Congratulations to Melody Keena, UC Davis Alumna and Entomologist Extraordinaire

Congratulations to Melody Keena, UC Davis alumna and entomologist extraordinaire.

Keena, a research entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Research Station in Hamden, Conn., is a newly selected Honorary Member of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), the organization's highest honor.

She joins two other Honorary Member recipients this year: Walter Soares Leal, UC Davis distinguished professor with the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology), and research entomologist Alvin Simmons of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. (See UC Davis news story)

Keena, an international expert on the biology and behavior of the spongy moth (formerly known as the gypsy moth) and the Asian longhorned beetle,  focuses her research on “developing the knowledge and tools needed for exclusion, eradication or control of non-native invasive forest pests and investigating basic biology, behavior, and population genetics,” according to the ESA officials who announced her Honorary Membership. "Honorary Membership recognizes extraordinary service by ESA members who have had significant involvement in the affairs of the Society for at least 20 years."

Keena may be the first Honorary Member to receive all three degrees in entomology from UC Davis:  a bachelor's degree obtained in 1983, a master's, 1985, and a doctorate in 1988. Professor Jeff Granett served as her major professor for both her graduate degrees.  

Keena initially chose to attend UC Davis because of its renowned School of Veterinary Medicine. An entomology course changed her plans. "I had taken a non-majors entomology class and liked it, so I took the first majors course and told myself that if I got an A in it that would be my major.  Then I did work study, helping in entomology labs so I was exposed to research.  That led me to do the masters to see if research was for me.  Obviously, I got hooked on entomology."

At UC Davis, Keena worked on spider mite pesticide resistance management in the almond cropping system. After receiving her doctorate, she headed to Connecticut as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Connecticut. She's served as a research entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Hamden since 1992 and is now the lead scientist in the lab.  

So, what sparked Melody Keena's initial interest in entomology? Fence lizards!

“They eat live insects so I had to find them,” said Keena, who was born in the Los Angeles area but moved at age 4 to Chico and then to Paradise as a teenager.  “We fed them any insects we could find, since store-bought were too expensive.  We fed them mostly crickets and grasshoppers.  I also reared some mealworms at home for the winter.”  

In a letter of support for her Honorary Member nomination, Frank Zalom, UC Davis distinguished professor, president of ESA in 2014, and an Honorary Member of ESA since 2021, said he has known Keena since 1983 when she "became a graduate student at UC Davis." He also served with her on a number of ESA committees.

"Melody is an internationally known researcher on biology and control of non-native forest insect pests with the US Forest Service, and has gained a number of significant accolades for her research and leadership," Zalom wrote. "Her CV illustrates the breadth and quality of her journal articles that present important biological studies of many of the most notorious invasive forest insects in North America this century. What sets Melody apart from other outstanding entomology researchers in my experience is the quantity, quality and impact of her service to our Society over her almost 40 years as an ESA member."  (Read her accomplishments on Department of Entomology and Nematology website).

ESA has now singled out six UC Davis faculty members as recipients of its highest award:

  • 2022: UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal
  • 2021: UC Davis distinguished professor Frank Zalom
  • 2001: Professor John Edman
  • 1996: Professor Bruce Eldridge
  • 1993: Professor and 1984 ESA President Donald MacLean (1928-2014)
  • 1990: Professor Harry Lange (1912-2004)

Melody Keena may be in a class by herself. And that could be music to the Aggie Nation! Nobody else on the Honorary Member list appears to have received three entomology degrees from UC Davis.