Williams was nominated by Academy Fellow James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology, and seconded by Academy Fellow Claire Kremen of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley.
In his letter of nomination, Carey wrote that Williams is “widely known and respected for his excellence in research, extension, outreach, teaching and leadership” and “is not only one of the stars of our campus, and the UC system, but is an internationally recognized leader in pollination and bee biology and strong voice in the development of collaborative research on insect ecology. He has organized national and international conferences, leads scores of working groups, and guides reviews of impacts of land use and other global change drivers on insects and the ecosystem services they provide.”
Williams is one of 13 Fellows in the Class of 2019, which also includes UC Davis physician Emanual Maverakis of the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Dermatology, nominated by Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. The Fellows will be inducted at the organization's annual meeting and gathering on Oct. 15. The academy, a scientific and educational institution based in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, is dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on earth. The Fellows extend the academy's impact on research, public engagement, and education.
Williams' research spans the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinating insects and their interactions with flowering plants. “He has become a leading voice for pollinator diversity and conservation in the California and The West,” wrote Carey. “One focus of his work has been in understanding the responses of bees to different environmental drivers and developing practical, scientifically grounded actions to support resilient pollinator communities. These efforts are particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.”
The UC Davis professor is co-chair of the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference (with Extension apiclturist Elina Lastro Niño). a four-day conference focusing on pollinator biology health and policy. It is set from Wednesday, July 17 through Saturday, July 20 in the UC Davis Conference Center. The conference, themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will cover a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations.
Williams seeks and finds found common solutions for sustaining both wild and managed bees and communicates that information to the public and stakeholder groups. Said Carey: “This is a critical perspective in natural and agricultural lands, but also in urban landscapes in northern and southern California.”
Each year Williams speaks to multiple beekeeper, farmer and gardener groups, and provides guidance to governing bodies, including the state legislature, and environmental groups. He and his lab are involved in a newly initiated California Bombus assessment project (https://calibombus.com/), which is using both museum and citizen scientist records to understand past, current and future distributions and habitat use by bumble bees. This program will host a series of workshops this spring and summer open to practitioners and the public.
Williams received his doctorate in ecology and evolution in 1999 from the State University of New York, Stony Brook and served as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Bryn Mawr (Penn.) College from 2004 to 2009. He joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009, advancing to full professor in 2017. He began making his mark early in his career. In 2013, he and several UC Davis honey bee colleagues won the Team Research Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). In 2015, the UC Davis chancellor singled him out as one of the 11 Chancellor's Fellows; the five-year of $25,000 supported his research, teaching and public service activities. This year Williams received PBESA's Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award, presented annually for outstanding accomplishments in the study of insect interrelationships with plants.
Williams also holds a three-year visiting professorship to the Swedish Agricultural University in Uppsala. The award is to lead work in sustainable agriculture, focusing in integrating multiple ecosystem services.
In addition to Carey, other Fellows of the Academy from the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology include
- Professor Phil Ward
- Frank Zalom, distinguished professor of entomology and a former vice chair of the department
- Robert E. Page Jr., distinguished emeritus professor and a former chair of the department
- Walter Leal, distinguished professor and a former chair of the department (he is now with the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology) and
- Visiting scientist Catherine Tauber, formerly of Cornell University.
Former Fellows from the department included Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, and visiting scientist Maurice Tauber (1931-2014), formerly of Cornell University.
“He received what is perhaps the greatest honor one can receive from close colleagues, a special symposium honoring him and his contributions to the field of bee biology and pollination,” said coordinator and pollination ecologist Neal William, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Several of the leading bee biologists in western North America assisted with the symposium.
“It was known as The Robbin Symposium and colleagues old and new gathered the hear a supercharged line up present current research that has been directly impacted by Robbin Thorp,” Williams said. "We designed the symposium to honor the impact of Dr. Thorp, on the field of bee biology and conservation, but at the same time present innovative research that brings together bee and pollination biology researchers."
The symposium featured scientific contributions from leaders in the fields of bee ecology, conservation and pollination, all who worked with or were influenced by Thorp:
- Claire Kremen, University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley
- James Strange, USDA's Agricultural Research Service Heidi Dobson, Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
- Gretchen Lebuhn, San Francisco State University
- Richard Hatfield, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
- Terry Griswold, USDA's Agricultural Research Service
- Neal Williams, UC Davis
- Leslie Saul-Gershenz, UC Davis
- Gordon Frankie, UC Berkeley
Hatfield, a senior conservation biologist with Xerces' Endangered Species Program presented him with a drawing of Bombus franklini, the work of artist April Coppini of Portland, Ore. An authority on Franklin's bumble bee, Thorp has monitored the bumble bee population since 1998 in its narrow distribution range of southern Oregon and northern California. He has not seen it since 2006 and it is feared extinct. In August of 2016 a documentary crew from CNN, headed by John Sutter followed him to a meadow where Thorp last saw Franklin's bumble bee. He wrote about Thorp, then 82, in a piece he called "The Old Man and the Bee," a spinoff of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea." (See more on Franklin's bumble bee at https://xerces.org/franklins-bumble-bee/)
“Robbin has done so much for me over the years,” Hatfield said. “I'm pleased to give back even a small fraction.” Hatfield blogged about him during Earth Week. https://xerces.org/2019/04/24/robbin-thorp-earth-week/.
At the social event that followed, attendees shared their gratitude with Thorp "for his lifetime of work, mentoring and friendship,” Williams said.
"It was great to see Robbin interacting and enjoying the conference and the company," Frankie said. "We all have learned much from him over the years, and this was a good occasion to say thanks and acknowledge Robbin's many contributions."
Thorp, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, achieved emeritus status in 1994 but has continued to engage in research, teaching and public service. In his retirement, he co-authored two books Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014).
A tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, Thorp is known for his expertise, dedication and passion in protecting native pollinators, especially bumble bees, and for his teaching, research and public service. He is an authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, contribution of native bees to crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes. He is active in research projects and open houses at the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Every summer from 2002 to 2018, Thorp volunteered his time and expertise to teach at The Bee Course, an annual workshop sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The intensive 9-day workshop, considered the world's premiere native bee biology and taxonomic course, is geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
Thorp was named a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco in 1986; recipient of the Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship of UC Davis in 2010; and recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Award in 2015. Other honors include: member of the UC Davis Bee Team that won PBESA's Team Award in 2013. In addition, he is a past president (2010-2011) of the Davis Botanical Society, and former chair (1992-2011) of the Advisory Committee for the Jepson Prairie Reserve, UC Davis/Natural Reserve System.
Since its inception, Thorp has been involved in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden on Bee Biology Road operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, installed in 2009. To establish a baseline, he began monitoring the site for bees in 2008. He has since detected more than 80 species of bees.
In a letter of support for his nomination as distinguished emeritus professor,Kremen wrote:
"I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Thorp as a close colleague since 1999. I can definitely say that without his contributions, I could never have developed as extensive and impactful a research program on pollinator conservation and pollination services. It is even more noteworthy that Dr. Thorp's contributions to this research program have all occurred since his 'retirement'– he has had a very active retirement indeed."
"Dr. Thorp has contributed in three main ways. First, he has provided expert input into the design of protocols for the research, including assays for pollinator effectiveness, developing citizen science methods, rearing experimental bumble bee colonies, monitoring bumble bee colony properties in the field, and developing pollinator survey methods. Second, he has provided expert taxonomic services, including personally identifying over 100,000 native bee specimens that we have collected during this work, and working with us to develop a bee traits database. Third, he has trained numerous field assistants and graduate students from my lab in different aspects of bee biology. He's spent long hours with many of my graduate students helping them learn to identify bees. He also helped us develop methods and information sheets for teaching field and lab teams to recognize key generic and family characters for identifying bees in the field and sorting them in the lab. He's advised many of my graduate students on different aspects of their work.
"Collectively, Dr.Thorp's contributions have impacted 35 publications that have emerged from this research program to date, with many more either submitted or nearing the submission stage. He has also been a co-author on a number of these publications. Not only has Dr. Thorp had such a significant effect on the work of my lab, but he conducts his own primary work documenting the status of rare bumble bee species like Bombus franklini and B.occidentalis and contributes at a similar level to other research labs such as with his long-time collaborators Dr. Gordon Frankie and Dr. Neal Williams. It's really quite amazing how he manages to do it all."
"He also teaches regularly in The Bee Course, a field course held in Arizona each year by the American Museum of Natural History, frequently gives talks and workshops that educate our state agencies and the public about the importance of pollinators, and works with conservation organizations like the Xerces Society to promote pollinator conservation."
In another letter of support, Ullmann, director of the UC Davis Student Farm, Agricultural Sustainability Institute, who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, wrote:
"I met Robbin Thorp in 2007 and assumed that he was an active professor because of his continued contribution to the field of entomology, teaching activities, publishing in peer-reviewed journals and vocal support of pollinator conservation efforts. For these reason I considered asking if I could join his lab. I remember telling someone my plan and they said 'That probably won't work. Robbin is retired.' He does so much in the field of pollination ecology that I didn't even realize he was retired.
"Since then I've had the privilege of interacting with Robbin as a field technician, a graduate student in the Department of Entomology at UC Davis, a student at The Bee Course, a co-presenter at a bee identification course for US Forest Service staff, and as a co-author on a peer-reviewed paper. The entire time that I've known Robbin I've been impressed with (1) his depth and breadth of knowledge about bees and crop pollination, (2) his willingness to share what he knows, and (3) how approachable he is. It doesn't matter if you're a MacArthur Genius or a field technician just learning about bees, Robbin always makes time to talk with you and answer your questions.
"Robbin is one of the few people in North America who can identify bees down to the species level. As a result he's in high demand and has identified thousands of specimens for numerous lab groups since his retirement. However, he doesn't just identify the specimens. Instead, he's willing to patiently work through dichotomous keys with you so that you can learn those skills."
The UC Davis recipients, as announced today:
Molecular geneticist/physiologist Joanna Chiu, vice chair of the department, associate professor and Chancellor's Fellow, won the Physiology, Biochemistry, and Toxicology Award. The annual award is presented to an individual who has an outstanding record of accomplishment in at least one of the entomological sub-disciplines of physiology, biochemistry, and toxicology.
Pollination ecologist Neal Williams, professor, won the Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award. The annual award is given to an individual with outstanding accomplishments in the study of insect interrelationships with plants.
Doctoral candidate and ant specialist Brendon Boudinot who studies with Professor Phil Ward, won the 2019 John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award, the top graduate student award. This award is based on academic record, leadership, public service activities, participation in professional activities, and publications.
They will be honored at PBESA's 103rd annual meeting, to take place March 31 - April 3 in San Diego, California.
The University of California accounted for eight of the 12 PBESA awards, with UC Davis winning four, UC Riverside, three, and the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), one.
Joanna Chiu, Physiology, Biochemistry, and Toxicology Award
"Dr. Chiu not only excels in unique and cutting-edge research, both basic and applied, but has distinguished herself in mentoring, teaching and service contributions,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who nominated her for the award.
She studies how genes and proteins regulate animal physiology and behavior in response to changes in environment and resources. Her research involves molecular genetics of animal behavior, circadian rhythm biology, and posttranslational regulation of proteins. Major grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation fund her research.
Chiu investigates the regulation of animal circadian rhythms in her laboratory by using a combination of molecular genetics, biochemical, genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic approaches. Her overall research goal: to dissect the molecular and cellular mechanisms that control the circadian clock in animals, and to investigate how this endogenous timer interacts with the environment and cellular metabolism to drive rhythms of physiology and behavior.
Neal Williams, Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award
"Dr. Williams is widely known and respected for his excellence in research, extension, outreach, teaching, leadership and mentoring," said Nadler. “He is a leading voice in the development of collaborative research on insect ecology. He has organized national and international conferences, leads scores of working groups, and guides reviews of impacts of land use and other global change drivers on insects and the services they provide.”
Williams focuses his research on the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinator insects and their interactions with flowering plants. His work is particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.
In July, Williams will co-chair the Fourth International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy at UC Davis. The four-day conference, themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will highlight recent research advances in the biology and health of pollinators, and link to policy implications.
Brendon Boudinot, John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award
Brendon Boudinot was praised for his academic record, leadership, public service activities, participation in professional activities, and his publications. “A highly respected scientist, teacher and leader with a keen intellect, unbridled enthusiasm, and an incredible penchant for public service, Brendon maintains a 4.00 grade point average; has published 12 outstanding publications on insect systematics (some are landmarks or ground-breaking publications); and engages in exceptional academic, student and professional activities,” Nadler wrote.
Active in PBESA and ESA, Boudinot received multiple “President's Prize” awards for his research presentations at national ESA meetings. He organized the ESA symposium, “Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology,” at the 2018 meeting in Vancouver, B.C. , and delivered a presentation on “Male Ants: Past, Present and Prospects” at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Boudinot served on—and anchored—three of the UC Davis Linnaean Games teams that won national or international ESA championships. The Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.
Boudinot has served as president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association since 2006, and is active in the campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day; he has co-chaired the department's Picnic Day Committee since 2017.
Jessica Gillung, Early Career Award
Jessica Gillung studied for her doctorate with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology. “Dr. Gillung has made outstanding contributions to entomology, shown commitment to extension or outreach, and excelled in entomological education,” Kimsey wrote in her letter of nomination. “In one word: she is ‘phenomenal.' Gillung most recently won the “Best Student Presentation Award” at the ninth annual International Congress of Dipterology, held in Windhoek, Namibia, and the 2018 PBESA Student Leadership Award. Her dissertation was titled: “Systematics and Phylogenomics of Spider Flies (Diptera, Acroceridae).”
Kimsey praised her phenomenal leadership activities, her nearly straight-A academic record (3.91 grade point average), her excellence as an entomologist and teacher, and her incredible publication record. “Note that she has 11 refereed publications on her thesis organisms in very strong journals,” Kimsey wrote. “Most entomologists do not publish nearly that much, even as a postdoctoral scholar or a junior faculty member!”
As a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University in the Bryan Danforth lab, Gillung is researching Apoidea (stinging wasps and bees) phylogenomics, evolution and diversification.
PBESA Award Recipients
The complete list of PBESA recipients:
- CW Woodworth: Elizabeth Grafton-Cardwell, UC Riverside.
- PBESA Award for Excellence in Teaching: Allan Felsot, Washington State University
- PBESA Award for Excellence in Extension: Surendra Dara, UC Cooperative Extension
- PBESA Award for Excellence in Integrated Pest Management: Silvia Rondon, Oregon State University
- PBESA Systematics, Evolution, and Biodiversity Award: Christiane Weirauch, UC Riverside
- PBESA Physiology, Biochemistry, and Toxicology Award: Joanna Chiu, UC Davis
- PBESA Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Award: Rebecca Maguire, Washington State University
- PBESA Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award: Neal Williams, UC Davis
- PBESA Distinction in Student Mentoring Award: Gerhard Gries, Simon Frazier University, British Columbia
- PBESA Excellence in Early Career Award: Jessica Gillung, UC Davis
- John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award: Brendon Boudinot, UC Davis
- PBESA Student Leadership Award: Kelsey McCalla, UC Riverside
PBESA is one of six branches of the Entomological Society of America (ESA). Founded in 1889, ESA is the world's largest organization serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. It is comprised of more than 7000 members, who are affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students, pest management professionals, and hobbyists.
Registration is underway for the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference, set Wednesday, July 17 through Saturday, July 20 in the UC Davis Conference Center.
The conference, themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will cover a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations. Topics discussed will include recent research advances in the biology and health of pollinators, and their policy implications.
Keynote speakers will be Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Pennsylvania State University, (the research center launched the annual pollinator conferences in 2012) and Lynn Dicks, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, England.
Other speakers include:
- Claudio Gratton, professor, Department of Entomology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Quinn McFrederick, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, UC Riverside
- Scott McArt, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, Cornell University
- Maj Rundlöf, International Career Grant Fellow, Department of Biology, Lund University, Sweden
- Juliette Osborne, professor and chair, Applied Ecology, University of Exeter, England
- Maggie Douglas, assistant professor, Environmental Studies, Dickinson College
You can register online on the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center site. The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris, is playing a major role in the international conference. Events manager Elizabeth Luu is the conference coordinator.
Early-bee registration: $350 (general) and $175 (student discount). After May 15, 2019, registration is $450 (general), $250 (student). For more information, check the website, https://honey.ucdavis.edu/events/2019-international-pollinator-conference.
The two-year research, led by Ola Lundin, a former postdoctoral fellow in the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, details what plants proved most attractive to honey bees, wild bees and other pollinators, as well as what drew such natural enemies as predators and parasitic wasps.
The research, “Identifying Native Plants for Coordinated Habitat Management of Arthropod Pollinators, Herbivores and Natural Enemies,” is co-authored by Williams, professor of entomology and a Chancellor's Fellow at UC Davis; and project specialist Kimiora Ward of the Williams lab.
“I hope this study can inform selection of plants that support pollinators and natural enemies without enhancing potential pests,” said Lundin, first-author of the paper and now a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala.
“Planting wildflowers is a key strategy promoted nationally to support wild and managed bees,” said Williams. “Successful adoption of these plantings in agricultural landscapes will require that they not only support pollinators but that they also avoid supporting too many pests. Plant selection going forward will need to balance multiple goals of pollinators pest management and other functions. This research is a first step on the path to identifying plants that will meet these goals."
The three scientists, who conceived the ideas and developed the methodology for the research project, established 43 plant species in a garden experiment on the grounds of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. They selected plant species that were drought-tolerant; native to California (except for buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum, known to attract natural enemies and widely used in conservation biological control); and, as a group, covered a range of flowering periods throughout the season.
“For early season bloom, Great Valley phacelia (Phacelia ciliata) was a real winner in terms of being attractive for both wild bees and honey bees,” Lundin said. “Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) flowers in late spring and was the clearly most attractive plant for honey bees across the dataset. The related Fort Miller Clarkia (C. williamsonii) was also quite attractive for honey bees and had the added benefit that a lot of minute pirate bugs visited the flowers.”
Lundin said that common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) “attracted “attracted the highest numbers of parasitic wasps but also many herbivores, including Lygus bugs.”
“In general a lot of parasitic wasps were found on Asteraceae species (the daisy family) and this was a somewhat surprising result considering that they have narrow corollas, and for parasitic wasps relatively deep corollas that can restrict their direct access to nectar. Under the very dry conditions in late summer, Great Valley gumplant (Grindelia camporum) and Vinegarweed (Trichostema lanceolatum) both performed well and attracted high numbers of wild bees.”
The team found that across plant species, herbivore, predator and parasitic wasp abundances were “positively correlated,” and “honey bee abundance correlated negatively to herbivore abundance.”
The take-home message is that “if you're a gardener or other type of land manager, what you'd likely prefer would be a mix of some of the most promising plant species taking into account their individual attractiveness for these arthropod groups, plus several more factors including costs for seed when planting larger areas,” Lundin said.
“Plant choice can also depend on how you weigh the importance of each arthropod group and whether you are interested in spring, summer or season-long bloom,” Lundin added. Those are some of the questions that the Williams lab plans to explore in future projects.
Williams praised the “uniquely capable team that came together.”
“Ola is an emerging leader in considering integrated management of pests and pollinators and Kimiora is a known expert in developing regionally-relevant plant materials to support pollinators,” Williams said. “They and some talented UC Davis undergraduates--notably Katherine Borchardt and Anna Britzman--compiled a tremendously useful study.”
The overall aim of the study “was to identify California native plants, and more generally plant traits, suitable for coordinated habitat management of arthropod pollinators, herbivores and natural enemies and promote integrated ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes,” the researchers wrote.
More specifically, they asked:
- Which native plants among our candidate set attract the highest abundances of wild bees, honeybees, herbivores, predators, and parasitic wasps,
- If the total abundances of arthropods within these functional groups across plant speacies are related to the peak flowering week, floral area, or flower type of the focal plant species, and
- If the total abundances of arthropods within these functional groups are correlated to each other across plant species.
“A first critical step for design and implementation of multifunctional plantings that promote beneficial arthropods while controlling insect pests is to identify suitable plant species to use,” the authors wrote in their abstract. “We aimed to identify California native plants and, more generally, plant traits suitable for the coordinated management of pollinators (wild bees and honey bees), insect herbivores and arthropod natural enemies (predators and parasitic wasps).”
At the time, the Laidlaw grounds included nearly 50 bee colonies: some 20 to 40 honey bee colonies, and eight managed research colonies of the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenkii.
The project received funding from the USDA Resources Conservation Service, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and a Swedish foundation for scientific research, the Carl Tryggers Stiftelse for Vetenskaplig Forskning.