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Pest management specialist Charles Summers wins prestigious Woodworth Award

A University of California entomologist whose career spans 39 years in the pest management of field and vegetable crops, is the winner of the prestigious Charles W. Woodworth Award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.

Charles "Charlie" Summers, stationed at the UC Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier, since 1970, and a member of UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1992, will receive the award at the branch's 93rd annual meeting, set March 29-April 1 in San Diego.

"This is the major award of the Pacific Branch to professionals and is very prestigious," said Pacific Branch president Walt Bentley, an integrated pest management specialist at Kearney Agricultural Center. "The award recognizes his contributions to entomology over the last 10 years but in reality it is for a career of meaningful work."

Throughout his career, Summers has worked to solve pest problems impacting California agriculture. He has conducted field studies in the Central Valley from Chico to Bakersfield, working with 15 different field and vegetable crops, more than 20 different insect pests and their natural enemies, and at least 10 insect-vectored diseases.

Summers developed economic thresholds, determining at what point the cost of pest damage exceeds the cost of pest control. He pioneered economic thresholds for seven pests in four crops, and developed management strategies for a combination of 28 crops, insect and disease pests. His credits include publications in more than 200 journals and more than 800 presentations.

Summers is known for his research on the interactions among insects, diseases and weeds on alfalfa hay and how they individually and as a whole, influence yield and quality. His work has led to improved best management decisions and decreased pesticide use. He is also known for his research on reflective mulches, used to delay and reduce aphid and whitefly infestations on squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and tomatoes and other crops. He teams with plant pathologist Jim Stapleton and vegetable crop specialist Jeff Mitchell, both based at Kearney.

"In the mid-1990s, Dr. Stapleton and I embarked on a series of studies to determine if aphids, aphid-transmitted viruses, and silverleaf whitefly could be managed using plastic reflective mulches," Summers said "Dr. Jeff Mitchell later joined our team. We evaluated a wide variety of crops as well as different types of mulches. We were able to manage all three of these pests without the need to rely on the use of insecticides."

"Our studies have clearly demonstrated that the use of these mulches are effective in delaying the onset of silverleaf whitefly colonization and the incidence of aphid-borne virus diseases," Summers said. "The data shows that marketable yields with summer squash, cucumber, and pumpkins grown over reflective mulch are higher than those in plants grown over bare soil, both with and without insecticide. We also determined that the use of reflective mulch, without insecticides, leads to significantly increased yields of fall planted cantaloupes."

Another highlight of his career: his work on the biology of corn leafhopper and corn stunt spiroplasma. He proved that the corn leafhopper can overwinter in the San Joaquin Valley and that the pathogen, Spiroplasma kunkelii overwinters in it.

"Before this research, it was assumed that tropical insects such as corn leafhopper could not overwinter in our temperate climate, but were reintroduced each year from Mexico," Summers said. The findings led to better strategies for managing the pest and the pathogen.

His research showed that corn leafhopper can live up to 172 days on triticale, wheat, and barley and as long as 150 days on oats. "This length of survival," Summers said, "is sufficient time to bridge the corn-free period from the last volunteer corn in the fall to the first planted and emerged corn in the spring. We found that the corn stunt spiroplasma, Spiroplasma kunkelii, is seed-borne in cobs left in the field overwinter. This provides a ready source of inoculums in the spring when these seeds germinate. This is especially important where corn follows corn."

His research also found that corn leafhopper completes its development from egg to adult on triticale, thus providing another host in the San Joaquin Valley.

A native of Ogden, Utah, Summers received two degrees from Utah State University; his bachelor of science degree in zoology in 1964 and his master's degree in entomology in 1966. He earned his doctorate in entomology in 1970 from Cornell University.

Summers is the 40th recipient of the award since 1969. Five other UC Davis entomologists received the award: William Harry Lange Jr. in 1978; Harry Laidlaw in 1981; Robert Washino in 1987; Thomas Leigh in 1991; and Harry Kaya in 1998.

The award memorializes noted American entomologist Charles W. Woodworth, (1865-1940), credited with founding the UC Berkeley Department of Entomology and helping to develop the Agricultural Experiment Station, which later became the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Born and educated in Illinois, Woodworth was a charter member (1889) of the American Association of Economic Entomologists, which later merged with the Entomological Society of America.


Contact: Kathy Keatley Garvey
University of California - Davis

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