A familiar figure at UC Davis, he served as an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a scientific collaborator, identifying scores of insects and attending many of the Lepidopterist Society meetings there.
Plans call for dedicating the Bohart Museum's "Night at the Museum" (formerly known as "Moth Night") to him. The open house, free and open to the public, is set from 7 to 11 p.m., Saturday, July 22. The museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis, campus.
Born May 23, 1933 in Glendale, Calif., Jerry received his bachelor's degree in entomology at UC Berkeley in 1955 and his doctorate there in 1961. One of his most-read books, co-authored with Charles Hogue, is California Insects, Volume 44, published in 1980. The second edition, co-authored by Kip Will, Daniel Rubinoff and Powell was published in October, 2020. Powell and Paul Opler 1938-2023) co-authored Moths of Western America, published in 2009.
In a tribute to Powell on its website, the Essig Museum posted in part:
"In his teen years he was heavily influenced by Charles 'Harbie' Harbison, who ran the Junior Naturalist Program at the San Diego Museum of Natural History, and sparked an interest in Jerry for butterflies and moths. Seeing his potential, Harbie recommended Jerry for the Entomology program at UC Berkeley, where he received his BS in 1955 and his PhD in 1961. While climbing through the ranks of Junior Entomologist (1961-62), Assistant Entomologist (1962-67), Associate Entomologist (1967-73), Entomologist (1973-94), Lecturer in Entomology (1964-69), Associate Professor (1969-73), and Professor (1973-94) at UC Berkeley, Jerry also became Curator (1972-2018) and Director (1993-1999) of the Essig Museum of Entomology (1972-1999) and Project Leader for the California Insect Survey (1963-1999). Although he retired as Director in 1999, Jerry remained a professor of the Graduate School until 2012 and maintained an active research program in Lepidoptera life histories and systematics until 2018, advising many students along the way. (See more on Essig website.)
"Jerry's rearing program was the most extensive in the history of the study of New World Microlepidoptera," according to the Essig post. "For over 50 years he and his students processed more than 15,000 collections of larval or live adult Lepidoptera. Resulting data encompass more than 1,000 species of moths, through rearing either field-collected larvae or those emerging from eggs deposited by females in confinement. This total includes more than 60% of an estimated 1,500 species of Microlepidoptera occurring in California."
Powell gained international recognition when he detected the agricultural pest, the light brown apple moth, Epiphyas postvittana, in a ultralight (UV) trap on July 19, 2006 in his backyard in Berkeley.
"Yet Powell's casual discovery that morning was just the beginning of something more serious: a moth infestation, a quarantine program and an all-out effort by state and federal authorities to stop a nasty creature that they concluded could threaten California's $38 billion agricultural market and--if unchecked--farms across the nation," wrote San Francisco Chronicle reporter Matthew B. Stannard in a June 3, 2007 piece, "Little Moth, Big Problem/Bay Area quarantine tries to halt the spread of ravenous pest."
In an email to colleagues on July 9, Peter Oboyski, executive director of the Essig Museum of Entomology, wrote in part: "With a heavy heart I am sad to report that professor Jerry Powell passed away this weekend. His contributions to our knowledge of California entomology, microlepidoptera, and insect life histories are inestimable, as is the value of the training he provided to his students. As one of those students, I am eternally grateful for the time, energy, and knowledge Jerry shared with me in the museum and the field."
"A consummate field biologist, Jerry's knowledge and interests were broad, allowing him to read landscapes and discover the most interesting and cryptic of species interactions," Oboyski wrote. "This is well documented in over 220 publications, but also in the 60+ years of his field notes and rearing records that we are currently digitizing. He is the collector of over 400 holotypes of various insect orders, described over 170 species and 14 genera of moths, and honored by 41 patronyms. He also published papers on Hymenoptera, Coleoptera, Diptera, Dermaptera, and a Nematode. His legacy is impressive and will long be remembered."
Powell described himself as a "MothNut" on his vehicle license plate, and also displayed a sticker, "Larvae on Board."
Dr. Mussen, a resident of Davis, was admitted to a local hospital on May 25. He was diagnosed with liver cancer/failure on May 31 and returned to the family home June 1 for hospice care. He passed away the evening of June 3.
“Eric was a giant in the field of apiculture,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “The impact of his work stretched far beyond California.”
Dr. Mussen, known to all as “Eric,” joined the UC Davis entomology department in 1976. Although he retired in 2014, he continued his many activities until a few weeks prior to his death. For nearly four decades, he drew praise as “the honey bee guru,” “the pulse of the bee industry" and as "the go-to person" when consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media sought answers about honey bees.
“Eric's passing is a huge loss," said longtime colleague Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. "He was always the go-to person for all things honey bee. He worked happily with hobbyists, commercial beekeepers and anyone just generally interested."
Colleagues described Mussen as the “premier authority on bees and pollination in California, and one of the top beekeeping authorities nationwide,” “a treasure to the beekeeping industry," and "a walking encyclopedia when it comes to honey bees.”
“Eric's career was so productive and exciting that a book would be required to do justice for his many contributions to his profession as extension entomologist specializing in apiculture, better known as beekeeping,” Gary said. “His mission basically was facilitating productive and reciprocal communication between beekeeping researchers at UC Davis, commercial beekeeping as it affects California's vast needs for the pollination of agricultural crops, providing helpful information to hobby beekeepers, and educating the general public concerning honey bees. His great professional successes in all areas have been recognized around the world. He has received numerous awards, especially from the beekeeping industry. He was by far the best Extension apiculturist in this country!”
“In addition to professional duties, he enthusiastically tackled other projects for entomology faculty,” Gary said. “For example, he critically reviewed most of my publications, including scientific papers, books, and bulletins. He worked diligently to help create the Western Apicultural Society and later served as president. (Mussen served six terms as president, the last term in 2017.) I especially appreciated his volunteering to moderate a video that historically summarized and recorded my entire 32-year career at UC Davis. And his tribute would not be complete without mentioning that he was one of my favorite fishing buddies.”
“Eric was proud of his loving wife, Helen, and family (sons Timothy and Christopher and two grandchildren),” Gary said. “His family support was unconditional. He will be sadly missed by everyone.”
Leslie Saul-Gershenz, a UC Davis doctoral alumnus in entomology, praised his kindness and generosity. “I have known Eric for over 30 years and he was the kindest, most supportive human being. He always came to speak at the San Francisco Bee Club to support local beekeepers and was the most generous of colleagues anyone could ever hope for. He was a immense resource of knowledge about honey bees, and I am sure he will be missed by many people across the state of California.”
Mussen's longtime friends and colleagues--bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of Washington State University (WSU), a former manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Facility, UC Davis, and her husband, Timothy Lawrence, WSU associate professor and county director, WSU Extension, Island County--are heartbroken. “Eric is an icon of the beekeeping industry and beyond, a career shaper, problem solver, the information man who always had an answer or would find one, and, always given with integrity, regardless of the issue, biological or political, to whoever posed the question and need," Cobey said. "His contributions, impact and love from the people he touched will live, continuing to contribute and benefit their lives. His spirit is with us.”
Jackie Park-Burris of Jackie Park-Burris Queens, Inc., Palo Cedro, a leader in the queen bee breeding and beekeeping industries, said she met Eric more than 40 years ago “and from day one he was mentoring me. He was the bee guy for the entire country! Eric was the bee industry's connection to the scientific world. Eric understood both camps and he connected them. Eric had incredible integrity that I have never seen matched. Because of that integrity, beekeepers felt confident in sharing their problems with him, knowing their secrets were safe. Eric always voiced the opinion he felt was right, even if it wasn't the most popular.”
“Eric told me that he looked at the bee industry as his family,” said Park-Burris, a past president of CBSA and a member of the board of directors for more than 20 years. “When my son attended UC Davis, he and Helen made sure Ryan knew he could contact them if he needed anything. Eric even came to a function on campus that my son was in charge of to show support.”
“At last year's CSBA convention. I was awarded the Eric Mussen Distinguished Service Award. Eric sent me an email, congratulating me and told me he could not think of a more qualified person to receive it. It bought a tear to my eye back then, now I will treasure that email even more.” A photo of an early-career Mussen appears on her website.
Patrick “Pat” Heitkam, owner of Heitkam's Honey Bees, Orland, recalled the beekeeping industry's turbulent times in the 1980s. “He was many things and I'm certain no one will fill his position as admirably as he did. The mid-'80s were a turbulent time for commercial beekeepers in California. The advent of tracheal mites and later varroa disrupted our ability to make a living. We were affected in different ways. Passions ran high. Eric maintained the respect of all concerned. I was frustrated, more than once, because he wouldn't tell me what I wanted to hear. He was a scientist, stayed neutral, and only commented when he could be factual. I saw him as the level-headed patriarch of his dysfunctional beekeeping family. This is one of his many attributes. I can't say enough about his value to bee world.”
Randy Oliver of ScientificBeekeeping.com ("beekeeping through the eyes of a biologist") treasured him. "Eric Mussen was not only a longtime friend and collaborator of mine, but a model for me. He was a beloved and exemplary Extension apiculturist, with his engaging presentations, interpreting the science for the benefit of beekeepers. His monthly newsletter was an important source of information to not only California beekeepers, but also to many across the United States and around the world. Eric always made time to happily share information with anyone who asked. I reminisced with his wife Helen shortly before his passing about his joy at doo-wop singing, and I'm sure that that's how this bright light of a man would like to be remembered."
Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and co-owner of Z Specialty Food, Inc., commented that "When I first came to California in the early 1980s, I was working with my husband establishing and growing a varietal honey company. One of the first people I met at UC Davis was Eric Mussen, the state apiculturist. Eric was someone who had a lot of answers to a lot of questions! Ever the educator, Eric was well versed in all of the issues of the bee world and readily shared his knowledge with any and everyone who asked. His answers were always down to earth and understandable, with his wry Midwestern sense of humor running underneath. You'd ask a question – and you always got an answer!"
Born May 12, 1944 in Schenectady, N.Y., Mussen received his bachelor's degree in entomology from the University of Massachusetts (after declining an offer to play football at Harvard) and then obtained his master's degree and doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota in 1969 and 1975, respectively. Mussen credits his grandfather with sparking his interest in insects. His grandfather, a self-taught naturalist, would take his young grandson to the woods to point out flora and fauna.
Bees became his life, and Mussen thoroughly enjoyed his career. For nearly four decades, Mussen wrote and published the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and short, topical articles called Bee Briefs, providing beekeepers with practical information on all aspects of beekeeping. His research focused on managing honey bees and wild bees for maximum field production, while minimizing pesticide damage to pollinator populations.
A favorite among the news media for his bee expertise and personality, Mussen appeared on the Lehrer Hour, BBC, Good Morning America, National Public Radio (Science Friday) and other major news outlets, and was quoted by the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times, among others.
Highly honored by his peers, Mussen received the 2006 California Beekeeper of the Year award; the American Association of Professional Apiculturists' 2007 Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture; the 2008 Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America; the 2010 statewide Pedro Ilic Outstanding Agricultural Educator; and was a member of the UC Davis Bee Team that won the 2013 team award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.
Among his scores of awards: the 2013-14 Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and the 2013 Alexander Hodson Graduate Alumni Award from his alma mater, the University of Minnesota.
Gene Brandi, the 2018 president of the American Beekeeping Federation, remembers presenting him with the prestigious Founders' Award from the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees at the 75th annual American Beekeeping Federation conference in Reno. "Eric received a well-deserved rousing standing ovation!” said Brandi, extolling him as "an outstanding liaison between the academic world of apiculture and real-world beekeeping and crop pollination."
"Eric was a legend in the beekeeping world who was always willing to go the extra mile to help beekeepers and bee industry organizations deal with issues pertaining to honey bee health, regulations, and various threats to the industry," Brandi said. "He also helped agricultural organizations, government officials, and the general public better understand the value of honey bees to the world. Eric was a great advocate for the honey bee and beekeepers. He was truly a national treasure.
"Eric served on the California State Beekeepers Association Board of Directors for 39 years as apiculturist, but he also was the parliamentarian for many years, and due to his long tenure, was quite the historian as well," Brandi added. "He co-founded the Western Apicultural Society and served as president for six terms. He founded the American Association of Professional Apiculturists and was either president of secretary/treasurer for the first ten years."
"In addition to his work with the aforementioned organizations, Eric was the UC Honey Bee Liaison to California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, EPA, California Farm Bureau Federation, Almond Board of California, National Honey Board, California Bee Breeders' Association, and others. Eric was always willing to help the beekeeping industry by testifying at hearings or writing letters to support the bee industry on various issues. He received many awards from a number of organizations, but the ones with which I am most familiar are the California State Beekeepers Association Distinguished Service Award as well as the Beekeeper of the Year Award. The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees honored Eric in 2018 with the coveted Founders; Award.
Brandi related that "Eric also conducted a number of research projects over the years including research on sacbrood virus, effects of medfly sprays on honey bees, effects of antibiotics of honey bee brood, potential of Neem as a varroa control, effects of selected fungicides on honey bee brood, effects of antibiotics, and effects of high-fructose corn syrup on packaged bee development. Eric's "From the UC Apiaries" newsletter was a renowned publication which contained valuable information about current events in the beekeeping world which beekeepers needed to know. There is so much more that can be said about Eric and his many contributions to the beekeeping world."
When Mussen was nominated (and received) the 2013-14 Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), MacArthur Genus Awardee Professor Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight University Professor Apiculture/Social Insects at the University of Minnesota, wrote: "Without question, Eric is the No. 1 Extension person dealing with honey bees in the nation, if not the world. Research colleagues, beekeepers and the public are all very lucky to have him.”
Mussen's team of nominators singled him out for his “amazing knowledge of bees, his excellent communication skills in a diverse clientele, including researchers, Extension personnel, legislators, commodity boards, grower organizations, pesticide regulators, students, news media, and beekeeping associations at the national, state and local levels; his eagerness to help everyone, no matter the age or stature or expertise, from an inquiring 4-H'er to a beginning beekeeper to a commercial beekeeper; and his ability to translate complicated research in lay terms.” He presented multiple talks to every beekeeping association in California, and spoke at a variety of events, including pollinator workshops, animal biology classes, UC events, and fairs and festivals.
The nominators lauded him for “his valuable research, which includes papers on antibiotics to control American foulbrood; fungicide toxicity in the almond orchards; the effect of light brown apple moth mating pheromone on honey bees; the effects of high fructose corn syrup and probiotics on bee colonies; and the invasion and behavior of Africanized bees. He was often consulted on colony collapse disorder and bee nutrition.”
Overall, Mussen was known as "a well-respected, well-liked, honest, and unflappable person with a delightful sense of humor."
Valeri Strachan-Severson of Strachan Apiaries, Inc., Yuba City, producer of New World Carniolan queen bees, treasured his advice. "After my dad, Don Strachan, passed away, I made a pest of myself contacting Eric for advice. He never made me feel like I was asking dumb questions and always had the answers. Sometimes he'd say he'll get back to me if he wasn't sure, and he always did. He was an encyclopedia of apiary knowledge. I'll miss him. He was seriously one of a kind."
Mussen was a longtime board member of the California State Beekeepers' Association and a consultant for the Almond Board of California. He co-founded the Western Apicultural Society, serving six terms as president, the last during the 40th anniversary conference at UC Davis in 2017. He also was involved in the formation of the American Association of Professional Apiculturists and held the offices of president or treasurer of that association for many years. He was a scientific advisor to the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.
Mussen was instrumental in the development of the Almond Board of California's Honey Bee Best Management Practices for Almonds. The Almond Board honored him with a service award, describing him as being an “authoritative and trusted source for guidance on research, technical, and practical problem solving and issues facing both industries.” Shortly after he retired, both the CSBA and WAS created an Eric Mussen Award to present to their outstanding members.
“Eric is a worldwide authority on honey bees, but no problem is too small and no question too involved for him to answer,” said the late Extension entomologist Larry Godfrey prior to Mussen's retirement. “He devotes his research and extension activities to the improvement of honey bee health and honey bee colony management practices. Eric helps growers, consumers, UC Farm Advisors, agricultural commissioners, scientists, beekeepers, researchers, pesticide regulators, 4-H'ers, and state and national agricultural and apicultural organizations. He ignites their interest in maintaining the health of bees, cultivates their friendship, and generously gives of his time and intellect.”
William Hutchison, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota, who presented him with the 2013 Alexander Hodson Graduate Alumni Award, related at the ceremony that Mussen tackled "many new challenges–mites, diseases, and Africanized honey bees, to name a few–to enhance the pollination success of California's diverse agricultural cropping systems, with considerable emphasis on almonds. In brief, he is in demand, and he continues to be a primary source for objective information on honey bee health and pollination in California."
In his retirement years--in between his family commitments and his hobbies of birding and singing doo-wop with a local group--Mussen not only served as the 2017 president of the Western Apicultural Society but doubled as the program chair at the UC Davis conference. He reviewed funding proposals for Project Apis m., which makes funding decisions and handles the funds for the National Honey Board and other entities; and served on the scientific review panel for the Bee Informed Partnership organization, which reviews funding requests of tech teams. He was a scientific advisor to the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.
"I am basically all pro-bee,” Mussen told the American Bee Journal in a two-part feature story published in September 2011. “Whatever I can do for bees, I do it...It doesn't matter whether there is one hive in the backyard or 15,000 colonies. Bees are bees and the bees' needs are the bees' needs.”
Celebration of Life. A Celebration of Life is planned from 4 to 6 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 28 in the Putah Creek Lodge, UC Davis campus. RSVP here (note: attendance is now closed). For those unable to attend, a live webinar will be produced by UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a former chair of the Department of Entomology. Registration is underway here at https://bit.ly/3czl5Am. It also will be on YouTube.
Family and friends suggest memorial contributions be made to the California State 4-H Beekeeping Program, with a note, "Eric Mussen Memorial Fund." Mary Ciriceillo, director of development for the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, said checks may be made out to the California 4-H Foundation and mailed to:
- Take Interstate 80 to Highway 113 north.
- Take the Hutchison exit. Head east on Hutchison Drive.
- Turn right onto La Rue Road. Follow to Garrod Drive.
- Turn right on to Garrod Drive.
- Follow until you come to the left turn only lane, into the parking lot. Turn left into the parking lot.
- The closest parking spots to access the lodge would be in the Far East corner of the parking lot. The lot is shaped like a L.
- Campus map: https://campusmap.ucdavis.edu/
Aharonson, a friend and colleague of UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock of the Department of Entomology and Nematology--and numerous other scientists affiliated with the USDA's Agricultural Research Services--focused on agricultural and environmental chemistry and environmental toxicology at UC Davis, where he received his master's degree in 1964. His thesis: “Micro Methods for Isolation of Natural Fluorescent Compounds.”
“Nadav was one of the first researchers in Israel and worldwide that dealt with distribution, degradation (chemical and microbial), movement and accumulation of pesticides and in plants and the environment and their influence on agriculture crops,” a family spokesperson said. “He developed analytical chemical and biological methods to identify extremely small amounts pesticides or byproducts in agricultural produce, soil, water and air.”
Aharonson published more than 100 scientific papers in peer-reviewed international-leading scientific journals, eight chapters in scientific books and more than 60 papers and publications in Hebrew.” (See Research Gate for some of his contributions.)
“Nadav Aharonson has long been a friend and hero of mine,” said Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Nadav was well known for going far out of his way to assist young researchers in their career and for bringing together international teams to address world problems in agriculture."
"On a personal note," Hammock commented, "he was so kind to my son, in particular, and me when we were in Israel."
Hammock recalled the time that he and his son, Tom, “were wandering in a wild storm through Tel Aviv with massive waves hitting a sea wall. There was only one guy in sight, huddled over a camera and taking pictures of the waves. As I passed, I said ‘Nadav?' And he replied ‘Bruce?' He took us home, dried and fed us, and arranged for Tom to take a tour of architecture in Israel while I was at a symposium at the Weismann Institute."
Aharonson, who died Aug. 6, was born in 1934 in Tel-Aviv. He graduated from high school in 1952 and “then served compulsory military service in a special paramilitary Israel Defense Forces program that combines military service and the establishment of agricultural settlements, often in peripheral areas,” his family said. He later became a member of kibbutz Misgav Am, situated on the northern border of Israel and Lebanon, “where he fell in love with agriculture and preserving earth.”
In 1958 Nadav left the kibbutz to study at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Jerusalem, receiving his bachelor's degree there in 1961. After completing his studies at UC Davis, he headed back to Hebrew University for his doctorate in environmental chemistry/toxicology, writing his thesis on "Development of Analytic Methods for Identification of Pesticide Residues and Understanding their Influential Mechanisms.”
In 1965 Aharonson “established and began managing the laboratory for pesticide residues as part of the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture,” his family related. “The lab mission was to develop and adapt analytical methods for testing chemical residues in export agriculture produce. This was the first time that such lab was established in Israel.”
In 1971, Aharonson began working at the Agriculture Research Organization (ARO), Volcani Institute, and established the Department of Environmental Chemistry. He managed the lab until 1997. The four-fold focus of the research team: (1) Reduce the amount of pesticide and other contaminants in soil, water and agriculture produce (2) Develop novel nontoxic chemical formulas to replace and minimize the use of toxic pesticides (3) Identify, develop and implement insect pheromones and other volatile plants substances that mediate insect-insect and insect-plant communication and (4) identify and characterize secondary metabolites in plants that provide immunity against insects.
Aharonson's resume includes:
- 1978-1996: Lecturer on environmental toxicology at the Faculty of Agriculture, where he also supervised many graduate students
- 1990: Appointed full professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- 1984-1990: Director of the Plant Protection Institute and part of the management team at Volcani Institute, ARO
- 1988-1996: Founder of the Center for Biotechnology at ARO, where he led research reducing the usage of toxic pesticides in agriculture.
In addition, Aharonson was active in numerous international scientific committees. He spent his sabbatical years at USDA's Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, MD.
“Nadav retired in 1997, and since then had volunteered and led the efforts in his hometown of Ramat-Hasharon to stop the contamination of the local water by industrial water pollutants,” his family said. “His work contributed to the closure of the contaminated local water supply, providing safe water to the residents of his town. Nadav later established the local Independent Water Supply authority and served as the chairmen for eight years."
Survivors include three children and five grandsons. His wife, Ada, died in 2012.
Dr. Summers, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty since 1992, served 42 years as a research entomologist at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center (KARE), Parlier, Fresno County, part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). He joined the world-class research facility in 1970, the year he received his doctorate in entomology from Cornell University. He was stationed at KARE throughout his career, and served for a time as its director.
Dr. Summers was affiliated with the UC Berkeley faculty from 1970 to 1992, before joining the UC Davis faculty. Specializing in pest problems of field and vegetable crops, he developed economic thresholds and management strategies for more than a dozen pests, including the silverleaf whitefly. During his career, he authored more than 200 publications, including articles, book chapters and research papers, and delivered more than 800 presentations.
“Charlie was a true IPM entomologist and was one of the group of young faculty who contributed mightily to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) when it was first getting off the ground and at its most vulnerable stage,” said Frank Zalom, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology who directed UC IPM for 16 years.
Developed Economic Thresholds for Important Pests
“He was quiet but contributed greatly in many ways,” Zalom said. “Charlie did indeed develop economic thresholds for several important pests. Economic thresholds are recognized as one of the foundations for IPM decision-making, but doing the field work to develop research-based thresholds is incredibly difficult and few researchers actually do this type of research anymore. It has become a lost art and, unfortunately, this type of work has also become under-appreciated except by IPM practitioners who are truly trying to reduce input costs for pest control.”
A Passion for IPM
“I remember first meeting Charlie Summers in Robert van den Bosch's lab when I was a graduate student,” recalled Mary Lou Flint, Extension entomologist emerita, Department of Entomology and Nematology and formerly UC IPM's associate director for urban and community IPM.
“He was already at Kearney, but I was working on a parasitoid of the spotted alfalfa aphid, so we had alfalfa aphids and parasites in common. And a passion for IPM. Charlie was really one of the original unsung promoters of IPM in California.”
“Charlie was a true dirt-kicking field entomologist of a stripe all too uncommon today,” said Flint who retired in 2014. “He was passionate about ecology-based integrated pest management and dedicated his career to forwarding the science of IPM.
“Charlie's research spanned many field and vegetable crops and he could always be called on to provide expertise about pest or beneficial arthropods on any of these crops, but I worked most closely with him on alfalfa,” she said.
“In the 1980s, in the early days of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management program, Charlie was a leader in developing, researching and promoting IPM programs for alfalfa," Flint related. "He played a critical role in coordinating and carrying out interdisciplinary research, training farm advisers, and promoting IPM programs to PCAs (pest control advisors) and farmers. He was one of the key players in the development of Integrated Pest Management for Alfalfa Hay released in 1982, which was the first of the UC Statewide IPM Program's IPM manual series of books that eventually covered 16 California crops. He was a fountain of information, and the book could not have been written without him."
Walter Bentley, now IPM entomologist emeritus, remembers meeting him at his job interview “at the old office on M street in Bakersfield on August 16, 1977. Like Pete Goodell, we ended up working together at Kearney. I would never have guessed that. Little did I know how he liked to play jokes." He remembers when Summers hung up a Big Mouth Billy Bass Singing Sensation plaque at Bentley's office entrance. "I will have to go out and play the tune, Take Me to the River, Drop Me in the Water."
Recipient of Charles W. Woodworth Award
In 2009, Summers received the prestigious Charles W. Woodworth Award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America (PBESA), the highest honor awarded by the branch, which encompasses 11 U.S. states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming); several U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico.
At the awards ceremony, Summers drew praise for developing economic thresholds, determining at what point the cost of pest damage exceeds the cost of pest control. He "pioneered economic thresholds for seven pests in four crops, and developed management strategies for a combination of 28 crops, insect and disease pests," his nominators wrote. He also was praised for his research on the interactions among insects, diseases and weeds on alfalfa hay and how they individually and as a whole, influence yield and quality. His work led to improved best management decisions and decreased pesticide use.
In addition, Summers drew praise for his research on reflective mulches, used to delay and reduce aphid and whitefly infestations on squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and tomatoes and other crops. He teamed with plant pathologist Jim Stapleton and vegetable crop specialist Jeff Mitchell, both based at Kearney.
In a UC Davis news story published March 25, 2009, Summers recalled: “In the mid-1990s, Dr. Stapleton and I embarked on a series of studies to determine if aphids, aphid-transmitted viruses, and silverleaf whitefly could be managed using plastic reflective mulches. Dr. Jeff Mitchell later joined our team. We evaluated a wide variety of crops as well as different types of mulches. We were able to manage all three of these pests without the need to rely on the use of insecticides.”
“Our studies have clearly demonstrated that the use of these mulches are effective in delaying the onset of silverleaf whitefly colonization and the incidence of aphid-borne virus diseases,” Summers said. “The data shows that marketable yields with summer squash, cucumber, and pumpkins grown over reflective mulch are higher than those in plants grown over bare soil, both with and without insecticide. We also determined that the use of reflective mulch, without insecticides, leads to significantly increased yields of fall planted cantaloupes.”
Another highlight of his career: his work on the biology of corn leafhopper and corn stunt spiroplasma. He proved that the corn leafhopper can overwinter in the San Joaquin Valley and that the pathogen, Spiroplasma kunkelii overwinters in it. “Before this research, it was assumed that tropical insects such as corn leafhopper could not overwinter in our temperate climate, but were reintroduced each year from Mexico,” Summers noted. "The findings led to better strategies for managing the pest and the pathogen."
Born Dec. 24, 1941 in Ogden, Utah, and a graduate of Davis High School, Kaysville, Utah, Charlie grew up on the family farm and “always knew” he wanted an agricultural career. At age 12, he decided to go to college “when I was at the wrong end of a short-handled hoe,” he told communications specialist Jeannette Warnert in a June 12, 2012 news story announcing his retirement.
He continually described his work at Kearney as his “dream job.”
“The job at Kearney was an absolutely perfect fit for me,” Summers told Warnert. “It was a dream job. I look forward to coming to work every morning and would sometimes shake my fist at the sun going down at night. I've loved every minute I've been here.”
Summers said that the objective of his job--to help farmers develop successful pest management strategies --stayed the same, but technological advances dramatically changed the way he did his work.
“We've had the advent of computer technology, the use of mathematical models, work that can now be done at the DNA level,” he said. “It's put a whole new face on our ability to do research.”
Following his retirement and the death of his wife, Beverly, Summers moved back to Utah to be with family and to pursue his favorite pastime, fly fishing.
“I'll be living 15 minutes from the Wasatch Mountains,” he told Warnert. “There's a lot of good fishing there.”
Summers was an Eagle Boy Scout, a pilot, an avid fly fisherman and hunter, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A graveside service took place Aug. 21 in the Plain City Cemetery, Plain City, Utah.
Survivors include his sister, Marilyn (John) Diamond and three nephews, four great-nieces and five great-nephews.
Dr. Charles Geddes Summers, 1941-2021
UC ANR Profile Page
UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Pest Management Specialist Charles Summers Wins Prestigious Woodworth Award
Dr. Robbin Thorp, a global and legendary authority on bees and a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, passed away Friday, June 7 at his home in Davis, surrounded by family. He was 85.
Dr. Thorp, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, achieved emeritus status in 1994 but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death.
A tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, Dr. Thorp was known for his expertise, dedication and passion in protecting native pollinators, especially bumble bees, and for his teaching, research and public service. He was an authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, native bees and crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes.
“Robbin's scientific achievements during his retirement rival the typical career productivity of many other academic scientists,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “His contributions in support of understanding bee biodiversity and systematics are a true scientific legacy.”
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, said: "I've known Robbin since I was a graduate student at UC Davis. Even though he wasn't my major professor, my project was on bees and he was incredibly helpful and supportive. His enthusiasm about pollinators and bees in particular actually grew after he retired, and he continued helping students and researchers and was the backbone of so much research. His support and kindness was matched by his undemanding assistance and expertise. What a terrible loss to his family and to the research and conservation communities."
Colleague Norman Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, commented earlier this year in a letter of support for a College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences award: “Robbin is recognized internationally for his expertise and research on bees, especially non-Apis species, known as wild bees. I doubt that there is anyone else in the world who can compete with his expertise in the systematics of the 20,000 species of bees on this earth. He has the perfect balance of research of field research on the biology and behavior as well as laboratory research on the taxonomy of bees.” He was the go-to person to identify a bee by species.
Professor Neal Williams, who organized a symposium in Dr. Thorp's honor at the 2019 Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America meeting in San Diego, said: ‘Through his tireless efforts in research, advocacy and education, he has inspired a new generation of bee researchers…I like many others, feel truly honored, to have received the mentoring of Robbin and to have him as a colleague.”
In his retirement, Dr. Thorp 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). Locally, he was active in research projects and open houses at the Bohart Museum of Entomology and the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. In his research, he monitored bees 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. He established a baseline in 2008 and detected more than 80 species of bees.
Born Aug. 26, 1933 in Benton Harbor, Mich., Dr. Thorp received his bachelor of science degree in zoology (1955) and his master's degree in zoology (1957) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He earned his doctorate in entomology in 1964 from UC Berkeley, the same year he joined the UC Davis entomology faculty. He taught courses from 1970 to 2006 on insect classification, general entomology, natural history of insects, field entomology, California insect diversity, and pollination ecology.
Every summer from 2002 to 2018, Dr. 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.
Highly honored by his peers, Dr. 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 included: member of the UC Davis Bee Team that won PBESA's Team Award in 2013. In addition, he was 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.
Leslie Saul-Gershenz, who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now an associate director of research with the Wild Energy Initiative, John Muir Institute of the Environment, said “I am heartbroken. I really hoped with all my heart that Robbin was going to get better and we would have more time with him, more of his sweetness, his kindness, his caring. He helped so many people over so many decades, his contributions were immense in his scientific contributions but also in his positive support of students, and colleagues alike and encouragement of public engagement. I miss him so much. “
Williams said the PBESA symposium was “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. 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."
Richard Hatfield, a senior conservation biologist with Xerces' Endangered Species Program presented him with a framed illustration of Bombus franklini, the work of artist April Coppini of Portland, Ore. An authority on Franklin's bumble bee, Dr. Thorp began monitoring the bumble bee population in 1998 in its narrow distribution range of southern Oregon and northern California. He has not seen it since 2006 and was instrumental in placing Franklin's bumble bee on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Long active in the North America IUCN Bumblebee Specialist Group, Dr. Thorp served as its regional co-chair, beginning in 2011.
In August of 2016 a documentary crew from CNN, headed by John Sutter, followed him to a meadow where Dr. Thorp last saw Franklin's bumble bee. Sutter wrote about Dr. Thorp, then 82, in a piece he titled "The Old Man and the Bee," a spinoff of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."
“Robbin has done so much for me over the years,” Hatfield said. “I'm pleased to give back even a small fraction.” Hatfield praised him as a “a Living Legend of North American Bee Conservation” in a Xerces Society blog during Earth Week. “He has made lasting contributions to the bee conservation community in ways that might never be measured, but will certainly be felt.” https://xerces.org/2019/04/24/robbin-thorp-earth-week/.
"It was great to see Robbin interacting and enjoying the conference and the company," said Professor Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, one of the speakers at the Robbin Thorp Symposium. "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."
Professor Diane Ullman, former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, said: “Robbin was my faculty advisor when I was a student! He gave me the courage to stay in graduate school and was a wonderful supporter when I came back to Davis as a faculty member. He was an amazing and passionate scientist and an extraordinary person.”
Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus: "We should not forget that Robbin originally was hired to work on honey bees, and he did. His greatest area of expertise was the use of honey bees in almond pollination. Robbin determined that until the colonies reached the population size of six frames of bees, they did not have enough spare bees to serve as foragers (pollinate almonds) since they were all needed to keep the brood warm. He also noted that the amount of pollen collected by the bees in a colony was pretty much in direct proportion to colony size, peaking at between 10 and 12 frames of bees. It was obvious to Robbin that the bees still visited almond blossoms for nectar, days after there was no pollen left in the flowers and the stigmata were no longer young enough to be pollinated. Other studies determined which blossoms along the branches were pollinated earlier and later during the season. All of those studies were very well designed and the results contributed significantly to our recommendations to growers and beekeepers for obtaining maximum benefit from the bees."
Professor Claire Kremen of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley, praised him in her letter of support for his nomination for distinguished emeritus professor in 2014:
"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."
In another letter of support, Katharina Ullmann, director of the UC Davis Student Farm, Agricultural Sustainability Institute, and a UC Davis alumnus (doctorate in entomology) 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 reasons 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.
"...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,” Ullmann said. 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."
Research entomologist James Cane of USDA's Agricultural Research Service, Logan, Utah, wrote in 2014 that “Dr. Robbin Thorp should be the first scientist to be cloned, so valuable and broadly integrated are his knowledge about bees and pollination. No one else I know has his combination of skills; normally several people would be needed. Thus, he is a taxonomist of several genera of bees, a competent pollination biologist studying both native bees and honey bees in both natural and agricultural realms (with research experience in several crops), and a conservation advocate for bees. Moreover, I have watched his considerable teaching skills while helping in The Bee Course over the years. There I also get to see what a model human being Robbin is: thoughtful, considerate, a great listener, playful, polite unpretentious, all traits that the students gravitate towards. I have looked to Robbin as a role model for over 30 years, listen carefully to what he has to say, and always look forward to being in his presence. UC Davis is very lucky indeed to have attracted and retained such a fabulous faculty member.”
Ron McGinley, an instructor an organizer of The Bee Course, said “Robbin Thorp converted me from bugs to bees. To say that Robbin changed my life would be a vast understatement! In retirement, Robbin continues to be one of the most highly regarded bee workers in the world. He also continues his outstanding educational/mentoring skills.”
McGinley shared several comments from The Bee Course alumni:
- It was really a pleasure to learn from one of the best "Bee Dudes” out there.
- Professors with a great deal of experience can sometimes find it difficult to teach students who are just being introduced to the material. Their command of the material is so great that it seems second nature and they can forget how to guide students through the labyrinths of taxonomic structures. Not so for Dr. Robbin Thorp. The paths laid out for students in The Bee Course were clear and the light at the end of the tunnel, although sometimes faint, was always visible.
- Robbin even bought me a Dairy Queen treat for being the first to find an active bee nest….Centris. I said ‘Robbin, you don't have to buy me this treat' and he answered ‘Yes, I do, it's tradition.'
- Robbin is fun to be with in the field and welcomes questions for which he gives very clear answers.
- I sincerely hope that I will meet and work with Robbin again in the future. He is just a joy to be with.
Stephen Clement, emeritus lead scientist and research entomologist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, said "He welcomed me back to the department in 1970 after I got out of the Army and a year of combat in Vietnam. He was my major professor for my master of science degree, which I completed in 1972. I did the field research in Yellowstone National Park and he ventured up to the park to mentor my field work (special memories of the time I spent with Robbin in the Park). Robin was instrumental in my development as a field biologist. I had hoped he would be at the recent reunion but now know he was at the ESA Pacific Branch meeting where there was a symposium in his honor."
Dr. Thorp was known for his public service, his response to all requests for bee identifications, and his friendships.
Insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis: “I feel particularly privileged as an outsider to have drawn his friendship, attention and support. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. But a picture with accurate text is a treasure. He has been adding depth and meaning for all of the visitors and friends he has kindly touched.”
Naturalist and bumble bee enthusiast Gary Zamzow of Davis said that “Dr. Thorp frequently helped the Wisconsin Arboretum staff and volunteers. He identified the bumble bees photographed at the Arboretum and other areas. He would confirm our identifications. A great learning experience for all of us. We could have not done it without Dr. Thorp's help.”
His wife, Joyce, 84, preceded him in death on Dec. 9, 2018. Survivors include three children, Kelly, Katie and Jeff, and stepchildren Donna Gary and Steve Gary.