University of California, Riverside

The EDGE Institute

The Devirian Graduate Student Research Award

botanic gardens

About Mike Devirian:

Michael Devirian’s career in the space program is the quintessential picture of a success. Since graduating from UC Riverside in 1966 with a degree in physics, Mike worked for the majority of his career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where he served in various positions in space flight operations, including Director of Flight Operations on the Voyager Project; science data networking, science payloads on the International Space Station; the Hubble repair mission; and as program manager for space science instrument projects built and managed at JPL. From 2005-2012, he was the manager of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program, and its predecessor Navigator Program. He is a recipient of NASA’s Medal for Outstanding Leadership, and NASA’s Medal for Exceptional Service. Today he works as a consultant and is interested, among other things, in the environment, science, and technology. UCR’s EDGE Institute couldn’t be happier that Michael supports a scholarship fund for graduate students researching various aspects of global change. 

Distinguished Alumni:














Devirian Graduate Student Research Award:

On behalf of Mike Devirian, the UC Riverside EDGE Institute (Environmental Dynamics & Geo- Ecology) will support graduate students studying in areas related to global climate and environmental change and the associated changes to ecosystems. We will be awarding three $800 scholarships in 2017. The scholarships can support any aspect of the student’s research, including fieldwork, conference attendance, or laboratory/computational expenses. Eligible applicants must be enrolled as full time graduate students at UC Riverside studying in the fields of biological, chemical, or physical sciences. 

Scholarship winners will be announced at the EDGE graduate student symposium in May 2017. All applicants are strongly encouraged to present their research at the symposium. Applications will be evaluated by UC Riverside faculty panel.  

2017 Award Recipients

Lorena Villanueva-Almanza, Ph.D. Candidate in Botany & Plant Sciences: Botanical  history and taxonomic revision of the genus Washingtonia

Lorena_VillanuevaWashingtonia (Arecaceae) is an American genus of palms composed of two species, W. filifera and W. robusta. The first one occurs naturally in Arizona, southern California, and north Baja California, while W. robusta is present in the Peninsula of Baja California, from latitude 30" to the Cape Region at 23", and in Sonora, mainland Mexico, where it has a very narrow distribution. Both palms have been an important element for the survival of native people even before the arrival of Jesuit missionaries to Baja California in the seventeenth century and continue to be today. Both species have been widely cultivated in California since 1874, and W. robusta is currently one of the most widely cultivated palms of the world. During the early years of cultivation, seeds of both W. filifera and W. robusta were being grown without knowledge neither of their taxonomic identity nor their geographic origin, due in part, to great morphological variation in both species. Poor understanding of its morphology led either to the description of numerous new species  (now mostly reduced to synonyms) or to an oversimplification of the genus resulting in the traditional 2-species circumscription. Accurate knowledge on the distribution of the genus is missing because of lack of fieldwork in its natural range, which is reflected in fragmentary herbaria collections. Washingtonia, in a way, has been the elephant of a safari: extensively photographed, but rarely collected. Variable taxonomic circumscription and imprecise species distribution has done little to clarify the identity of the palms brought into cultivation in the nineteenth century. This research is the first comprehensive review of the earliest horticultural records, letters, and nursery catalogs concerning Washingtonia in an attempt to clarify the taxonomic identity and distribution range of both species, since none of them have useful type specimens. The aims of my research are 1) to evidence the poor reliability of the most recent taxonomic treatment of the genus Washingtonia (Bailey, 1936), 2) challenge the long held idea that the genus is composed of two species, and 3) identify the origin of the seeds brought into cultivation using historical records.

Jonathan Nye, Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Science: Paleoecology and the Anthropocene at the end of the world: Marine food web and population dynamics in Tierra del Fuego

Jon_NyeAt the intersection between the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern oceans, Tierra del Fuego and the Beagle Channel are physical and biological nexus points that are poised to be highly influenced by climate change. Such changes can alter the function and significance of species within an ecosystem. One way to identify effects of climate and human activity on an ecosystem is by comparing Holocene and historic food webs, by measuring changes in food chain length and fluctuation in species’ niche and population. Graduate student Jonathan Nye aims to address three primary questions: (1) How has the marine ecosystem near Tierra del Fuego  changed  over time, (2) How have  humans  influenced and been  influenced  by  changes  in  this  ecosystem and (3) What are the characteristics and changes in population of Southern Fur seals in the Holocene?

Elizabeth Deyett, Ph.D. Candidate in Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics: The Grape Expectations: Discovering Alternative Strategies for Pest Management

Elizabeth_DeyettGlobal climate change and rise in population pose a great threat to both our agricultural system and food security. As regions grow warmer, insect populations increase and begin to migrate and invade new production areas, affecting agricultural productivity, and viability. To keep up with humanity's food consumption, agriculture has turned to the use of copious amounts of pesticides to avoid pathogens and increase crop yield. These pesticides have been linked to a number of environmental and ecosystem changes ranging from amphibian population declines to groundwater contamination. Pesticide residues also build up in food, becoming a potential hazard to the consumer. It’s estimated that pesticides have been linked to $15 billion dollars in medical bills in 2005, as well as incalculable environmental costs just within the US. Additionally, resistance to pesticides continues to grow, causing farmers to increase their usage. The need for novel innovative and alternative methods to implement for sustainable agricultural management, both for food security and environmental health, is accelerating as this issues become more prominent. In the last decade, numerous microbiome studies have shown the beneficial impact microbes have on both plant and animal health. This suggests that microbes can be used as an alternative or in addition to crop management strategy, reducing harmful pesticide build-up.

To better understand the highly dynamic microbial ecosystems in agriculture, my work focuses on grapevines and the common bacterial pathogen Xylella fastidiosa. Xylella fastidiosa (Xf) is a cosmopolitan pathogen affecting major economic crops including grape, citrus, almond and olive. This xylem dwelling bacterium is spread by sharpshooters insects and is capable of developing into Pierce’s disease (PD), where the pathogen obstructs the xylem, leading to the death of the plant. A class of sharpshooters have recently been introduced in southern California and global warming has expanded their geographical range to northern California. This brings the insect close to the heart of winegrape production, in Napa and Sonoma valleys. These sharpshooters are more efficient vectors of the disease and, if they become established, would have a devastating effect on the wine industry. The only management strategy currently for PD is controlling the vector through pesticides. In grapevines, Xf is responsible for $92 million a year in lost revenue. My project sets out to understand the pathogen-microbiome-plant interactions using PD and grapevine as a model and establishing ways to manipulate this natural interaction to provide optimal benefit to the host.

2015 Award Recipients:

mark_deguzman        leann_hancock       Courtney_collins

        Mark DeGuzman                           Leann Hancock                          Courtney Collins

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Tel: (951) 827-1012

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