Two UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members are now full professors, and a third faculty member has achieved tenure as associate professor.
Molecular geneticist and physiologist Joanna Chiu, vice chair of the department, and community ecologist Louie Yang were promoted from associate professors to professors, effective July 1. Community ecologist Rachel Vannette was promoted from assistant professor to associate professor.
Professor Chiu joined the Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2010 as an assistant professor and advanced to associate professor and vice chair in 2016. She received her bachelor's degree in biology and music from Mount Holyoke College, Mass., and her doctorate in molecular genetics in 2004 from New York University, New York. She served as a postdoctoral fellow from 2004 to 2010 in chronobiology (biological rhythms and internal clocks)--molecular genetics and biochemistry--at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Chiu's research expertise includes molecular genetics of biological timing and posttranslational regulation of proteins. She uses animal models including Drosophila melanogaster and mice to study the mechanisms that regulate circadian and seasonal physiology and behavior. Major grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation fund her biological rhythms research. In addition to her research in biological rhythms, Chiu also aims to leverage her expertise in genomics to address key issues in global food security.
In 2019, she was named one of 10 UC Davis Chancellor's Fellows, an honor awarded to associate professors who excel in research and teaching.
Chiu and Yang co-founded and co-direct (with Professor Jay Rosenheim) the campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, launched in 2011 to provide undergraduates with a closely mentored research experience in biology. The program crosses numerous biological fields, including population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; entomology; and cell biology. The goal is to provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research.
Professor Yang, who holds a bachelor's degree (ecology and evolution) from Cornell University, 1999, received his doctorate from UC Davis in 2006, and joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009. In 2013, he received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award of $600,000. He was named a UC Davis Hellman Fellow in 2012; the Hellman Family Foundation contributes funds to support and encourage the research of promising assistant professors who exhibit potential for great distinction in their research. He was promoted to associate professor in 2015.
Yang won the 2018 Outstanding Faculty Academic Advising Award from NACADA, also known as the Global Community for Academic Advising; and the 2017 Faculty Advisor Award of Excellence in NACADA's Pacific Region 9, comprised of California, Nevada and Hawaii.
Yang says of the research underway in his lab: “We study how species interactions change over time. We apply a diversity of approaches and perspectives to a diversity of systems and questions. We do experimental community ecology. We also use observational methods, meta-analysis, conceptual synthesis, ecosystem perspectives, and theoretical models. We like data, and we like learning new things.”
Associate Professor Vannette joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2015 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's biology department, where she was a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow from 2011 to 2015 and examined the role of nectar chemistry in community assembly of yeasts and plant-pollinator interactions.
Vannette received her bachelor of science degree, summa cum laude, in 2006 from Calvin College, Grand Rapids,Mich., and her doctorate from the University of Michigan's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Ann Arbor, in 2011. She received a Hellman Fellowship grant in 2018 and a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award in 2019 to study microbial communities in flowers and a National Science Foundation grant to support work on solitary bee microbiomes.
Of her research, Vannette says: “ All plants are colonized by microorganisms that influence plant traits and interactions with other species, including insects that consume or pollinate plants. 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.”
“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),” she says. “We often study microbial communities in flowers, on insects or in soil. 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?)”
A UC Davis communications specialist who creates habitat for monarch butterflies in her family's pollinator garden, won a silver award or second-place honors, in a photography competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE). ACE announced the award June 22 at its virtual conference.
Kathy Keatley Garvey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology captured the image of a monarch egg with a Canon MPE-65mm lens.
“The purpose of my image is to draw attention to the dwindling monarch butterfly population,” Garvey wrote. “They are on life support.” The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation's reports that overwintering monarchs have declined 99 percent in coastal California since the 1990s.
Garvey posted the image at https://bit.ly/3cUx358 Aug. 10, 2020 on her daily (Monday-Friday) Bug Squad blog on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website.
Wrote the judge: “Capturing a subject this small is really quite impressive. I appreciate the photographer sharing their equipment and process to capture this image of such a delicate and beautiful little butterfly egg. Very well done.”
The image scored 25 out of 25 points in creativity/originality, audience interest/impact, and overall evaluation.
In her contest entry, Garvey described the egg “as an incredible work of nature! The intricate egg is about the size of a pinhead, 0.9mm wide and 1.2mm high. It's creamy yellow with narrow longitudinal ridge. Unless it encounters a predator or parasitoid or another life-threatening factor, the egg will usually hatch 3 to 4 days after Mama Monarch deposits it beneath a milkweed leaf.”
“A good place to see butterfly specimens from all over the world is at the Bohart Museum of Entomology (now temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic)," Garvey wrote. “Of the nearly eight million specimens in the Bohart, some 500,000 are in the Lepidoptera collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith.“ She also drew attention to the butterfly-rearing process of Bohart associate and natural historian Greg Kareofelas.
In addition to the silver award, the UC Davis communicator won a bronze award or third-place honors for her photo series of male and female Gulf Fritillaries, Agraulis vanillae, “keeping busy.” Her post, “Fifty Shades of Orange, with a Touch of Silver,” appeared July 13, 2020 on her Bug Squad blog at https://bit.ly/2Q6cU3q.
Wrote the judge: “This submission was a delight! I adored the written piece that accompanied the photos, describing the insect wedding during COVID times. To take notice of these delicate creatures, which many people just pass by without noticing, and to document them in photos is unique…. When photographing subjects of this size, the tack-sharp focus which captures the details that our eyes cannot normally see is what makes them so captivating. It's also incredibly difficult to capture--the photographer did a lovely job.”
“So there they were," Garvey wrote. "The two of them. The blushing bride and the quite dapper-and-dashing groom. They didn't invite me to their wedding. I was an uninvited guest, the only guest. So, I felt obliged to crash their wedding and capture some images…Who can resist insect wedding photography? That's about the only wedding photography happening during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Garvey also drew her readers to the research website of butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, and his information on A. vanillae (see https://bit.ly/3uw9Yf1), and to specific work of insects “keeping busy” (see https://bit.ly/3rVU1xg) by UC Davis alumnus and renowned macro photographer Alex Wild, curator of entomology at the University of Texas, Austin.
ACE, founded in 1913 primarily for ag communicators, is now an international association of professionals who practice in all areas of communication.
(Editor's Note: Last year three UC Davis-affiliated communication specialists won a total of six writing or photography awards in the ACE global competition for work accomplished in 2019 (pre-COVID pandemic). Steve Elliott, communications coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center,Davis, won one silver (second-place) and two bronze (third-place) for his writing and photography; Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, two silvers for her writing and photography; and Diane Nelson, communication specialist for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, won a bronze for her writing.)
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the Bohart Museum of Entomology will be participating in the virtual 107th annual UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 17, a traditional event being held untraditionally this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The entomological events will include cockroach racing and a series of talks. Among them: Bohart Museum associate and natural historian Greg Kareofelas will present a pre-recorded video on Gulf Fritillary butterflies and entomologist Jeff Smith, the Bohart's volunteer curator of the Lepidoptera collection, will deliver a live Zoom talk on butterfly and moth mimicry from 1 to 2 p.m.
Said Smith: "For my presentation on mimicry within Lepidoptera, it will briefly mention camouflage and spend most of the time on mimicry for defense-- mimics of toxic or distasteful species, mimicry using odors or sounds, mimics of snakes or spiders, and mimics of non-food materials such as bird feces."
More events--and the schedule--are pending.
The Bohart Museum, temporarily closed, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. Directed by Professor Lynn Kimsey, the Bohart Museum includes nearly eight million insect specimens, a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas) and an online gift shop stocked with insect-themed t-shirts, jewelry, hoodies, books, posters and more.
Discovering Silver Linings
This year's theme is “Discovering Silver Linings.” Despite all that has happened this year, the UC Davis community has continued to find silver linings everywhere, the Picnic Day officials reported on their website. "Our campus always strives to inspire hope and works towards a better and brighter tomorrow."
Last year's in-person events also were canceled and some virtual events took place.
"This long-standing campus tradition began in 1909 when the University Farm invited the surrounding community to view their new dairy barn. Two thousand visitors attended, bringing picnics to complement the coffee, cream, and sugar provided by the University. Following the success of the 1909 picnic, the faculty of the University Farm continued to plan and sponsor the event until a student committee took over the task in 1912. Through the years of Picnic Day history, the event has only been canceled five times. In 1924, an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease among the cowherds caused the first cancellation. In 1938, delayed construction of the gymnasium, which was needed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of participants, led to a second cancellation. During World War II, the Army Signal Corps controlled the campus, and Picnic Day disappeared from 1943 to 1945. Since 1946, Picnic Day has been growing strong and now boasts an annual attendance of more than 70,000 people. This year, there will be more than 200 events on campus and an estimated 75,000 visitors attending this special event. Since 1959, the parade was extended to include downtown Davis to celebrate the fact that Davis became a separate UC campus and not just the Farm School for UC Berkeley."
Newly published UC Davis research analyzing modern-day and museum collections of monarch butterflies over a 200-year period indicates that the loss of migration and range expansion leads to smaller and shorter wings.
The research, “Two Centuries of Monarch Butterfly Collections Reveal Contrasting Effects of Range Expansion and Migration Loss on Wing Traits,” appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We measured the wings of 6,000 museum specimens of monarch butterflies collected from 1856 to the present, as well as contemporary wild-caught monarchs from around the world,” said lead author Micah Freedman, a former UC Davis doctoral candidate in population biology and now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago.
“The major implications of the research,” Freedman said, “are that it shows (1) loss of migration can affect the evolution of monarch butterflies over contemporary time scales--dozens to hundreds of years; and (2) monarchs with large forewings are better-suited for long distance movement, and this likely contributed to their global expansion over the past 200 years.”
Co-Authors of PNAS Paper
Freedman works closely with noted migratory animal authority and co-author Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who received a 2014 UC Davis Edward A. Dickson Professorship Award to research “Monarchs in the Pacific: Is Contemporary Evolution Occurring on Isolated Islands?” They co-authored the research with Sharon Strauss, professor and Santiago Ramirez, associate professor, Center for Population Biology and the Department of Evolution and Ecology.
Their research documents how migration-associated traits may be favored during range expansion but disfavored when species cease seasonal migration. “Furthermore, it highlights the value of museum collections by combining historical specimens with experimental rearing to demonstrate contemporary evolution of migration-associated traits in natural monarch populations,” Freedman said.
Said Dingle: “At a time when museum collections are under pressure from a scarcity of funding, the results also show just how valuable such collections can be to evolutionary research and to the understanding of ongoing biological processes in the face of anthropogenic change.”
In their abstract, they pointed out that “migratory animals exhibit traits that allow them to exploit seasonally variable habitats. In environments where migration is no longer beneficial, such as oceanic islands, migration-association traits may be selected against or be under relaxed selection.”
“Monarch butterflies are best known for their continent-scale migration in North America but have repeatedly become established as non-migrants in the tropical Americas and on Atlantic and Pacific Islands,” they wrote. “These replicated non-migratory populations provide natural laboratories for understanding the rate of evolution of migration-associated traits.”
What They Determined
They determined (1) how wing morphology varies across the monarch's global range, (2) whether initial long-distance founders were particularly suited for migration and (3) whether recently-established non-migrants show evidence for contemporary phenotypic evolution.
Under controlled conditions in a UC Davis lab, they also reared more than 1000 monarchs from six populations around the world and measured migration-associated traits.
“Historical specimens show that initial founders are (1) well-suited for long-distance movement and (2) loss of seasonal migration is associated with reductions in forewing size and elongation,” they related. “Monarch butterflies raised in a common garden from four derived non-migratory populations exhibit genetically based reductions in forewing size, consistent with a previous study.”
Dingle said the findings “provide a compelling example of how migration-associated traits may be favored during the early stages of range expansion, and also the rate of reductions in those same traits upon loss of migration.”
Statistics show that the population of monarch butterflies in the United States has declined by 90 percent over the past 20 years.
Undergoing Contemporary Evolution
The monarch butterflies established just 200 years ago in remote Pacific Islands are undergoing contemporary evolution through differences in their wing span and other changes, Dingle said. He and Freedman studied monarchs in the Pacific Islands for a week in 2016 in a project funded by Dingle's UC Davis emeritus faculty grant, the Edward A. Dickson Professorship Award. The research involved measuring the wingspans of Guam monarchs to determine whether there has been an evolutionary decrease in size or shape due to their migration-free lifestyle on the island. They also measured the wings of monarchs in the University of Guam's museum collection.
An analysis of a monarch population in Hawaii shows that resident monarchs have shorter, broader wings than the long-distance migrants, Dingle noted. The Hawaii butterfly wings were shorter than the eastern U.S. long-distance migrants, but “not so short-winged as the residents in the Caribbean or Costa Rica, which have been present in those locations for eons, rather than the 200 years for Hawaii.”
Dingle, author of two editions of Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move (Oxford University Press), a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a past president of the Animal Behavior Society, said previous studies by various authors revealed that migrant and long-resident monarchs exhibit different wing shapes. "Thus, it was desirable to examine populations with only short residency to see if the same phenomenon was evident.”
Dingle, who served as a UC Davis entomology professor from 1982 to 2002, achieving emeritus status in 2003, has engaged in research throughout the world, including the UK, Kenya, Thailand, Panama, Germany and Australia. National Geographic featured Dingle in its cover story on “Great Migrations” in November 2010. LiveScience interviewed him for its November 2010 piece on“Why Do Animals Migrate?”
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis was among the 22 global museum collections studied. The research also included private collections and online databases. Freedman and assistant Christopher Jason reared some of the butterflies included in the PNAS paper in a UC Davis greenhouse.
The project drew funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute Program, the UC Davis Center for Population Biology, and the National Geographic Society to Freedman, as well as the Dickson Emeritus Professor Award to Dingle, a California Agricultural Experiment Station grant to Strauss, and a David and Lucille Packard Fellowship to Ramirez.
“Migratory animals exhibit traits that allow them to exploit seasonally variable habitats. In environments where migration is no longer beneficial, such as oceanic islands, migration-association traits may be selected against or be under relaxed selection. Monarch butterflies are best known for their continent-scale migration in North America but have repeatedly become established as non-migrants in the tropical Americas and on Atlantic and Pacific Islands. These replicated non-migratory populations provide natural laboratories for understanding the rate of evolution of migration-associated traits. We measured more than 6,000 museum specimens of monarch butterflies collected from 1856 to the present, as well as contemporary wild-caught monarchs from around the world. We determined (1) how wing morphology varies across the monarch's global range, (2) whether initial long-distance founders were particularly suited for migration and (3) whether recently-established non-migrants show evidence for contemporary phenotypic evolution. We further reared more than 1,000 monarchs from six populations around the world under controlled conditions and measured migration-associated traits. Historical specimens show that (1) initial founders are well-suited for long-distance movement and (2) loss of seasonal migration is associated with reductions in forewing size and elongation. Monarch butterflies raised in a common garden from four derived non-migratory populations exhibit genetically-based reductions in forewing size, consistent with a previous study. Our findings provide a compelling example of how migration-associated traits may be favored during the early stages of range expansion, and also the rate of reductions in those same traits upon loss of migration.”
As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, Freedman said he is "currently using breeding experiments and DNA sequencing trying to figure out which genes affect migratory traits and behaviors in monarchs. This includes wing traits (shapes and size) discussed in the PNAS paper.”
Community ecologist Louie Yang of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is the newly announced recipient of an international award for his outstanding academic advising activities.
Yang, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009, will receive the Outstanding Faculty Academic Advising Award from NACADA, also known as the Global Community for Academic Advising, at its Sept. 30-Oct. 3 conference in Phoenix, Ariz.
He earlier received the 2017 Faculty Advisor Award of Excellence in NACADA's Pacific Region 9, comprised of California, Nevada and Hawaii.
“Professor Yang is dedicated to helping students link their academic studies to research and other careers,” said associate dean Susan Ebeler of Undergraduate Academic Programs, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “ He has developed innovative mentoring programs that help students develop as scholars and scientists and he is committed to enhancing diversity and retention in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. He has made exemplary contributions to student success in our college and campus-wide and it is great to see his contributions recognized.”
Yang, an associate professor, teaches Insect Ecology and Field Ecology. He holds a bachelor's degree (ecology and evolution) from Cornell University, 1999 and received his doctorate from UC Davis in 2006.
He is known for fostering creative and critical thinking, and challenging his students to succeed by linking their academic studies to research and other goals.
“Professor Yang epitomizes what makes a great professor: his command of the subject matter, his ability to stimulate discussions and involvement, and his kindly concern for their education, welfare and success,” said nematologist Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “He engages and challenges students in his lectures, in the lab, and in the field and encourages them not only to expect success but to pursue their goals.”
“His mentees not only include undergraduate and graduate students, but high school students and postdoctoral scholars and beyond,” Nadler said. “He attends to the unique needs and interests of each student, respecting their perspectives and ideas. Mentorship, he finds, is really about helping students identify the questions that they want to ask. His success is their success."
An important part of his advising is his work in the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), a campuswide program co-founded by Jay Rosenheim, Joanna Chiu and Yang. Aware that some of the most important skills for research biologists cannot be taught in big lecture halls or even in lab courses, they set out to help students learn cutting-edge research through close mentoring relationships with faculty. The program crosses numerous biological fields, including population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; entomology; and cell biology. The goal? To provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research.
In addition to RSPIB mentoring, Yang mentors many undergraduates in his lab. He has welcomed and mentored students from UC Davis and from around the country with the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program and the UC Davis-Howard University Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Ecology and Evolution Graduate Admissions Pathways (EEGAP) program
In the past year, Yang mentored 15 undergrads in his lab in studies that included: the nonconsumptive effects on monarch development to see if parasitoid avoidance behaviors in early development have a long-term cost for monarch development; the factors that contribute to herbivory by generalist herbivores on milkweed; the effects of a recently observed plant foliar fungal pathogen on milkweed on monarch growth and development; the costs of switching milkweed species for monarch larvae; and the density dependence in larval and adult blue milkweed beetles.
Former student Allyson Earl, now a researcher in Guam, credits Yang with shaping her academic career: "I had the pleasure of working under Louie Yang for the last year of my undergraduate degree at UC Davis as one of his research assistants. I watched as he worked tirelessly with several other student assistants in the lab on personal projects focused on our study subjects, Monarch butterflies. His mentorship style in these projects was one that guided students to draw their own conclusions rather than handing them answers, leading them to ask more complex questions and develop themselves as better students and scientists. I can say with confidence, he not only nurtured my desire to study the intricacies of ecology, but also to pursue a career in this field, without his guidance and support I would not be where I am today."
Yang also launched the Monitoring Milkweed-Monarch Interactions for Learning and Conservation (MMMILC) Project in 2013 for high school students in the environmental science program at Davis Senior High School or those associated with the Center for Land-Based Learning's GreenCorps program. They monitor milkweed-monarch interactions in a project funded by the National Science Foundation. Yang and UC Davis undergraduate and graduate students serve as mentors.
Established in 1983, the NACADA Annual Awards Program for Academic Advising honors individuals and institutions making significant contributions to the improvement of academic advising within higher education. Its membership totals more than 11,000.