The Multistate Research Fund supports agricultural innovation and sustainability by providing federal funds to collaborative research projects led by State Agricultural Experiment Stations and land-grant universities. These projects bring together scientists, Extension educators, and other university, federal, and industry partners to tackle high-priority regional or national issues in agriculture, a spokesman said.
Under the category, “Researchers studied chemical cues that mediate interactions among plants, pests, and predators,” UC Davis (Karban) is credited with identifying “the sagebrush cues that trigger resistance against chewing herbivores” and also finding that “plant cue effectiveness is affected by the geographic proximity of the source of the cue.”
Under the category, “Researchers used chemical ecology to protect pollinators from pesticides and disease,” UC Davis (Vannette) is credited with identifying “floral chemistry traits and microbial communities that affect the patterns or preferences of hummingbirds, honey bees, and carpenter bees.”
Professor Karban, an international authority on plant communication, is the author of the landmark book, Plant Sensing and Communication (University of Chicago Press).
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.”
Karban is a fellow of Ecological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Michael Pollan featured him in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker: “The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants."
Vannette, an assistant professor who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2015 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's biology department, seeks to unlock the mysteries of flower microbes: how do plants protect against them, and can bees benefit from them?
The Vannette lab is a team of entomologists, microbiologists, chemical ecologists, and community ecologists trying to understand how microbial communities affect plants and insects (sometimes other organisms too). “We often study microbial communities in flowers, on insects or in soil,” according to her website. “We rely on natural history observations, and use techniques from chemical ecology, microbial ecology and community ecology. In some cases, we study applied problems with an immediate application including pathogen control or how to support pollinators. Other questions may not have an immediate application but are nonetheless grounded in theory and will contribute to basic knowledge and conservation (e.g. how can dispersal differences among organisms affect patterns of abundance or biodiversity?).
All plants are colonized by microorganisms that influence plant traits and interactions with other species, including insects that consume or pollinate plants, Vannette explains. “I am interested in the basic and applied aspects of microbial contributions to the interaction between plants and insects. I also use these systems to answer basic ecological questions, such as what mechanisms influence plant biodiversity and trait evolution.”
“Much of the work in my lab focuses on how microorganisms affect plant defense against herbivores and plant attraction to pollinators. For example, we are interested in understanding the microbial drivers of soil health, which can influence plant attractiveness to herbivores and the plant's ability to tolerate or defend against damage by herbivores. In addition, we are working to examine how microorganisms modify flower attractiveness to pollinators. This may have relevance in agricultural systems to improve plant and pollinator health.”
Vannette, who holds a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology (2011) from the University of Michigan, was selected a UC Davis Hellman Fellow in 2018.
Her recent research grants include two from the National Science Federation (NSF). One is a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award, titled “Nectar Chemistry and Ecological and Evolutionary Tradeoffs in Plant Adaptation to Microbes and Pollinators.” The other is a three-year collaborative grant, “The Brood Cell Microbiome of Solitary Bees: Origin, Diversity, Function, and Vulnerability.”
The virtual seminar is set for 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 9 and will be hosted by Professor Richard "Rick" Karban of the Department of Entomology and Nematology. To attend, access this form for the direct link.
"As sessile organisms, plants have to adjust their metabolism to ever-changing environmental conditions in order to stay in place and successfully reproduce," Kessler says in his abstract. "Thereby plants orchestrate interactions with other organisms (e.g. other plants, herbivores, pathogens, predators etc.) by providing cues or signals to whoever can read them. The seemingly universal language used to manipulate those interactions is chemical. This presentation reviews some of the Kessler Lab research on the ecological functionality and environmental context-dependency of chemical information transfer in the charismatic Northeastern goldenrod plants, Solidago altissima."
As a chemical ecologist, his research focuses on the mechanisms, ecological consequences and the evolution of plant induced responses to herbivore damage.
"Moreover, we put a particular emphasis on studying the ecological functions and evolution of plant metabolic responses and chemical information transfer in the plants' native habitats. With more recent projects my group tries to apply some of the chemical ecology principles found in native systems to control insect pests in agricultural systems. My research includes a number of different study systems in New York, Utah, Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia and Kenya."
Professor Kessler received his master's degree from the University of Würzbug, Germany, where he studied ecology, genetics and geobotany. He earned his doctorate from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology and University of Jena, Germany.
Cooperative Extension specialist Ian Grettenberg, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is coordinating the seminars. For any technical issues, contact Grettenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Generations of Insect Attacks Drive Plants to 'Talk' Publicly (The Scientist, March 1, 2020)
- Plants Use a Common 'Language' for Emergency Alerts (Cornell Chronicle, Oct. 2, 2019)
The seminar takes place from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 28. Access this site for the Zoom link. Host is Cooperative Extension specialist and agricultural entomologist Ian Grettenberger, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He is coordinating the department's fall seminars.
"The research in our lab focuses on understanding how chemical compounds mediate interactions among microbes, plants, herbivores, and herbivore natural enemies," Helms says. "We combine analytical chemistry and behavioral ecology in laboratory and field-based research to investigate how organisms use chemistry to navigate, communicate, and defend themselves. This seminar will discuss some of our ongoing projects examining how plants and insect herbivores use chemical information from their environment to assess their risk of attack and how herbivore natural enemies use such information to find potential prey."
Helms, an assistant professor, holds two degrees from Pepperdine University, Malibu, Calif., both awarded in 2009: a bachelor of science degree in biology and a bachelor of arts degree in biochemistry. She received her doctorate in ecology in 2015 from The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Penn. While in the John Tooker lab, Helms studied the chemical ecology of plant-insect interactions, especially how plants defend themselves against insect herbivores. She investigated how plants use olfactory cues to predict impeding herbivore attacks and the molecular mechanisms involved.
In addition to the general field of chemical ecology, Helms' research interests include plant-insect interactions, tritrophic interactions, belowground chemical ecology, chemical communication, and plant defense.
Her most recent publications:
Helms, A.M., Ray, S., Matulis, N.L.*, Kuzemchak, M.C.*, Grisales, W.*, Tooker, J.F., Ali, J.G. Chemical cues linked to risk: Cues from belowground natural enemies enhance plant defences and influence herbivore behaviour and performance. Functional Ecology. 33, 798-808 (2019). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.13297
Acevedo, F.E., Smith, P., Peiffer, M., Helms, A.M., Tooker, J.T., Felton, G.W. Phytohormones in fall armyworm saliva modulate defense responses in plants. Journal of Chemical Ecology. (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-019-01079-z
Yip, E.C., Sowers, R.P.*, Helms, A.M., Mescher, M.C., De Moraes, C.M., Tooker, J.F. Tradeoffs between defenses against herbivores in goldenrod (Solidago altissima). Arthropod-Plant Interactions. 13, 279-287 (2019). DOI: 10.1007/s11829-019-09674-3
For any technical issues regarding the seminar, contact Grettenberger at email@example.com.
The special forum, set from noon to 1 p.m. in Room 194 of Young Hall, is a new addition to Biodiversity Museum Day, a 9 a.m.-to 4 p.m. event showcasing 13 museums or collections. The event is free and family friendly.
The slate of speakers:
- Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, will discuss “Are Our Butterflies in Trouble?” (“Yes, they mostly are in trouble,” he says. He will discuss “How do we know and why?”)
- Gabrielle Nevitt, professor of animal behavior (on leave), will speak on “How Do Sub-Antarctic Seabirds Find their Food in the Vast Ocean?” (“They follow their nose," she says, "and sometimes it gets them into trouble.”)
- Melanie Truan, research ecologist, UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, will cover “Biodiversity Studies at the UC Davis Wildlife Museum.” Biodiversity studies, she says, “can tell us a lot about the world and how it is functioning. This is especially important today where the influence of Homo sapiens is having profound impacts on the planet and its inhabitants.” She will touch on some of the ways that the UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology incorporates biodiversity into its research.
Prominent lepidopterist Art Shapiro, in his 49th year of service to UC Davis, joined the UC Davis faculty in 1971, first working in the former Department of Zoology. He has been monitoring California butterfly faunas since 1972. (See his website.) Shapiro is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the California Academy of Sciences, the Royal Entomological Society (U.K.) and the Explorers Club. Shapiro has authored some 300 scientific publications and the book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions. He has mentored 17 doctoral students and a similar number of master's students. Shapiro received his bachelor of arts degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966 and his doctorate in entomology from Cornell in 1970.
Gabrielle Nevitt, a 25-year member of the UC Davis faculty, is a leader in the field of chemical ecology. She is known for her pioneering work in the sub-Antarctic that established a climate regulator, dimethyl sulphide, as a keystone foraging cue in marine ecosystems.
Her research frequently appears in leading scientific journals, including Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and has been featured in many documentaries, including David Attenborough's “Life of Birds.” She is spotlighted in a popular Audubon piece, "Birds Can Smell, and One Scientist is Leading the Charge to Prove It."
Nevitt has served as a contributing lecturer in the International Course on Sensory Ecology at Lund University in Sweden since 2008 and was the first woman ever to chair the Scientific Advisory Board for the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology in Germany.
A graduate of Stanford University, Nevitt received her doctorate in zoology from the University of Washington, and served as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University. She has mentored some 60 undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral scholars in her lab, as well as serving in advisory roles to graduate students at other institutions.
Melanie Truan, 16 years in her current position, received her doctorate in ecology in 2004 from UC Davis, studying the plants and animals of Putah Creek and laying the groundwork for a long-term research program that continues today. She is particularly interested in the art of eco-investigation, “a sort of detective work that employs in-depth observation and species monitoring to infer the structure and function of ecosystems, the results of which can be used to devise habitat reconciliation strategies and management objectives.” She holds a bachelor's degree in biology/environmental studies (1996) from UC Santa Cruz.
Truan says she is a self-professed "biophiliac" (E. O. Wilson 1984), bearing a strong urge to affiliate with other forms of life.
UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day
The ninth annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, an annual science-based event, is billed as a “free, educational event for the community where visitors get to meet and talk with UC Davis scientists from undergraduate students to staff to emeritus professors and see amazing objects and organisms from the world around us,” according to Biodiversity Museum Day coordinator Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Last year's event drew more than 4000 visitors. The event is always held the Saturday of Presidents' Day weekend.
The schedule is online at http://biodiversitymuseumday.ucdavis.edu/schedule.html.
Participating museums or collections and the hours they will be open:
- The Botanical Conservatory, the Greenhouses along Kleiber Hall Drive, will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The following five will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.:
- Arboretum and Public Garden, Shields Oak Grove, alongside the Vet School, Garrod Drive on campus
- Bohart Museum of Entomology, Room 1124 and Main Hall of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane
- California Raptor Center, 340 Equine Lane, off Old Davis Road
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Room 1394 and Mail Hall, Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane
- Paleontology Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building, 434 LaRue Road
Two collections will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.:
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, 392 Old Davis Road, on campus
- Viticulture and Enology Culture Collection, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, 392 Old Davis Road, on campus
These four will be open from noon to 4 p.m.:
- Anthropology Museum, 328 Young Hall and grounds
- Center for Plant Diversity, Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Bee Biology Road, off Hopkins Road (take West Hutchison Drive to Hopkins)
- Nematode Collection, Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive
- Marine Invertebrate Collection, Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive
All 13 sites are within walking distance except for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road and the Raptor Center on Old Davis Road. Further information, including a campus map, is available on the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day website.
When UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal delivered the Founders' Memorial Lecture at the recent Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in St. Louis, Mo., he repeatedly asked that question as he honored the legendary Tom Eisner (1929-2011), known as “the father of chemical ecology” and “the world's best scientist.”
Speaking on “Tom Eisner: an Incorrigible Entomophile and Innovator Par Excellence,” Leal, a distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, chronicled Eisner's rejections, acceptances and accomplishments. His lecture drew smiles, laughter and tears and a live tweet from former ESA president May Berenbaum: “Brilliant Founders' Memorial Lecture by Walter Leal honoring the legendary Tom Eisner! Informative, inspiring, insightful – incredible!”
Leal, a chemical ecologist whose own exemplary career spans three decades and includes major discoveries and national and international honors, said he built his career on Eisner's work.
Tom, born to chemist Hans Eisner and artist Margarete Heil-Eisner, fled Nazi Germany in April 1933 with his family and lived in Spain and Uruguay before settling in the United States in 1947. Insects always fascinated him. At age 11, Tom's mother sketched him pinning insects, an inkling of what was to come. On his 12th birthday, his parents gave him a book on butterflies, his first insect book. He would become a world-renowned field biologist whose discoveries repeatedly landed on the covers of Science. He would receive the National Medical of Science (1994). His research on the defensive bombardier beetle spray and his nine books, including For Love of Insects and Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions and Many Other Legged Creatures, would drew international acclaim.
At age 17, Tom emerged as a budding scientist, accomplished pianist, and multilingual in German, French, Spanish, and English. He worked with bee biologist Charles Michener of the American Museum of Natural History, who encouraged him to study entomology. But when Tom applied to Cornell University, hoping to begin his undergraduate studies, he received a crushing rejection letter.
Leal showcased the letter on his PowerPoint presentation, paused for effect, and then quipped “OK, boomer!” as the audience roared.
Leal compared the rejection to what basketball legend Michael Jordan experienced in failing to gain a spot on his high school team. “Michael Jordan was the Tom Eisner of NBA,” Leal told the crowd.
Determined to succeed, Tom went on to attend community college, and obtain his bachelor's degree (1951) and his doctorate (1955) in biology from Harvard. In 1952, he married Maria Löbell, an accomplished scientist and pianist (they played duets on their Steinway pianos). They were wed 58 years. The marriage produced three daughters.
Ironically, 10 years after Cornell officials sent him the “Dear Tom” letter, they hired him as an assistant professor. He advanced to associate professor in 1962, full professor in 1966, and then the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Chemical Ecology in 1976. He retired in 2006 but worked many years past retirement. All the while, Eisner kept Cornell's rejection letter prominently displayed on his office wall.
Eisner was not only a renowned scientist and an accomplished classical pianist but a masterful photographer and videographer known for capturing the images of the explosive defensive discharge of the bombardier beetle.
Eisner and his close friend and collaborator Cornell chemical professor Jerry Meinwald (1927-2018), made music and science discoveries together. Photos show Eisner playing the piano, and Meinwald, the flute. And together, Leal related, “The Tom and Jerry of the Scientific World” co-authored more than 150 papers.
Laughter erupted when Leal pointed out that for many academicians, the student online commentary, “Rate My Professor” often turns out to be “Hate My Professor.”
But not for Tom Eisner. Typical of the unsolicited student comments: “This guy is a living legend. He has over 500 published papers, and has been the pioneer for the field of chemical ecology His story-telling is fantastic, and all of the stuff he talks about is just so interesting. One of my favorite professors that I have ever had, I stand in awe of his accomplishment as a researcher and a teacher.”
Where is Tom's entomology kit? Does anybody know?
Leal said that Eisner carried his burlap kit in the field for decades, performing insect research on four continents and producing important discoveries. It contained collecting jars, tweezers, toothpicks, dissecting tools and entomology books. Using the kit, he dissected insects, milked venom, and analyzed the results.
With suspense building, Leal finally revealed the whereabouts of the kit.
Who inherited the kit? A 14-year-old bug enthusiast named Katherine Angier, daughter of celebrated New York Times writer Natalie Angier. Eisner also gifted her with his first insect book.
Eisner, who met Katherine at age 5, marveled at her childhood fascination with insects, similar to his perpetual childlike wonder of insects. They kept in touch for a decade.
“She has now graduated from Princeton summa cum laude in biology,” Leal told the crowd, “and she's here in the audience.”
Tears flowed as Angier walked on stage shouldering Eisner's familiar burlap bag, lettered simply with “Tom Eisner.”
The renowned scientist and the inquisitive kindergartner connected. “We went to his house in Ithaca and we just wandered around a field looking for bugs together. And even my kindergartner brain knew it was something I would never forget.”
So for the next decade, young Katherine would write him letters “describing cool bugs that I would see and their behaviors and he was always so encouraging with his replies. He even sent me a dissecting scope that I could use to examine them.”
“Eventually I couldn't read his replies because his Parkinson's disease--it was getting worse. And when I was 14, he did send me this kit, which at first I was really happy about because it had all these really cool things in it, but then when he died (at age 81) shortly thereafter, I realized it was kind of a goodbye kit.”
During her senior year in college, “I started this senior thesis research on an ant plant mutualism in Panama and I decided it was time (to use the kit),” Angier said. “I felt like I was finally going to join the world of entomologists so I brought it with me and I thought it was kind of a good-luck charm.”
“So thank you, Tom, for being there with me and I just want to say that I hope he'd be proud that I (evolved) from a kid hardly able to pronounce the word entomology to now applying for a PhD.”
The thundering applause drowned out the rest of the comments.
The seminar culminated with Leal donating his $1000 honorarium to the ESA Chrysalis Fund, which supports and enhances insect education for kindergarten-12th grade students.
Accolades on the memorable lecture continue to stream in.
Cornell alumnus May Berenbaum, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois, and a close friend of Eisner's, recommends that all entomology students watch Leal's seminar. (See her biography on Eisner).
Doctoral candidate and ant specialist Brendon Boudinot of the UC Davis Department of Entomology agrees. “Honestly, I didn't know what to expect for Walter's talk. It was a really personal and emphatic portrait of Thomas Eisner. I've known Eisner's work even before I knew I was going to be an entomologist—in fact, upon reading his book For Love of Insects, I knew that entomology was a direction I should go. Walter's talk walked the audience through Eisner's early life and included numerous video clips of researchers relating their experiences and thoughts about him. The whole talk was engaging, but it is true: We, the audience, were in physical tears for the sadness of his loss. Because there is a recording, I can only recommend watching that. Again, I didn't know what to expect, but I was very glad I came. It was one of the most remarkable talks I have ever been to.”
Noted chemical ecologist Wendell Roelofs of Cornell University, who watched the seminar on YouTube, described the lecture as “so fantastic and compelling that I could not turn it off.”
Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research at Pennsylvania State University, commented: “This was a truly amazing and inspiring lecture, which gave a wonderfully holistic view of how Eisner's personal and professional experiences, love of insects, and intense curiosity lead to such remarkable achievements. The videos from diverse entomologists sharing their personal memories of Eisner eloquently captured his profound influence on the community and the field of chemical ecology."
Chemical ecologist Anne Jones of Pennsylvania State University said she particularly “enjoyed all the video clips of so many other important chemical ecologists (some of whom I've had the honor to meet) sharing their memories and stories about Dr. Eisner. It was very special to hear from and meet Katherine Angier as well.”
Jones added: “I grew up hearing about his and Jerry Meinwald's collaborations and discoveries (my dad is Tappey Jones) and read Dr. Eisner's book, For Love of Insects, when it was published…I know that my career path has very much been shaped by the research and inspiration by all of you who were so integral as pioneers in that field.”
One of the videos depicts an interview with honey bee geneticist Robert Page Jr., UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology and Arizona State University emeritus university provost.
Page recalled that as a graduate student at UC Davis, he remembered reading Eisner's papers in Science. “I was always waiting for the next great exciting discovery he would do with all the intricate clever stories.”
- Walter Leal's Founder's Memorial Lecture on YouTube
- Paths of Discovery, Lighted by a Bug Man's Insights, by Natalie Angier, New York Times
- May Berenbaum's Biography of Tom Eisner