Congratulations to professor emeritus Dr. Bob Wharton as he received the Department of Entomology’s Lifetime Achievement Recognition.
Since joining the Department in the early 1980s, Wharton was well-liked for his teaching and mentoring of graduate students and his success in teaching has resulted in a number of superbly-trained, equally passionate, and independent-thinking graduate students graduating from the Department.
He has served on 4 thesis and dissertation committees for 8 consecutive years and created an atmosphere of candid discussion and self-discovery for students and promoted inquiry-driven and hypothesis- based research, which resulted in his students becoming integral components of his research program. As a result, students have written several grant proposals, published original research results in quality, high impact peer-reviewed journals and presented at national and international meetings and symposia.
Wharton maintained a research program at the forefront of systematics while contributing substantially in the very practical and applied discipline of biological control of invasive species. His program was international in scope, with a wide range of collaborators across the globe. The specialized subjects of research were the fruit-infesting tephritid flies and their natural enemies which form a model system for the research effort.
Tephritid fruit flies are key pests of edible fruits worldwide, with millions of dollars spent every year in the U.S. in detection and eradication efforts. Such are their abilities to cause devastation in crops across a broad range of commercially important host plants that regulatory agencies even worry about this group of flies being bred and released by terrorists to disrupt food supplies in the southern tier of states, from California to Florida.
The flies also have been the poster child for sympatric speciation, an area of research that has challenged many traditional assumptions on evolution. A conclusion drawn from the work conducted over the past 50 years primarily on temperate, North American species is the remarkable host fidelity exhibited by these flies.
The data generated during the applied research program are now being used Wharton and his colleagues to address differences between tropical and temperate tephritids in patterns of host plant utilization, and the underlying causes. One paper on this subject, recently accepted for publication, was accorded high praise by the subject editor, “This research addresses one of the dominant, high-profile models of speciation in animals.”
Over the last 10 years of his career, Wharton secured several grants including 2 NSF-PEET-Monographic Research on Parasitic Hymenoptera competitive grants, CONACYT, California Department of Food and Agriculture, USDA-IFAS, and USAID. This level of support generated an average of 5 peer-reviewed, refereed journal articles per year for much of his career.