UC Davis Pollination Ecologist Neal Williams: Our New Fellow of California Academy of Sciences

UC Davis Pollination Ecologist Neal Williams: Our New Fellow of California Academy of Sciences

Congratulations to pollination ecologist Neal Williams, professor with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

He's a newly selected Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, a group of world-class scientists known for their scientific impact or outstanding contributions.

Candidates are nominated by Fellows. Williams was nominated by James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology, and seconded by Claire Kremen of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley.

In his letter of nomination, Carey wrote that Williams is “widely known and respected for his excellence in research, extension, outreach, teaching and leadership” and “is not only one of the stars of our campus, and the UC system, but is an internationally recognized leader in pollination and bee biology and strong voice in the development of collaborative research on insect ecology. He has organized national and international conferences, leads scores of working groups, and guides reviews of impacts of land use and other global change drivers on insects and the ecosystem services they provide.”

Williams is one of 13 Fellows in the Class of 2019, which also includes UC Davis physician Emanual Maverakis of the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Dermatology, nominated by Walter Leal, distinguished professor,  UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The Fellows will be inducted at the organization's annual meeting and gathering on Oct. 15.  The academy, a scientific and educational institution based in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, is dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on earth. The Fellows extend the academy's impact on research, public engagement, and education.  

Williams' research spans the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinating insects and their interactions with flowering plants. “He has become a leading voice for pollinator diversity and conservation in the California and The West,” wrote Carey. “One focus of his work has been in understanding the responses of bees to different environmental drivers and developing practical, scientifically grounded actions to support resilient pollinator communities. These efforts are particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.”

The UC Davis professor serves as co-chair (with Extension apiclturist Elina Lastro Niño) of the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference,  a four-day conference focusing on pollinator biology health and policy. It is set from Wednesday, July 17 through Saturday, July 20 in the UC Davis Conference Center. Themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will cover a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations. (Yes, there's still time to register!)

 In his work--a labor of love--Williams seeks and finds found common solutions for sustaining both wild and managed bees and communicates that information to the public and stakeholder groups. Said Carey: “This is a critical perspective in natural and agricultural lands, but also in urban landscapes in northern and southern California.”

Each year the UC Davis professor speaks to multiple beekeeper, farmer and gardener groups, and provides guidance to governing bodies, including the state legislature, and environmental groups. He and his lab are involved in a newly initiated California Bombus assessment project (https://calibombus.com/), which is using both museum and citizen scientist records to understand past, current and future distributions and habitat use by bumble bees. This program will host a series of workshops this spring and summer open to practitioners and the public.

Williams received his doctorate in ecology and evolution in 1999 from the State University of New York, Stony Brook and served as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Bryn Mawr (Penn.) College from 2004 to 2009. He joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009, advancing to full professor in 2017.

His honors and awards are many. Williams was part of the UC Davis Bee Team that won the Team Research Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) in 2013. In 2015, he was named a five-year Chancellor's Fellow, receiving $25,000 to support his research, teaching and public service activities. And then earlier this year, Williams received PBESA's Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award, presented annually for outstanding accomplishments in the study of insect interrelationships with plants. 

Williams also holds a three-year visiting professorship to the Swedish Agricultural University in Uppsala. The award is to lead work in sustainable agriculture, focusing in integrating multiple ecosystem services.

In addition to Carey, five others affiliated with UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology are Fellows of the California Academy of Sciences:

  • Professor Phil Ward
  • Frank Zalom, distinguished professor of entomology and a past president of the Entomological Society of America
  • Robert E. Page Jr., distinguished emeritus professor, former chair of the department and provost emeritus  of Arizona State University
  • Walter Leal, distinguished professor and a former chair of the entomology department (he is now with the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology) and
  • Visiting scientist Catherine Tauber, formerly of Cornell University.

Former Fellows from the UC Davis entomology department include Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, and visiting scientist Maurice Tauber (1931-2014), formerly of Cornell University.