Meet Emily Meineke, New UC Davis Urban Landscape Entomologist

While you're sheltering in place due to the coronavirus pandemic precautions, not too many people are aware of a new faculty member in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, recently arrived from Harvard.

Welcome, Emily Meineke!

She joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology as an assistant professor of urban landscape entomology on March 1. She studies how climate change and urban development affect insects, plants, and how they interact with one another.

Before accepting her UC Davis appointment, Meineke served as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard University Herbaria, where she studied how urbanization and climate change have affected plant-insect relationships worldwide over the past 100-plus years.

A native of Greenville, N.C., Emily received her bachelor of science degree in environmental science, with a minor in biology, in 2008 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and then went on to obtain her doctorate in entomology in 2016 from North Carolina State University. Advised by Steven Frank and co-advisor Robert Dunn, she completed her dissertation on  "Understanding the Consequences of Urban Warming for Street Trees and Their Insect Pests."

Getting to know our new faculty member:

1. Please expand on the kind of research you do.

"Insects have eaten plants for around 400 million years. These interactions have given rise to most of terrestrial biodiversity. Over the past 12,000 years, humans have disrupted plant-herbivore relationships by building cities, domesticating crops, and changing the global climate."

"I investigate these disruptions, focusing on species that are of cultural importance, such as street trees, crops, crop wild relatives, and plants that support rare insect species. My work combines experiments, observations, citizen science, and biological collections to address key hypotheses in ecology."

2. What do you like best about your work?

"I love discovery, the moment when you as a scientist know something that no one else knows. I love passing that experience on to students. I also love that my work reflects my personal values. Biodiversity is critically important, and the fact that I get to study it for a living is a real privilege."

3. How did you get interested in entomology? Can you recall an occasion that sparked your interest? 

"I have no idea, honestly. I never had an insect collection as a kid, and I was equally interested in all living things, from my family's pets to the toads that lived in my backyard. At some point after my undergraduate education, I realized that insects are both invisible to us most of the time and are incredibly present in our lives and imaginations. Ecologically, because they are small in size, they can seem unimportant because we are biased to think creatures our size or larger are important, but insects are really the little things that run the world."

4. How would you describe yourself?

"I'm a pretty serious person who is always working to be more light-hearted. I am both easily discouraged and tenacious. I would describe myself as creative and am drawn to diversity in all forms."

5. What drew you to UC Davis?

"When I visited, I got the feeling that UC Davis encourages creativity while valuing research that produces real solutions. When I interviewed here, I felt I would be able to be myself as a researcher and that my fellow faculty would support that. On top of that, UC Davis is such an established institution with great resources in a beautiful part of the world. I can't think of a better place to be."

6. What do you like to do in your leisure time?

"All I really ever want to do is eat and spend time with people I love. 'People' includes my two dogs, who rule the house."

9. What would people be surprised to know about you?

"I have a hidden talent. I can make very realistic cat meows. I can fool anyone's cat and most humans."

In addition to her NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, she received a number of other honors, including Student Appreciation for the Biology of Insect Pests Award; Garden Club of America Urban Forestry Fellowship; and the EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship.

A member of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), Ecological Society of America and the Botanical Society of America, she has presented talks across the continent, as well as in Finland, Spain, Canada, France and Denmark. She delivered a presentation at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology in Orland, Fla., and at ESA's national and regional meetings.

Meineke has published her work in Ecological MonographsEcology and EvolutionJournal of Applied Ecology, and the Journal of Urban Ecology, among others.

The Boston Globe featured her research in a news story published Oct 11, 2018: "Rising Temperatures May Cause Insects to Eat More Plants, Harvard Study Says"

Nature journal featured her in a research highlights piece, "Warmer Forests Store Less Carbon," published Oct. 12, 2016

Los Angeles Times spotlighted her in its Oct. 6, 2016 piece, "As Cities Get Warmer, These Trees Lose Some of their Ability to Take Carbon Out of the Atmosphere."