Kristina Tatiossian with her mosaic ceramic figure of a walnut twig beetle she crafted for her research poster. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)



Kristina Tatiossian: Trailblazing UC Davis Student

A UC Davis student’s research on walnut twig beetles has resulted in a resounding success story for the UC Davis Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology.

The program, formed two years ago by three faculty members in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, aims to provide undergraduates with a closely mentored research experience in biology.  Those selected are placed in the laboratories of mentors to do research in insect biology and allied sciences.

Kristina Tatiossian, who joined the program in September 2011, “was a member of the first cohort of undergraduates recruited to the program,” said professor Jay Rosenheim, who coordinates the program with assistant professors  Louie Yang and Joanna Chiu.  “I witnessed her tremendous determination to develop independent research skills," Rosenheim said, "and she succeeded in all phases of the project, from design, data collection, data analysis and manuscript preparation.”

Among the 30 students who have entered the program since 2011, “Kristina is absolutely the standout in terms of motivation and enthusiasm for research,” Rosenheim said. “She leaped at the opportunity to learn how to become an independent researcher. Kristina will generate the first-lead authored publication for any student in our program—hopefully, the first of many. In this sense, she has already been a trailblazer for our program.”
“Kristina worked on the host-finding behavior of a major pest of walnut trees, the walnut twig beetle,” said her mentor, Steve Seybold, chemical ecologist and forest entomologist of the Davis-based Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, and an affiliate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. “This is a nationally significant pest that spreads a disease of live trees called thousand cankers disease (TCD).  The condition threatens not only the English walnuts that form the basis of the California nut industry, but also the black walnuts that represent over $500 billion in growing stock value of fine wood products in the eastern U.S.”

Tatiossian recently high praise and an honorable mention award at a recent ceremony honoring the recipients of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research.

 “Kristina worked on the host-finding behavior of a major pest of walnut trees, the walnut twig beetle,” said her mentor, Steve Seybold, chemical ecologist and forest entomologist of the Davis-based Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, and an affiliate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. “This is a nationally significant pest that spreads a disease of live trees called thousand cankers disease (TCD).  The condition threatens not only the English walnuts that form the basis of the California nut industry, but also the black walnuts that represent over $500 billion in growing stock value of fine wood products in the eastern U.S.”
 Tatiossian recently high praise and an honorable mention award at a recent ceremony honoring the recipients of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research.

 “Kristina formulated her research project in fall 2011 and spring 2012 and then carried it out in spring and summer 2012,” Seybold said. “As she developed the project, she also applied to the Department of Entomology for a McBeth Scholarship, which she was awarded in summer 2012.  The award helped her offset the costs of her research supplies and funded her travel to several scientific meetings.”
 “Kristina collected a live population of the walnut twig beetle from a traditional orchard habitat in the southern Central Valley, reared the insects to the adult stage, and re-introduced the adults into freshly cut black walnut branch sections.  Once the male beetles had begun producing their aggregation pheromones (attractants) in the branch sections, Kristina used the branch sections as lures to attract new males and females into flight traps.  Using this basic technique she was able to establish that as few as 1 to 5 male beetles would provide a threshold of flight behavioral attraction in the field.  This finding has ramifications for establishing an integrated pest management program for the walnut twig beetle nationwide.”

Her poster, now on permanent display at Briggs Hall, credits Seybold; Extension entomologist Mary Louise Flint,  associate director for Urban and Community IPM, UC Statewide Integrated Pest Program; entomology graduate student Stacy Hishinuma, and postdoctoral researcher Yigen Chen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Robin Schmidt of UC Davis Molecular and Cellular Biology mounted the unusual poster, the first of its kind in the Briggs Hallway.

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