Michael Branstetter,a doctoral candidate in entomology at the University of California, Davis, won a coveted President’s Prize for his oral presentation on ants at the56th annual Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Reno.
Branstetter delivered an illustrated presentation on “Phylogeny and Biography of the Ant Genus Stenamma: Uncovering the Evolutionary Origins of Mesoamerican Taxa.” Stenamma is a little studied genus of leaf litter ants.
He competed in the Revisions and Evolution Section, moderated by scientists from Laurentian University, Ontario, Canada, and the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. Following his presentation, judges and spectators asked questions, an integral part of the competition.
Fourteen graduate students from throughout the United States participated in the Revisions and Evolutions Section.
A fourth-year graduate student, Branstetter studies with UC Davis entomology professor Phil Ward and specializes in the systematics of Neotropical ants. Systematics deals with the diversity and evoution of life and its classification.
Branstetter, a native of Toledo, Ohio, received his bachelor of science degree from EvergreenState College, Olympia, Wash., where he studied entomology, evolution and ecology.
The recipient of several grants, Branstetter has collected ants in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and in Chiapas, Mexico. His collecting trips are funded by the National Science Foundation’s Biodiversity Surveys and Inventories program as well as National Geographic. Principal investigator of the grant is John Longino of the EvergreenState College.
Branstetter’s next collecting trip will be a two-month excursion in Guatemala next May and June. He will be in charge of an international group of students who will be collecting leaf litter throughout the country.
This is the second consecutive year that a UC Davis graduate student in systematics has won the President’s Prize at the ESA meeting, said Lynn Kimsey, chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology.Last year Nate Hardy, student of professors Penny Gullan and Peter Cranston, won the prize for his “A New Mealybug Subfamily Classification Based on Integrated Morphological and DNA Sequence Data.”