Agrawal is one of 120 newly elected members, of which 59 are women. The number of NAS members now totals 2,461, according to NAS president Marcia McNutt.
Agrawal received his doctorate in population biology in 1999 from UC Davis, working with major professor Richard "Rick" Karban, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Anurag is an inspiration as a scientist and as a person," Karban said. "I've learned a lot from him."
At Cornell, Agrawal researches the ecology and evolution of interactions between wild plants and their insect pests, including aspects of community interactions, chemical ecology, coevolution and the life cycle of the monarch butterfly.
Agrawal authored the celebrated book, Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution, published in 2017 by Princeton University Press. He investigated "how the monarch butterfly has evolved closely alongside the milkweed—a toxic plant named for the sticky white substance emitted when its leaves are damaged—and how this inextricable and intimate relationship has been like an arms race over the millennia, a battle of exploitation and defense between two fascinating species," according to the publisher.
The book won a 2017 National Outdoor Book Award in Nature and Environment and an award of excellence in gardening and gardens from the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. It was also named one of Forbes.com's 10 best biology books of 2017.
“It's a tremendous honor and totally unexpected,” Agrawal told the Cornell Chronicle in a recent news release. “I look forward to representing Cornell and also playing a part in the NAS role of advising the U.S. government on science policy.”
"A key research focus for Agrawal's Phytophagy Lab is the generally antagonistic interactions between plants and insect herbivores," according to the news release. In an attempt to understand the complexity of communitywide interactions, questions include: What ecological factors allow the coexistence of similar species? And what evolutionary factors led to the diversification of species? Agrawal's group is currently focused on three major projects: the community and evolutionary ecology of plant-herbivore relationships; factors that make non-native plants successful invaders; and novel opportunities for pest management of potatoes. Recent work on toxin sequestration in monarch butterflies was featured on the cover of the April 20 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
Members are elected to NAS in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Membership is a widely accepted mark of excellence in science and is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive. Among those elected to NAS: Bruce Hammock, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. He was elected to NAS in 1999.
Agrawal holds two degrees from the University of Pennslvania, a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in conservation biology. He joined the Cornell faculty in 2004 as an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, with a joint appointment in the Department of Entomology. He advanced to associate professor in 2005, and to full professor in 2010. He was named the James A. Perkins Professor of Environmental Studies in 2017.
A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2012), and recipient of the American Society of Naturalist's E.O. Wilson Award in 2019, Agrawal won the Entomological Society of America's 2013 Founders' Memorial Award and delivered the lecture on Dame Miriam Rothschild (1908-2005) at ESA's 61st annual meeting, held in Austin, Texas.
Agrawal was at UC Davis in January of 2012 to present a seminar on "Evolutionary Ecology of Plant Defenses." His abstract: "In order to address coevolutionary interactions between milkweeds and their root feeding four-eyed beetles, I will present data on reciprocity, fitness tradeoffs, specialization and the genetics of adaptation. In addition to wonderful natural history, this work sheds light on long-standing theory about how antagonistic interactions proceed in ecological and evolutionary time."
Murray, who anticipates receiving her bachelor of science degree in evolution, ecology and biodiversity in June 2021, is one of 396 students selected from a national pool of 5000 sophomores and juniors to receive a scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, a federally endowed agency honoring the late senator and “designed to foster and encourage outstanding students” who are pursuing research careers in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.
The honor includes a monetary prize of $7500. “Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs,” according to a foundation spokesperson. Goldwater Scholars have received 93 Rhodes scholarships, 146 Marshall scholarships, 170 Churchill scholarships, 109 Hertz fellowships, and numerous other distinguished awards, including National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.
Murray, who joined the Karban lab in 2018, is a member of the campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), founded and directed by three UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members (Jay Rosenheim, distinguished professor; Joanna Chiu, vice chair and associate professor; and Louie Yang, associate professor) to provide "academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates" with multi-year experience in biological research. The program pairs students with faculty mentors.
In the Karban lab, Murray designs and conducts independent research on plant development, flowering, and communication. She generates questions, creates protocols, collects and analyzes data.
In addition, Naomi works with UC Davis Professor Jay Stachowicz at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, where she does independent research on seagrass disease ecology, specifically herbivore-plant-pathogen interaction. She formerly worked as a full-time undergraduate researcher on seagrass ecology in the Stachowicz lab.
Native of San Diego
Naomi was born and raised in San Diego and is the first scientist in her family. Her father holds a bachelor of science degree in engineering and works as a home inspector and her mother is a newly retired lawyer.
“My interest in ecology started in high school, when I interned at the San Diego Zoo,” Naomi related. “Before the internship, I knew I loved animals and the environment, but I had no idea how I could turn those passions into a career--I thought if I liked animals, my only options were to be a zookeeper or a vet. The internship exposed me to a lot of other professionals and researchers working to protect nature, which was really my first glimpse into ecology and conservation."
"When I selected ecology, evolution, and biodiversity as my major, I intended to be primarily animal-focused, but that changed when I went to the Botanical Conservatory on UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day my freshman year. I absolutely fell in love with it, and I interned there that spring. It turned into employment and since then, my love for plants has really grown; they're the main subject of my research now!”
Naomi is one of two Goldwater Scholars from UC Davis; the other is Jayashri Viswanathan, who seeks a doctorate in neuroscience and plans to teach biological sciences at the college level. They are among 32 recipients statewide.
Career in Forest Ecology
Naomi is leaning toward a research career in forest ecology, studying how trees affect community function and resilience “with the goal of minimizing the impacts of climate change.” She worked three weeks as a field technician on a project monitoring tree mortality in the forests of Yosemite Valley, where she tent-camped without running water or electricity, and collected data for 10 hours a day.
She acknowledged that after a few days there, she didn't know if she could meet the challenges. “But as the days passed, I realized that even when I was at my most uncomfortable, I was asking questions about the system, proposing new hypotheses for old phenomena, and marveling at the beauty of the forest,” she wrote in her essay, part of the Goldwater Scholarship application.
“As the world changes and becomes increasingly interconnected, we are in desperate need of critical thinkers, synthesizers, and people able to approach complex problems with broad, interdisciplinary perspectives,” Murray wrote. “I am working to become one of these pioneers and intend on pursuing a career in research to monitor, track, and minimize the impacts of climate change. Specifically, I plan to focus on forest ecology and how patterns of resource allocation and carbon storage among trees affect community function and ecosystem resilience.”
After receiving her bachelor's degree, Naomi plans to pursue a doctorate in ecology. “My current major prepares me with a strong foundation in basic science, and I have taken it upon myself to seek out diverse research experiences in both field and lab settings to develop a multi-dimensional perspective on critical issues in ecology,” she noted. “My time as a field technician has prepared me for ecological field work. Living as a full-time undergraduate researcher gave me a glimpse into conducting research as a career and made me familiar with work beyond the field. Additionally, participation in the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, a long-term pairing of undergraduates with faculty mentors to conduct research, has fostered connections instrumental in my path towards a successful research career. Perhaps most importantly, my independent design and execution of three experiments has taught me how to ask and test scientific questions.”
Murray earlier received a UC Davis Provost's Undergraduate Fellowship of $1200, a Regents Scholarship of $30,000, and a Bodega Marine Lab Undergraduate Research Fellowship of $5000, among other honors and awards.
Active in SEEDS
The Goldwater Scholar is active in Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity, and Sustainability (SEEDS), an offshoot of the Ecological Society of America, and serves as an officer of the Davis SEEDS Chapter. The group seeks to make ecology more accessible to underrepresented groups of students. The club fosters science exploration and guidance through career panels and research facility tours.
“When I attended the 2018 SEEDS National Field Trip, the student group was mainly women of color,” Murray related in her essay. “I listened to them speak about the racism that structures this nation and its higher institutions, creating foundational issues of access to opportunity, mentorship, and funding. It was a wake-up call, making me aware of my privilege and inspiring me to deconstruct the walls that exist in my academic sphere.”
“I became an officer for the UC Davis SEEDS chapter. Through the club, I work to organize graduate student and career panels, amplifying underrepresented stories and connecting students with mentors who have similar backgrounds. I plan field trips and study sessions, and promote campus opportunities. And I help apply for funding to make all our activities equal access. Moving forward in my career I will continue this work, grateful that SEEDS has pushed me to become an active participant in scientific advancement through social justice.”
Macaluso received $1000, and her research paper, “The Biological Basis for Alzheimer's Disease," will be published in eScholarship, an open-access scholarly publishing service affiliated with the University of California.
This is the first time a student enrolled in a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology class has won the universitywide competition, now in its fourth year. The award memorializes Norma J. Lang (1931-2015), professor emerita of botany.
Macaluso, who is majoring in psychology with a biological emphasis, and minoring in aging and adult development, anticipates receiving her bachelor of science degree in the fall of 2020.
Carey, an internationally recognized teacher, instructs undergraduates in his classes--which usually exceed 200 students--how to research topics, use style sheets, and structure their papers. He has produced 13 videos on how to research and write a research paper, along with a new video on the use of style sheets.
The Lang Prize recognizes undergraduate students whose research projects make extensive use of library resources, services and expertise. First, second and third-place prizes are awarded each year in two categories: science, engineering and mathematics; and arts, humanities and social sciences. Second place in the science, engineering and mathematics category went to Vincent Pan, a student doing research in the lab of ecologist Rick Karban, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, for several years. His paper: "Recent Advances in Elucidating the Function of Zebra Stripes: Parasite Avoidance and Thermoregulation Do Not Resolve the Mystery." (See recipients at https://bit.ly/3cPPsNt.)
“Macaluso's term paper gives an in-depth synopsis of the biology of Alzheimer's disease, a prevalent form of dementia that impairs memory and cognition,” wrote the Norma J. Lang Prize judges. “Utilizing the library's databases and subject guides, Macaluso identified 20 sources from top scientific journals across multiple disciplines, including Nature and the Annual Reviews of Medicine, Neuroscience, Psychology and Public Health, to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of the science on Alzheimer's.”
“This currently incurable disease is caused by significant neuronal death in the brain due to of the accumulation of two neurodegenerative proteins: intercellular amyloid-beta plaques and intracellular tau tangles,” she wrote. “The interaction of these two proteins creates a feedback loop that facilitates the continual destruction of nerve cells in the brain. Because the destruction of nerve cells disrupts the neuronal connections in the brain, Alzheimer's disease results in significant memory deficits as well as impaired cognition. Moreover, with the use of human models and transgenic mouse models, researchers have been able to analyze the role of biology, genetics, and physiology in Alzheimer's disease. For example, mutations in the presenilin 1 (PSEN1) gene or the amyloid precursor protein (APP) gene predispose an individual to acquire early-onset Alzheimer's disease.”
“Likewise, an individual can have an increased likelihood of developing late-onset Alzheimer's disease if they carry the ApoE4 variant of the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene. In summary, researchers are amply investigating Alzheimer's disease from a variety of biological faucets in an effort to treat or even cure this form of dementia.”
Macaluso went on to discuss three major risk factors affiliated with Alzheimer's disease: age, gender, and genetics.
Macaluso penned “The Biological Basis for Alzheimer's Disease” as her term paper for Human Development-Aging 117 (Longevity) in the fall of 2019. “The purpose of this assignment was to utilize the library databases for research, improve both my writing and editing skills, and broaden my understanding of longevity with a topic of my choice," she wrote in her Norma J. Lang Prize application. "Moreover, this research paper served to expand my communication skills and bolster my intellectual confidence. A key requirement for this paper was to use at least ten sources, seven of which needed to be primary sources such as a research article or a review paper. Initially, I was quite daunted by the prospect of this assignment because I had only modest experience reading research papers or using the online library databases. I distinctly recall reading about this assignment on the syllabus and questioning if I was capable of such an onerous task. To my surprise, by the end of this quarter and after countless hours exploring the online library reserves, I completed my assignment and felt confident in my ability to utilize the UC Davis library resources.”
A 2019-2020 McNair Scholar, Macaluso has worked as an undergraduate research assistant for the Dynamic Memory Lab (Charan Ranganath Lab) since 2017. She serves on the Animal Care Staff at Young Hall; as a genetics tutor for the Academic Assistance and Tutoring Centers; and as president of the America Red Cross Club at UC Davis.
The UC Davis student, a native of Santa Barbara but raised in nearby Buellton, plans to enroll in graduate school in the fall of 2021 to study cognitive neuroscience or cognitive psychology. Her career plans? "I'm thinking academia right now," she said. "I hope to finish my PhD, work as a postdoctoral fellow for a few years, and then pursue a professorship position."
Carey, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty since 1980, is considered the preeminent global authority on arthropod demography. He directed the multidisciplinary, 11-institution, 20-scientist program, “Biodemographic Determinants of Lifespan,” which garnered more than $10 million in funding from the National Institute on Aging from 2003 to 2013.
Highly honored by his peers for his teaching expertise, Carey received the Entomological Society of America's 2015 Distinguished Teaching Award; a 2018 Robert Foster Cherry Award from Baylor University, which presents international teaching awards; and the UC Davis Academic Senate's 2014 Distinguished Teaching Award, an honor given to internationally recognized professors who excel at teaching.
(Undergraduate students can apply for the annual Norma J. Lang Prize here.)
And what's the canceled 105th annual UC Davis Picnic without virtual insects?
The Department of Entomology and Nematology annually hosts dozens of insect-themed Picnic Day events at Briggs Hall and at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. But this year, the insects went virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic precautions.
The campuswide Picnic Day Committee hosted a virtual tour of some of the planned events, and posted this link: https://picnicday.ucdavis.edu/virtual/
The spotlight paused on the Bohart Museum, which houses nearly eight million insect specimens; the seventh largest insect collection in North America; the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity; and a live “petting zoo” comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and the like. It also is the home of a gift shop, stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
Directed by UC Davis entomology professor Lynn Kimsey for 30 years, the museum is named for noted entomologist Richard Bohart (1913-2007). The Bohart team includes senior museum scientist Steve Heydon; Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator; and entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths section).
If you browse the Bohart Museum site, you'll find fact sheets about insects, written by Professor Kimsey.
But if you want to see the Bohart Museum's virtual tours, be sure to watch these videos:
- Director Lynn Kimsey giving a Bohart Museum introduction
- Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, presenting an arthropod virtual tour
- Diane Ullman, professor of entomology and former chair of the department, presenting a view of the Lepidodpera section.
Also on the UC Davis Virtual Picnic Day site, you'll learn “How to Make an Insect Collection," thanks to project coordinator James R. Carey, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and "Can Plants Talk to Each Other?" a TED-Ed Talk featuring the work of ecologist Rick Karban, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Female tsetse flies carry their young in an adapted uterus for the entirety of their immature development and provide their complete nutritional requirements via the synthesis and secretion of a milk like substance," he says. PBS featured his work in its Deep Look video, “A Tsetse Fly Births One Enormous Milk-Fed Baby,” released Jan. 28, 2020. (See its accompanying news story.)
PBS also collaborated with the Attardo lab and the Chris Barker lab, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, for a PBS Deep Look video on Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue fever and Zika. The eggs are hardy; "they can dry out, but remain alive for months, waiting for a little water so they can hatch into squiggly larvae," according to the introduction. Watch the video, "This Dangerous Mosquito Lays Her Armored Eggs--in Your House."
In the meantime, the UC Davis Picnic Day leaders are gearing up for the 106th annual, set for April 17, 2021. What's a picnic without insects?
Karban is an international authority on plant communication.
“Rick's pioneering discoveries on plant communication through volatile compounds certainly merit this recognition,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
ESA, in announcing the list of 27 fellows, said that its fellowship program recognizes the many ways in which its members contribute to ecological research and discovery, communication, education and pedagogy, and management and policy.
Karban is the author of the newly published 240-page book, Plant Sensing and Communication (University of Chicago Press), considered a “landmark in its field,” said Graeme Ruxton of the University of St. Andrews, UK, co-author of Experimental Design for the Life Sciences and Plant-Animal Communication.
“Karban seeks to argue that plants behave—that they sense their environment, detect and communicate with an array of different organisms, and respond to their sense of the environment and communication,” Ruxton said. ”He is very successful in this, demonstrating that plant sensing and communication is a vibrant area of current research with still plenty more to discover.”
Karban has researched plant communication in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) on the east side of the Sierra since 1995. His groundbreaking research on plant communication among kin, published in February 2013 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, drew international attention. In that study, Karban and his co-researchers found that kin have distinct advantages when it comes to plant communication, just as “the ability of many animals to recognize kin has allowed them to evolve diverse cooperative behaviors.”
“Plants responded more effectively to volatile cues from close relatives than from distant relatives in all four experiments and communication reduced levels of leaf damage experienced over the three growing seasons,” they wrote.
Karban is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and recipient of the 1990 George Mercer Award from ESA for outstanding research. He was named an outstanding professor, ecology, at UC Davis in 1986. He has published more than 100 journal articles and now, three books.
Karban is featured in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker in Michael Pollan's piece, “The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants."
Karban received his bachelor's degree in environmental studies from Haverford (Penn.) College in 1977 and his doctorate in biology from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in 1982. He served as a lecturer at Haverford College for six months before joining the UC Davis faculty in May 1982 as an assistant professor. He advanced to associate professor in 1988 and to full professor in 1994.
Karban's former graduate student, Anurag Agrawal, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, was also elected a 2017 fellow for his “innovative contributions to community and evolutionary ecology, especially through providing conceptual advances and rigorous experimental work on plant-insect interactions.”
Agrawal received his doctorate at UC Davis in 1999.
Another UC Davis professor, John Stachowicz of the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology was elected as a 2017 fellow “for his fundamental contributions to the fields of symbiosis and mutualism, multi-trophic species interactions, biogeography, and invasion biology.”
ESA established its fellows program in 2012 with the goal of honoring its members and supporting their competitiveness and advancement to leadership positions in the Society, at their institutions, and in broader society, said spokesperson Lisa Lester.
(The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world's largest community of professional ecologists, and committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society's Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.)