What a Difference These Four UC Davis Entomologists Are Making!

They study bees, ants, fruit flies and spider flies.

And that's just a small portion of what they do.

And what a difference they're making!

Four UC Davis entomologists won awards from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). They will be honored at the PBESA conference set for March 31-April 2 in San Diego.

Molecular geneticist/physiologist Joanna Chiu won the Physiology, Biochemistry, and Toxicology Award; pollination ecologist Neal Williams, the Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award; doctoral candidate Brendon Boudinot, the John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award, the highest PBESA graduate student award; and UC Davis doctoral graduate Jessica Gillung, the Early Career Award.

Joanna Chiu, Physiology, Biochemistry, and Toxicology Award
Joanna Chiu is a newly selected Chancellor's Fellow, a five-year prestigious honor given to what Chancellor Gary May calls “prolific scholars, strong teachers, effective mentors and dedicated contributors to campus whose work is novel, unique and cutting-edge, groundbreaking and pathbreaking.”
She studies how genes and proteins regulate animal physiology and behavior in response to changes in environment and resources. Her research involves molecular genetics of animal behavior, circadian rhythm biology,andposttranslational regulation of proteins. Major grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation fund her research.

Chiu investigates the regulation of animal circadian rhythms in her laboratory by using a combination of molecular genetics, biochemical, genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic approaches. Her overall research goal: to dissect the molecular and cellular mechanisms that control the circadian clock in animals, and to investigate how this endogenous timer interacts with the environment and cellular metabolism to drive rhythms of physiology and behavior.

Among the insects she studies: the spotted-wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii.

"She has published a considerable amount on the spotted-wing drosophila, including its annotated genome, resistance studies, molecular basis of the so-called ‘winter morphs that are found in colder areas, and a molecular diagnostic for quickly providing species identification for all stages of this pest to distinguish it from other common Drosophila species," said emeritus Frank Zalom, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology and a past president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America.

"I can honestly say that in my 40 years on the faculty at UC Davis and earlier at the University of Minnesota, I have
never had the opportunity to work with a more collaborative and energetic early career scientist than Dr. Chiu," Zalom said.

Chiu, along with Professor Jay Rosenheim and associate professor Louie Yang of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, are co-founders and co-directors of the highly successful, campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology. She helps students conduct cutting-edge research and provides guidance and advice, even after they have embarked on their own careers. Under her tutelage, many of her students are first authors of publications in prestigious journals.

Neal Williams, Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award
Neal Williams "is widely known and respected for his excellence in research, extension, outreach, teaching, leadership and mentoring," said nominator Steve Nadler, chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology.  “He is a leading voice in the development of collaborative research on insect ecology. He has organized national and international conferences, leads scores of working groups, and guides reviews of impacts of land use and other global change drivers on insects and the services they provide.”

Williams focuses his research on the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinator insects and their interactions with flowering plants. His work is particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.

Research entomologist James P. Strange of USDA's Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory at Utah State University, describes Williams as  “a valuable resource and prolific scientist in pollination biology and pollinator management. His papers are the result of collaborations with leaders in pollinator ecology, behavior and management and have been cited over 13,000 times during his career. His work has unraveled several questions central to plant-pollinator interactions, especially illuminating our understanding of the impacts of landscape resources on pollinator populations.”

In July, Williams will co-chair the Fourth International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy at UC Davis. The four-day conference, themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will highlight recent research advances in the biology and health of pollinators, and link to policy implications.

Williams is also organizing a symposium at the PBESA's San Diego meeting in April on the lifelong contributions of native pollinator specialist, Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology. Nine scientists influenced by Thorp and his research program will speak.

Brendon Boudinot, John Henry Comstock Award
Brendon Boudinot, who studies with ant specialist/professor Phil Ward, was praised for his academic record, leadership, public service activities, participation in professional activities, and his publications.  “A highly respected scientist, teacher and leader with a keen intellect, unbridled enthusiasm, and an incredible penchant for public service, Brendon maintains a 4.00 grade point average; has published 12 outstanding publications on insect systematics (some are landmarks or ground-breaking publications); and engages in exceptional academic, student and professional activities,”  Nadler wrote.

Ward said that Boudinot, despite being at an early stage of his academic career, has already published several landmark papers on insect systematics. "This includes a remarkable article, just published in Arthropod Structure & Development, in which Brendon presents a comprehensive theory of genital homologies across all Hexapoda (Boudinot 2018). Based on careful comparative morphological study and conducted within a phylogenetic framework, this paper is a major contribution to the field and is destined to become a “classic." This could have been a decade-long study by any investigator, and yet it is just one chapter of Brendon's thesis!"

Active in PBESA and ESA, Boudinot received multiple “President's Prize” awards for his research presentations at national ESA meetings. He organized the ESA symposium, “Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology,” at the 2018 meeting in Vancouver, B.C. , and delivered a presentation on “Male Ants: Past, Present and Prospects” at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Boudinot served on—and anchored—three of the UC Davis Linnaean Games teams that won national or international ESA championships. The Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.

Boudinot has served as president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association since 2006, and is active in the campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day; he has co-chaired the department's  Picnic Day Committee since 2017.

Jessica Gillung, Early Career Award
Jessica Gillung studied for her doctorate with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology. “Dr. Gillung has made outstanding contributions to entomology, shown commitment to extension or outreach, and excelled in entomological education,” Kimsey wrote in her letter of nomination. “In one word: she is ‘phenomenal.'"

Gillung most recently won the “Best Student Presentation Award” at the ninth annual International Congress of Dipterology, held in Windhoek, Namibia, and the 2018 PBESA Student Leadership Award. Her dissertation was titled: “Systematics and Phylogenomics of Spider Flies (Diptera, Acroceridae).”

Kimsey praised her phenomenal leadership activities, her nearly straight-A academic record (3.91 grade point average), her excellence as an entomologist and teacher, and her incredible publication record. “Note that she has 11 refereed publications on her thesis organisms in very strong journals,” Kimsey wrote. “Most entomologists do not publish nearly that much, even as a postdoctoral scholar or a junior faculty member!”

"Not only is Jessica's research on the cutting edge of the field of phylogenomics but--and this is where leadership comes in--she has taken it upon herself to involve and train other graduate students in the same cutting-edge techniques and theoretical framework," Kimsey said. "She is a dynamo--brilliant and high energy, but also constantly teaching."

A native of Brazil, Gillung speaks four languages fluently: Portuguese, Spanish, English and German. While at UC Davis, Gillung was active in PBESA and ESA, presenting a number of presentations and serving on award-winning Linnaean Games teams. In outreach programs, she reached at least 20,000 people encompassing all events from 2013 to 2018. This included open houses, off-site programs, science presentations, summer camps, classroom activities, UC Davis Picnic Days, agriculture days, and fairs and festivals.

As a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University in the Bryan Danforth lab, Gillung is researching Apoidea (stinging wasps and bees) phylogenomics, evolution and diversification.

PBESA Award Recipients

The complete list of PBESA recipients:

  • CW Woodworth:  Elizabeth Grafton-Cardwell,  UC Riverside. 
  • PBESA Award for Excellence in Teaching:  Allan Felsot,  Washington State University
  • PBESA Award for Excellence in Extension:  Surendra Dara,  UC Cooperative Extension
  • PBESA Award for Excellence in Integrated Pest Management:  Silvia Rondon, Oregon State University
  • PBESA Systematics, Evolution, and Biodiversity Award:  Christiane Weirauch,  UC Riverside
  • PBESA Physiology, Biochemistry, and Toxicology Award:  Joanna Chiu, UC Davis
  • PBESA Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Award:  Rebecca Maguire, Washington State University
  • PBESA Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award:  Neal Williams,  UC Davis 
  • PBESA Distinction in Student Mentoring Award:  Gerhard Gries,  Simon Frazier University, British Columbia
  • PBESA Excellence in Early Career Award: Jessica Gillung,  UC Davis
  • John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award:  Brendon Boudinot,  UC Davis
  • PBESA Student Leadership Award:  Kelsey McCalla,  UC Riverside

PBESA is one of six branches of the Entomological Society of America (ESA). Founded in 1889, ESA is the world's largest organization serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. It is comprised of more than 7000 members, who are affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students, pest management professionals, and hobbyists.