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Partnering with The Pieris Project

If you see a white cabbage butterfly fluttering by you, net it.

The Pieris Project wants it.

Entomology Today, a publication of the Entomological Society of America, today covered a story about how graduate students (including Sean Ryan of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and Anne Espeset, University of Nevada, Reno), are seeking a "global community of citizen scientists" to collect the white cabbage butterfly, Pieris rapae, for their Pieris Project, launched last summer to study invasion biology and species responses to environmental change.

They've already received more than 600 species from "at least half of the United States," and eight other countries, Entomology Today reports.  The butterfly, native to Europe, has spread throughout the world in the last 200 years and is thought to be one of the most widespread and abundant butterflies of them all. It is found on every continent except Antarctica. (Check out the most up-to-date collection map.)

The graduate students want to reconstruct the invasion history and "explore how environmental variation has been shaping the genome and phenotype of this butterfly," according to the article.

Here are some of the specifics:

1) Send them a couple of butterflies from your backyard. Include the date and latitude/longitude coordinates on the envelope. You can find more details at http://www.pierisproject.org. Even though fall is here, depending on where you live, you may be able to catch a few before winter arrives, they point out.

2) Help spread the word by either sharing the project with people you think might be interested in participating or by letting them know of organizations, schools, or any community that might be interested. Email them at pierisproject@ gmail.com.

3) Consider donating to their crowdfunding campaign. They say they have only a few days left to reach their goal, and it's all or nothing, "so we need all the help we can get! One incentive for donating is a 'Backyard Genomics Kit' — a great gift for a budding entomologist — and we also have awesome photographs by the amazing bugographer Alex Wild!" (Wild, a noted insect photographer, received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis.)

As an aside, the cabbage white butterfly gains notoriety every year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano, California.  Butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, sponsors an annual contest offering a pitcher of beer for the first butterfly of the year collected in one of the three counties.

The contest is all part of Shapiro's 43-year study of climate and butterfly seasonality. He monitors the many species of Central California butterflies and posts the information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.

Shapiro says the cabbage white "is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter." Since 1972--the year he launched the "beer-for-for-a-butterfly" contest--the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20. And he usually wins his own contest because he knows where to find them. (See Bug Squad for results of this year's contest.)

Meanwhile, let's all catch some cabbage whites for the Pieris Project.

Have you seen this butterfly? You can become a part of a global community of citizen scientists by helping graduate students with a project. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Have you seen this butterfly? You can become a part of a global community of citizen scientists by helping graduate students with a project. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Have you seen this butterfly? You can become a part of a global community of citizen scientists by helping graduate students with a project. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 9:19 PM

Good News for the Bees!

Good news for the honey bees!

And none too soon.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today (Oct. 29) in a press release that "more than $4 million in technical and financial assistance will be provided to help farmers and ranchers in the Midwest improve the health of honey bees, which play an important role in crop production."

 “The future of America's food supply depends on honey bees, and this effort is one way USDA is helping improve the health of honey bee populations,” Vilsack said in the USDA release. “Significant progress has been made in understanding the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees, and this funding will allow us to work with farmers and ranchers to apply that knowledge over a broader area.”

The declining honey bee population is besieged with health issues, exacerbated by pests, parasites, pesticides, diseases, stress and malnutrition  Nationally, however, honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables. If you enjoy such produce as almonds, apples, cherries, cucumbers, and peaches, thank a bee for its pollination services.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is focusing the effort on five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Why the Midwest? "From June to September, the Midwest is home to more than 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter."

The announcement renews and expands what USDA calls "a successful $3 million pilot investment that was announced earlier this year and continues to have high levels of interest."  It's all part of the June 2014 Presidential Memorandum – Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which directs USDA to expand the acreage and forage value in its conservation programs.

Funding will be provided to producers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Applications are due Friday, Nov. 21.

This means that the farmers and ranchers will receive support and guidance to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. This will include appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management. In addition to providing good forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, the actions taken are expected to reduce erosion, increase soil health and inhibit invasive species.

California also will benefit. "This year, several NRCS state offices are setting aside additional funds for similar efforts, including California – where more than half of all managed honey bees in the U.S. help pollinate almond groves and other agricultural lands – as well as Ohio and Florida," according to the release.

A nice push for the pollinators!

Honey bee foraging on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 9:26 PM
Tags: honey bees (214), mustard (5), NRCS (1), pollinators (9), Tom Vilsack (1), USDA (2)

New(ish) registrations for glufosinate herbicides in California orchard and vineyard crops

For the past couple of years, an important postemergence herbicide active ingredient, glufosinate-ammonium, used in orchards and vineyards has been in pretty short supply (see my earlier post about Rely 280 scarcity). 

This was largely due to supply issues caused by unexpectedly high demand in the South and Midwest due by herbicide resistant weeds (particularly Palmer amaranth).  The resulting manufacturer supply bottleneck has caused a few weed management challenges (and high prices for limited supply!) in some regions of the state, particularly for growers dealing with our own glyphosate-resistant weed problems in trees and vines.

The US patent on that active ingredient expired a couple years ago and several manufacturers have been pushing to get their versions of a glufosinate herbicide into the California market.  I knew several product submissions had been submitted to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation for consideration and were winding through the process.  Today I received notification that one of them had been approved so I thought I'd update readers of this blog.

Currently registered glufosinate herbicides for some California orchard and vineyard crops (check labels for specific crops - there are a few "slight" differences).

  • Rely 280.  Bayer Crop Sciences.  2.34 lb/gal (280 g/L) formulation
  • Reckon 280SL. Solara ATO.  2.34 lb/gal (280 g/L) formulation
  • Glufosinate 280SL. Willowood USA.   2.34 lb/gal (280 g/L) formulation
  • Forfeit 280. Loveland Products. 2.34 lb/gal (280 g/L) formulation
  • Refer 280SL. Summit Agro. 2.34 lb/gal (280 g/L) formulation
  • Lifeline. United Phosphorus Inc. 2.34 lb/gal (280 g/L) formulation (very recently registered but was not listed on Agrian as of this post)
  • Additionally, I know of at least one other product, Cheetah from NuFarm, that is winding it's way through CDPR but does not yet have California registration but is expected "any day".  There may also be others in process that I'm not aware of.

One good thing compared to a few other herbicides with many manufacturers is that all these glufosinate products have the same active ingredient concentration in the jug (280 g/L = 2.34 lb ai/gal) which makes rate comparisons among products a lot easier. 

Now, before I get a bunch of emails from product reps telling why their product is actually much better than the others (and I'm sure they are), I will acknowledge that these products have different surfactant packages and formulation technologies which could affect weed control performance.  However, in a few limited field tests of some of these herbicides, I didn't notice any striking differences among the ones I tested (see one example data table below).

All in all, I think that as the supply chain and inventory of these products fills up in California we should see the glufosinate shortage of the past couple years greatly reduced.  This herbicide active ingredient (and mode of action) is an important component of many weed control programs but will need to be used carefully just as any herbicide should be in order to: effectively and economically control weeds, protect the environment, minimize potential for crop injury, and minimize selection of resistant weeds.

Take care,


Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 5:14 PM

California Weed Science Society 67th Annual Conference

Conference Announcement: California Weed Science Society

Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 4:34 PM

Anthony Cornel Knows Mosquitoes

The yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. (CDC Photo)
Medical entomologist Anthony “Anton” Cornel knows his mosquitoes--and a few snakes, too.

When he was doing research in Brazil in September, he draped a snake around his neck and posed for the camera.

His favorite research subjects, though, are mosquitoes.

Among them:

  • The yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, found throughout the tropics and subtropics and a  newly invasive species in central California.
  • The West Nile virus mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, found throughout much of the world.
  • The malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, which wreaks worldwide havoc.

Cornel's name appeared in the news this week when the UC Davis lab of Walter Leal announced that it had found the odorant receptor that repels DEET in the southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito. Cornel provided the mosquitoes that allowed the Leal lab to duplicate his colony. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published the work Oct. 27.

Culex quinquefasciatus transmits West Nile virus and other diseases. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Cornel, based at the UC Kearney Agriculture and Research Center, Parlier, and an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, has studied mosquitoes for more than two decades. He collects, rears and researches mosquitoes from all over the world, including the United States, Mali, Cameroon, Comoros, Tanzania, South Africa and Brazil. 

Cornel's main research keys in on the population genetics and ecology of West Nile virus vectors in the United States and population genetics and ecology of major malaria vectors in Africa.

“Anton is a great asset to our program, a wonderful colleague, and a nice team player,” said Leal, a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.  “We benefit greatly from his generosity by sharing not only mosquito colonies, but also his encyclopedic knowledge on mosquito biology and ecology. We shared co-authorship in a number of publications, and many more are coming.”

Cornel collaborates with Leal on oviposition attraction in Culex quinquefasciatus and “we are now endeavoring to come up with effective oviposition attractive chemical lures to use in virus surveillance and kill traps.”

The malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. (Photo by Anthony Cornel)
However, the mosquito that's alarming residents of central California is the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Infected mosquitoes can transmit dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses and other diseases. 

“The invasion of Aedes aegypti into central California has been of great concern especially as current control methods do not appear to be working very well,” said Cornel, who works closely with state's mosquito abatement personnel. “We have found that the Aedes aegypti have insecticide resistance genes which likely explains why their ultra-low volume (ULV) and barrier spray applications have not worked as well as expected. Work will be ongoing next year when the Aedes aegypti become active again after a brief slow overwintering period from November to March.”

A native of South Africa, Cornel received his doctorate in entomology, focusing on mosquito systematics, in 1993 from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship with the Entomology Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, before joining UC Davis in 1997 as an assistant professor and researcher.

How did he get involved in mosquitoes? “My interest in mosquito research started in the mid-1980s when I agreed to conduct a masters study under the guidance of Dr. Peter Jupp at the National Institute of Virology who researched West Nile and Sindbis viruses transmitted by mosquitoes in South Africa,” Cornel recalled. “Thereafter I continued to work on mosquitoes as a scientist employed at the South African Institute for Medical Research before moving to the USA.” 

“Who would have thought that that the expertise that I gained on West Nile virus as a master student in South Africa would be used many years later after West Nile virus invaded and spread throughout the USA?”

For more than two decades, Cornel has teamed with fellow medical entomologist and “blood brother” Professor Gregory Lanzaro of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to study malaria mosquitoes in the West African country of Mali. Their work is starting to show significant results.

“Because of our commitment to conduct long term longitudinal studies and not static investigations,” Cornel said, “we have now shown that considerable selective processes are taking place causing spatiotemporal dynamics of gene flow and fitness events in major malaria vectors M (now Anopheles coluzzii)  and S (now Anopheles gambiae)  and M/S hybrids in West Africa.” 

“We are currently establishing further evidence of the important role of insecticide resistance traits in spatiotemporal dynamics of Anopheles coluzzii, Anopheles gambiae  and the Bamako form.” Cornel noted that these results have “considerably important implications in future efficacies of insecticide treated bednets to control indoor biting malaria vectors in West Africa.”

Cornel also teams with Lanzaro and Professor Heather Ferguson of the University of Glasgow to examine the ecology and associated genetics of the major malaria vector Anopheles arabiensis in Tanzania. They began working on the project four years ago.

One of his newest projects is the study of population/genetics, insecticide resistance and cytogenetics in the major malaria vector in Brazil. Cornel and Lanzaro launched their study in September when they traveled to Brazil to begin targeting the culprit, Anopheles darlingi, a “widely distributed species that has adapted to survive in multiple ecological zones and we suspect that it may consist of multiple incipient or closely related species,” Cornel said.

“While in Brazil I collected larvae and dissected salivary glands from them to examine their polytene chromosome inversion structure and polymorphisms,” Cornel related. “Inversions are vitally important to consider in genetic analyses and it takes considerable patience to interpret the chromosomes.”

Cornel and Lanzaro collaborate with Professor Paulo Pimenta of the Laboratory of Medical Entomology, René Rachou Research Centre- FIOCRUZ, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil. The UC Davis medical entomologists hope to produce good preliminary data from their research trip to write grants and establish a long-term project in Brazil.

Cornel also studies avian malaria. That interest sparked four years ago when he began working in Cameroon with scientists from UCLA and San Francisco State University (SFSU), including SFSU's Ravinger Sehgal, who studies avian blood parasites. Cornel's graduate student Jenny Carlson, in her final year of her Ph.D studies at UC Davis, is investigating avian malaria in Fresno County. 

The Cornel-Carlson research implicates that considerable fidelity exists between Culex mosquito species and species of plasmodium they transmit. “This is contrary to the currently held belief that all Culex mosquitoes are equally capable of transmitting avian malaria,” Cornel said. “In our investigations, we described a new species of avian malaria which is very common in songbirds in Fresno County (published in Parasitology Research).”

Cornel plans to continue working with Sehgal investigating the effects of deforestation on transmission of avian parasites in Cameroon. They recently submitted a National Science Foundation grant proposal. “A large swath of primary forest is slated to be deforested in Cameroon and replaced with Palm oil plantations and we will investigate the effects of this hopefully, as it happens.”

Also new on the horizon: Cornel will be starting a new mosquito-borne virus project in February. He received a Carnegie Foundation scholarly three-month fellowship to work in South Africa (February through to April). The primary objective of the project? To examine mosquito-borne viruses cycling in seven national parks in South Africa and two National Parks in Bostwana.

“It's extremely difficult to get permission to conduct field research in national parks in Southern Africa and this provides an unprecedented exciting opportunity for me to work with a friend, Professor Leo Braack from the University of Pretoria, in these parks. One has to be very careful working in some of these parks at night because of the wild predators, elephants, hippos and buffalo.”  

Cornel is active in the 30- member Center for Vectorborne Diseases (CVEC), headquartered in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and considered the most comprehensive vectorborne disease program in California. Both interdisciplinary and global, CVEC encompasses biological, medical, veterinary and social sciences.

Medical entomologist Anthony Cornel with a snake in Brazil.
Medical entomologist Anthony Cornel with a snake in Brazil.

Medical entomologist Anthony Cornel with a snake in Brazil.

UC Davis medical entomologists Anthony Cornel (foreground) and Gregory Lanzaro make annual trips to Mali to study malaria mosquitoes.
UC Davis medical entomologists Anthony Cornel (foreground) and Gregory Lanzaro make annual trips to Mali to study malaria mosquitoes.

UC Davis medical entomologists Anthony Cornel (foreground) and Gregory Lanzaro make annual trips to Mali to study malaria mosquitoes.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 5:04 PM

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