually by scrolling through Pokémon websites.”
His interest in Pokémon? “I’ve played the Pokémon Stadium games and watched some of the TV shows when I was in junior high,” he said, describing the influence as strong. “I was in the right target audience range right when Pokémania was hitting the United States, and everyone I knew could recognize a Pikachu on sight.”
“What I love in Pokémon is similar to what I love in entomology--and I suspect Tajiri would agree with me,” Shelomi said. “It provides me with a wide array of unique and colorful creatures to study, all of which are connected in certain fascinating ways. It's a fun way to tie biology with imagination; I just decided to take it a step further and make a paper out of it.”
After collecting the data, Shelomi sent it to Andrew Richards, a junior specialist at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, for the actual phylogram making. When the AIR editors asked for illustrations, Shelomi sought out artist Ivana Li, a fifth-year entomology student and president of the UC Davis Entomology Club. Li, who works part-time at the Bohart Museum, honed her talents as a student cartoonist for the Schurr High School, Montebello, newspaper.
The trio added a fourth co-author, Yukinari Okido, whom Pokémon fans know as the name of one of the fictional Pokémon professors from the game/TV show.
“This was a very clever exercise and drew on the talents of some very gifted students,” Kimsey said. Their phylogenetic tree can be seen in the Bohart Museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
Richards described working on the project as “fun, educational and nostalgic.”
“Matan sent me the information to process, I plugged it into a phylogeny program, and let it run, simulating generations for about a day,” Richard said. “I took the results and generated a tree. That took some time to add pictures and some color-coding. I wanted the tree to look nice and be pretty easy to interpret.”
The project also embraces educational elements. “I think it can be a good way to explain phylogeny to people with no background in it, since the characteristics and traits used here are easier to grasp than those used in molecular phylogeny or even those done using physical characters,” Richards said.
Richards, who finds playing Pokémon games “both fun and creative,” said the project included a nostalgic aspect, too. “I remember when they first came out and loving them then. When Matan told me about his idea for doing this I thought it would be fun. I wanted to see how well the data would come out, considering everything is just made up by the game makers without any thought to phylogeny or actual evolutionary relationships.”
“It turned out surprisingly well given the data we put into it,” Richard said. “Things fell into good places and it looks very nice.”
Li, who has played Pokémon “for at least a decade,” considers the game and the monsters “pretty creative, especially ones with an actual biological basis. Of course, breathing fire and shooting lightning is pretty cool, too.”
“I like the overall project,” Li said, “because it takes a rather extreme amount of nerdiness to appreciate. However, you have to admit that it is pretty interesting to be able to apply a phylogeny to a bunch of game characters. I really enjoy the simplicity of Pokémon because a lot of people can understand it and relate to it.”
Her sister, a teacher and an even more avid Pokémon fan, “is actually able relate to a lot of her students due to her knowledge of Pokémon,” Li pointed out. “There are aspects to cartoons and video games that might have other applications later on in your life that you would never expect.”
The UC Davis entomologists prefaced the journal article by relating why they did it. “With the phylogenetic and evolutionary relationships of the kingdoms Animalia, Plantae, and Fungi mostly out of the way, attention is now turning toward the Monstrasinu, commonly known as ‘Pocket Monsters’ or ‘Pokémon’ for short. Starting from the 151 original ‘species’ described by Japanese scientist Satoshi Tajiri in a 1996 monograph, Pokémon science today continues to be a rewarding field for taxonomists. Every three to four years, several new species are discovered and described almost simultaneously. A total of 646 Pokémon have been described, most of them in Japan.”
“This paper,” they wrote, “represents the first attempt to create a quantitative phylogeny of the Pokémon, using the underlying assumption that Pokémon evolved via natural selection independently from the animals and plants more familiar to Western zoologists. The goal was to apply modern evolutionary theory and techniques to a field previously limited to pre- Darwinian methods of inquiry.”
The trio acknowledged that some of the specimens are “threatened by the Pokémon fighting rings that are growing rapidly in popularity, particularly among urban youth.”
They also agreed that disagreements over species concepts exist, and that “several sexually dimorphic taxa have had males and females identified as separate species,” offering the examples of Nidoqueen and Nikoking.
“Further complicating the issue is the fact that Pokémon are quite willing to interbreed successfully,” they wrote, adding that “the lack of post-zygotic reproductive isolation is one thing, but how a 400-kilogram Wailord is able to mate with an 11-kilogram Skitty at all remains a mystery.”
As to methods used, they revealed that undergraduate, high school and primary-school aged interns/ trainers from Japan and New York state captured wild Pokémon. “Trainers may or may not have used their Pokémon for combat during the course of their research,” they quipped.
The result: a phylogenetic or evolutionary tree detailing 16 million generations of simulated Pokémon evolution. They concluded that “Pokémon life began in the water, with Pokémon similar to lampreys and bony fishes being among the earliest to reach their present state.” Terrestrial life, they said, rose independently three times.
“This paper,” they summarized, “thus sheds considerable doubt on whether Pokémon use DNA to transmit genetic information, and further suggests the Monstrasinu are a unique domain of life.”
What about reader reaction? “The paper is slowly making the rounds,” Shelomi said. “We've had quite a few people disagree with the tree, as some of the conclusions violate Pokémon canon, and we do have the usual phylogenetic problems of long-branch attraction, etc. The disconnect between the tree and Pokémon mating groups is a problem, but I argue that the Biological Species Concept should not be assumed for Pokémon and I stand by my tree.”
“So far, one scientist--a linguist in Japan--has asked for a copy of the dataset to use in a class on phylogram building, and he apparently came up with a different tree.”
“It would be nice to see a wide set of articles responding to this one,” Shelomi said. “I think it would be quite easy to fill a journal of Pokémon science, although much harder to justify creating one.”
--Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Department of Entomology