Christian Nansen: An Entomologist on the Move

Jan 10, 2017

Christian Nansen is an entomologist on the move.

Devoted to research, teaching and public service, he'll speak next week on “Urban Food Production in the Digital Age—Local Empowerment and Sustainability” as part of the UC Davis Community Book Project, which focuses on award-winning writer, activist and academic Raj Patel's work, Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System.

Nansen, an agricutural entomologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will deliver his presentation from 12 noon to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 18 in the Memorial Union's Garrison Room, UC Davis campus.

Sustainable pest management solutions in agricultural systems is a key component of Nansen's research, and he and his team focus on deployment of drones and imaging systems to optimize stress detection of pest outbreaks. In his leisure time, he is converting his back and front yards in Davis "into an urban farming system."

In his Jan. 18 seminar, Nansen will cite several important reasons why urban and suburban citizens "should increase their level of self-sufficiency and resilience when it comes to food production."

In many respects, Nansen is a citizen of the world.

Born and educated in Denmark, Nansen received his master's degree in biology from the University of Copenhagen in 1995 and his doctorate in zoology from the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark in 2000. He accepted positions in Portugal, Benin, United States, UK and Australia before joining the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in January 2015 as an assistant professor who focuses on insect ecology and remote sensing. His international experience also includes being an international exchange student at the University of Lisbon, Portugal and a visiting professor at Northwest A&F University, Yangling, China.

As part of his undergraduate studies, Nansen took time off to travel to Brazil to write a book about sustainable agriculture in rainforest areas. “In this process," he related, "I learned about the potential of honey bees as both pollinators of crops but also as ‘promoters' more broadly of sustainable agricultural development."

Nansen wrote his master's thesis on honey bees: “The Apis mellifera Forging Response to the Pollen Availability in Cistus salvifolius.” The plant is also known as a sage-leaved rock rose or Gallipoli rose. He conducted field work in Portugal involving pollen identification, observations on daily flight and foraging activity, and modeling of pollen availability.

For his doctorate, his interest turned to the larger grain borer, a serious pest of stored maize and dried cassava roots. He wrote his dissertation on “The Spatial Distribution and Potential Hosts of the Larger Grain Borer, Prostephanus truncatus (Horn) (Coleoptera: Bostrichidae), in a forest in Benin, West Africa.” His research involved stored product insect ecology, field trapping with pheromone traps, experimental work on pheromone production, vegetation analysis, satellite image interpretation, laboratory infestation of potential breeding substrates, and histological studies.

Nansen recalled that his childhood exposures to international scientists played a major role in his choice of a career. His father, a professor in veterinary parasitology, entertained many colleagues in the family home. “And my mother cooked the food! This is probably the main reasons why I enjoy both cooking and why my career has been so international.”

“Even though Denmark is a very small country (5 million people),” Nansen said, “it has been at the forefront of agricultural research and production for many decades. And growing up, my father took me on field trips and exposed me to farming systems.” In fact, young Christian earned his weekly allowance in the chicken business: he sold eggs to neighbors.

In an earlier interview, he expressed delight at seeing a “steadily growing appreciation for the origin and quality of the food we eat," noting that "today, in the 21st century, the technologies deployed in modern agriculture are so advanced and similar to the cutting-edge technologies in other fields. Those technologies require skill sets beyond what most people may be aware of. Use of drones, remote sensing, GIS models, mathematical models of weather, crop physiology and soil dynamics, models to optimize input requirements and minimize economic risks, phone apps to optimize applications of agro-chemicals – these are all skill sets and approaches we are using as part of studying food production systems and developing innovative and reliable tools to be used within the agricultural sector.”

On Thursday, Jan. 19, the day after the UC Davis Community Book Project presentation, Nansen will give a seminar on  "Droplets of Evolutionary Biology: Theoretical Modeling of Resistance Evolution to Insecticides" from 4:10 to 5:30 p.m.  in 100 Hunt Hall as part of the UC Davis Evolution and Ecology winter-quarter seminars.

He is also coordinating the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's winter seminars. As part of those seminars, he'll speak Wednesday, March 1 from 4:10 to 5 p.m. on "Reflectance Profiling as a Tool to Study Insects and Other Objects" in Room 122, Briggs Hall.

All the presentations are free and open to the public.