- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Five candidates will present seminars in Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus, for the two U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) honey bee positions open at the USDA facility, located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Paul Pratt, the selection committee chair, is the research leader for the Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center of the Agricultural Research Service, USDA, in Albany, Calif.
Seminars will be presented in 122 Briggs from 10 to 11 a.m. followed by a group faculty meeting (UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) in Briggs 366 from 1:30-2:15 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 11:
Natalie Boyle: “Promoting Pollinator Health and Safety in Agroecosystems”
Wednesday, Dec. 12
Michael Smith: "How Does a Bee Detect her Colony's Size?”
Thursday, Dec. 13:
Julia Fine: "Inside the Brood Box: Using Novel Methods in the Study of Honey Bee Reproduction”
Friday, Dec. 14:
Arathi Seshadri: “The Role of Behavioral and Nutritional Factors in Honeybee Health”
Monday, Dec. 17:
Clint Otto: "From Landscapes to Flowers: Understanding Forage in America's Last Beekeeping Refuge”
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
You could, but you wouldn't.
O'Donnell, a noted USDA thrips expert and educator with three degrees from the University of California, Davis, knows well those tiny insects that cause billions worth of damage annually to U.S. agricultural crops. She's studied thrips for 18 years and worked on thrips programs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the last seven years.
Today O'Donnell continues to target thrips in her new position with the USDA. As of April 6, she is the National Thysanoptera Taxonomist with the National Identification Services (NIS) at the Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL) in Beltsville, MD.
Specifically, her position is with the National Identification Services (NIS) of the Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) or what USDA officials refer to as "APHIS PPQ NIS." The Thysanoptera collection of the Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL) is housed with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
“I love my work,” she said, “and I love my favorite insect, thrips.”
"Cheryle is a tremendously talented biologist and she holds a real fascination for thrips, their classification, host relationships and biology," said former major professor Diane Ullman, professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. "She will do a fantastic job in this position, which will be important to the global community studying thrips and trying to develop management strategies."
The Beltsville position, last held in 1999 by mentor Sueo Nakahara, will involve working for National Identification Services in the Agricultural Research Station and with the National Museum of Natural History Thysanoptera collection.
Thrips, barely visible to the naked eye, heavily damage fruits, vegetable and horticultural crops, so much so that they can—and do--pose a biosecurity threat. In 1996, Cuba's Fidel Castro accused the United States of aerially releasing Thrips palmi over potato fields.
“Of the more than 5000 species of thrips known in the world, some are serious pests, and some are beneficial as pollinators and predators,” O'Donnell said. “Some thrips transmit plant diseases, such as the tomato spotted wilt virus and the Impatients necrotic spot viruses.”
“To monitor agricultural crops effectively, it's important to be able to identify them, but it's difficult to do so without understanding thrips taxonomy and identification,” O'Donnell said. “Thrips are so small—one millimeter long or less--that they're like a speck. Inspectors see larvae, eggs and adults on plant material coming in. It's difficult to separate species at the life stage of eggs, larvae and adult males.”
O'Donnell recalled that her first position with USDA was as an area identifier of thrips. “It encompassed the identification of pests intercepted in cargo and baggage from origins around the world,” she said. “ My first assignment was at the Plant Inspection Station in Nogales, Ariz., one of the largest Mexican produce importing ports. I then transferred to Florida to the Miami Plant Inspection Station where the majority of cut flowers enter into the U.S. from Central and South America.“ She also saw temporary duty in Blaine, Wash., as an identifier and then transferred to the Plant Inspection Station in San Diego.
"In Miami, thrips larvae are intercepted regularly on cut flowers coming into the U.S. from south and Central America," O'Donnell said. "We did not have the tools to separate the quarantine significant thrips from those that are not of concern at the larval stage. My suspicion has been that there were a handful of thrips species of concern whereas the majority were not. The PPQ agency developed a pilot program to conduct molecular pilot program in Miami which may lead to a policy change in how we make quarantine decisions regarding the larvae intercepted. I have been the coordinator of this pilot program."
"There were several thrips species coming in from Mexico listed as quarantine significant that I knew to be found within the U.S. and those species have been removed from the quarantine status."
O'Donnell published “job aids” on the USDA website that include multilevel and gender identification, plus digital imaging. Over the last decade, she has organized and conducted thrips workshops, produced videos, and published research. She edited a monthly Pest Interception Report and co-edited the Looking Glass quarterly journal on activities at plant inspection stations. She also conducted outreach sessions at schools, universities and trade shows.
Learning about thrips came naturally. "I follow in the footsteps of my great uncles and my father," O'Donnell related. "My uncle, Richard Clemens, worked for CDFA at the port of Los Angeles and at the ferry building in San Francisco. My uncle, Michael Clemens, worked with CDFA in Smith River and Winterhaven, CA. Both were looking for agricultural pests of quarantine significance. Last year in San Diego when I was cleaning out some older documents at the plant inspection station, I found a request and a few letters (1940s) from my uncle Richard Clemens asking the area identifier in San Diego at the time for information on new pests he found in California. It's a small world!"
O'Donnell arrived at UC Davis in the mid-1990s as a single mom raising a young daughter. A former employee of an electronic manufacturing business, she enrolled at UC Davis to study ornamental horticulture. At the same time she managed a landscaping business.
“There were many times I was doubtful that I could continue to meet the demands of my chosen field,” O'Donnell said, crediting her family, friends and UC Davis scientists with offering her the support she needed to complete her education.
“When I began my education at UC Davis I chose Agricultural Systems and the Environment as my major. However, while working on my bachelor's degree I became infatuated with insects and their interaction with plants,” she said, which led to her endearing nickname, “The Bug Lady.”
“I continued my academic career in entomology and have never regretted that decision. I was privileged to study under the guidance of Professors Michael Parrella and Diane Ullman.” They, along with Professors Jay Rosenheim, Lynn Kimsey and Penny Gullan “became not only my instructors, guidance counselors, but also my mentors throughout my years at UC Davis.”
Parrella and O'Donnell collaborated with Moritz, (University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany) on a grant to produce a molecular and morphological identification key, now available online.
An avid entomologist with a passion for soft spot for thrips—“my favorite insect!”--O'Donnell takes every opportunity to discuss the insect order, Thysanoptera, and train others to identify them. She provides training tools and workshops to assist with identification and curation of thrips.
In addition to her doctorate, O'Donnell holds two other degrees from UC Davis: a bachelor's in agricultural systems and the environment (1997) and a master's degree in plant protection and pest management (2000). Her master's thesis: “The Biology and Identification of Selected North American Thysanoptera Associated with Ornamental Plants.” Her dissertation covered “Color Morphology of the Western flower thrips in California and virus-vector relationships of members in the Terebrantia: Thysanoptera (a molecular and morphological analysis).” She praised her advisors, Penny Gullan, insect systematics; Diane Ullman, virus vectors; Steve Nadler, molecular phylogeny; and Parrella, integrated pest management.
While at UC Davis, O'Donnell organized and conducted a three-day thrips workshop funded by a biosecurity grant from USDA. It drew a capacity crowd.
The UC Davis-product encourages students to follow their dreams. “Focus on your goals, never deviate from those goals, and never allow obstacles to get in the way,” she advises. It is a difficult and challenging path you have chosen but it will be worth all the hard work. The UC Davis community, the ‘village' which supports you, is an experience you will never forget and the payoff will be great throughout your life.”