Renowned Ant Specialist Brian Fisher to Deliver Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar on Nov. 9
Nov. 1, 2011
Brian Fisher will deliver the Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar on Wednesday, Nov. 9 in the Recreation Pool Lodge.
DAVIS--Renowned ant specialist Brian Fisher, associate curator of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences and an adjunct professor of biology at both the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University, will deliver the Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar, UC Davis Department of Entomology, on Wednesday, Nov. 9.
Fisher will speak on “How Many Ants Can an Island Hold? Exploring Ant Diversity in Madagascar.”
A reception is set from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Recreation Pool Lodge on La Rue Road. His seminar is from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m., in the lodge, with a dinner to follow.
Fisher received his doctorate degree in entomology from UC Davis in 1997, studying with major professor Phil Ward. He obtained his master’s degree in biology in 1992 from the University of Utah.
Often found hip-deep in Madagascar mud, Fisher is a modern day explorer who has devoted his life to the study and conservation of ants and biodiversity around the world. His research sends him through the last remote rainforests and deserts of Madagascar and Africa in search of ants. Although his subjects may be small in stature, they make a huge impact on their ecosystems.
By documenting the species diversity and distribution of this “invisible majority,” Fisher is helping to establish conservation priorities for Madagascar, identifying areas that should be set aside to protect the highest number of species. Along the way, he has discovered hundreds of new species of ants. He has published more than 75 peer reviewed articles including the Ants of North America with Stefan Cover.
Every year, Fisher trains dozens of international graduate students in the taxonomy and natural history of ants, providing them with skills to use ants as an important indicator of biodiversity across the globe. He has appeared in a number of BBC, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic films and has been profiled in Newsweek and Discover magazines.
“Our ability to dig deeper into their (ants’) hidden world can shed light on important ecosystem functions that have been overlooked out of ignorance or disinterest,” he says on his California Academy of Sciences website.
“Consider that the collective weight of all the ants in the world is equal to the weight of all the world's humans. It's a big subject with a big impact. That alone makes ants worthy of scientific study.”
Fisher, who has committed his life to exploring the world of ants, says ants are industrious, tenacious workers who live in colonies and obey a hierarchy of rulers. For the last 23 years, he has traveled the globe finding, collecting, identifying and naming ants, describing their behaviors, and cataloguing their traits. Of the estimated 22,000 ant species known to science, Fisher has personally discovered 1000 species of these.
Born in Normal, Ill., the son of a college professor and a fifth grade teacher, Brian Fisher knew he wanted to work in the outdoors but not as a park forester in a park. Flying to Europe the day after his high school graduation, he spent two years bicycling the continent, learning French and carpentry before returning home.
Once back, he enrolled at the University of Iowa, majoring in biology. “But I was itching to get to Latin America, learn Spanish and live the dream of a tropical plant collector,” he remembers. It was during a year in Panama that he worked part-time for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He also worked as an aspiring botanist, collecting specimens of tropical flora. It was during his stay in Panama that the love bug bit.
“You go to the tropics and the sheer diversity of insects are literally raining down on you,” he says. “At that point, I decided to switch from being a great botanical explorer to becoming an ant finder.”
Thomas Leigh (1923-1993)
The Nov. 9th seminar memorializes cotton entomologist Thomas Frances Leigh (1923-1993), an international authority on the biology, ecology and management of arthropod pests affecting cotton production. During his 37-year UC Davis career, he was based at the Shafter Research and Extension Center,, also known as the U.S. Cotton Research Station. He researched pest and beneficial arthropod management in cotton fields, and host plant resistance in cotton to insects, mites, nematodes and diseases.
Leigh joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 1958, retiring in 1991 as an emeritus professor, but he continued to remain active in his research and collaboration until his death on Oct. 26, 1993.
At Shafter, Leigh focused his research on the biology, ecology, host plant resistance, control and management of insects and spider mites on cotton. He stood at the forefront of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) of cotton pests, according to an article in the summer 1994 edition of American Entomologist. He taught courses on cotton IPM and host plant resistance.
Leigh was born March 6, 1923 in Loma Linda. A 1942 graduate of Beaumont High School, he worked briefly on a farm and then served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
His work as an agricultural inspector with the Riverside County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office from 1944-1945 sparked his interest in entomology. He received his bachelor of science degree in entomology from UC Berkeley in 1949, and his doctorate in entomology there in 1956. His thesis was on the influence of light, temperature and humidity on flight activity of the butterfly, Colias and involved both field and laboratory investigations.
Leigh served as an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas from 1954 to 1958, where he worked on the biology, ecology and control of pink bollworm and boll weevil, using chemicals and cultural means. He joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology, advancing from assistant entomologist to associate entomologist in 1963. In 1968, he was promoted to adjunct lecturer and entomologist.
During his 37-year career, he authored more than 127 peer-reviewed publications.
In his memory, his family and associates set up the Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar in Entomology Fund at the UC Davis Department of Entomology. The alumni seminar is now known as the Thomas and Nina Distinguished Alumni Seminar, memorializing he and his wife, Nina Eremin Leigh (1929-2002). The family includes two sons, Michael and Nicholas.
--Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Department of Entomology