Lynn Kimsey, Director of Bohart Museum of Entomology, to Discuss Collecting Trip to Indonesia
Oct. 5, 2011
Lynn and Bob Kimsey on a collecting trip in the Mekongga Mountains, southeastern Sulawesi
DAVIS--Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, will speak on her research in Indonesia at a UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 12 in 122 Briggs.
Her topic: “The International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program (ICBG) Rain Forest Expedition to Sulawesi Rainforest.”
One of her trips resulted in the discovery of a new wasp species, dubbed "warrior wasp," which has drawn international attention. The shiny black wasp appears to be the "Komodo dragon" of the wasp family. The male measures about two-and-a-half-inches long, Kimsey said.
“Its jaws are so large that they wrap up either side of the head when closed. When the jaws are open they are actually longer than the male’s front legs. I don’t know how it can walk. The females are smaller but still larger than other members of their subfamily, Larrinae.”
Kimsey discovered the warrior wasp on the Mekongga Mountains in southeastern Sulawesi on a recent biodiversity expedition funded by a five-year grant from the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program.
The insect-eating predator was at first thought to belong to the genus Dalara and family Crabronidae. It may now be a new genus. “I’m going to name the species Garuda, after the national symbol of Indonesia,” Kimsey said. Garuda, a powerful mythical warrior that’s part human and part eagle, boasts a large wingspan, martial prowess and breakneck speed.
“The first time I saw the wasp I knew it was something really unusual,” said Kimsey, a noted wasp expert who oversees the Bohart Museum's global collection of seven million insect specimens, including 500,000 wasps. “I’m very familiar with members of the wasp family Crabronidae that it belongs to but had never seen anything like this species of Dalara. We don’t know anything about the biology of these wasps. They are only known from southwestern Sulawesi.”
The large jaws probably play a role in defense and reproduction, she said. "In another species in the genus the males hang out in the nest entrance. This serves to protect the nest from parasites and nest robbing, and for this he exacts payment from the female by mating with her every time she returns to the nest. So it's a way of guaranteeing paternity. Additionally, the jaws are big enough to wrap around the female's thorax and hold her during mating."
In her entire career as entomologist, she’s discovered close to 300 new species. But on three trips to Sulawesi, she’s brought back to the Bohart Museum “hundreds, maybe thousands of new species.”
“It will take years, maybe generations, to go through them all,” Kimsey said.
“I consider Sulawesi one of the world’s top three islands for biodiversity—that along with Australia and Madagascar.”
Sulawesi, a large Indonesian island located between Borneo and New Guinea, is known not only for its endemic biodiversity, but its rainforest and its proximity (three degrees) to the equator. Development threatens plant and animal life.
On the last three-week expedition, the UC Davis team of Lynn Kimsey, husband Robert Kimsey, a forensic entomologist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, and Alan Hitch, assistant curator of the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, hooked up with 12 scientists from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
The 67-member expedition also included 12 members of Kendari's Chitaka mountaineering group, which guides mountain climbers to the top of the 9,117-foot volcanic peak; and a 40-member porter team that carried the equipment, set up camp and cooked the food.
The terrain was steep, slippery and overall, physically challenging, Lynn Kimsey said. “This part of Sulawesi gets about 400 inches of rain a year,” she said. “We were told that Sulawesi has a dry and rainy season. But the only difference we could see between the dry and rainy season is that during the dry season, it rains only in the afternoon.”
The director of the Bohart Museum since 1989, Kimsey is an insect taxonomist, specializing in bees and wasps and insect diversity. She received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 1979 and joined the faculty in 1989.
Over the last four years, the international team of scientists has collected about a million specimens. Among the new species: a bat, two frogs, two lizards, two fish, a land crab and many insects.
Kimsey is a collaborator of a five-year $4 million grant awarded to UC Davis scientists in 2008 to study the biodiversity of fungi, bacteria, plants, insects and vertebrates on Sulawesi, all considered threatened by logging operations and mining developments. Much of the mountain was logged two decades ago and now there are plans for an open pit nickel mine, Kimsey said.
“There’s talk of forming a biosphere reserve to preserve this,” she said. “There are so many rare and endangered species on Sulawesi that the world may never see.”
An international team of collaborators is conducting biodiversity surveys, as well as screening microbes and plants for applications to human health and energy needs, recommending strategies to conserve endangered species, and developing and encouraging local conservation, according to principal investigator Daniel Potter of the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. Other collaborators from UC Davis are from the UC Davis Herbarium, Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Plant Pathology and the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection in the Department of Food Science and Technology.
Shortly after receiving the grant, Potter, a plant systematist at the Agricultural Experiment Station and director of the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity, said: “The alarming rate at which biodiversity is being lost in many tropical regions has resulted in an urgent need for such efforts."
The International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program is a multi-agency program led by the National Institutes of Health with contributions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation.
The director of the Bohart Museum since 1989, Kimsey is an insect taxonomist, specializing in bees and wasps and insect diversity. She received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 1979 and joined the faculty in 1989. Kimsey served as the interim chair of the UC Davis Department from 2008 to 2009.
--Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Department of Entomology