James Nieh Named Fellow of Royal Entomological Society

Professor specializing in bee communication and health recognized by esteemed organization

November 29, 2017

By Mario C. Aguilera

James Nieh, a professor in the University of California San Diego Division of Biological Sciences, has been elected a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society.

The recent chair of the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Nieh studies the evolution of communication in social bees and factors that influence honey bee health.

Nieh is known for his research on the selective pressures that have shaped bee communication. He showed that social bees can “listen in” and use olfactory eavesdropping to exploit the signals of other bees and that honey bees have evolved sophisticated inhibitory communication. Last year, he and his collaborators provided the first evidence—in insects—of an encoded alarm signal that inhibits bee foraging according to the type of predator that bees encounter at food or near their nests.

More recently, Nieh and his collaborators deciphered the sex pheromone of the invasive Asian hornet, a major problem in Europe, and developed a new way to trap the invasive insects using a synthetic version of the pheromone. Earlier this year he and his colleagues provided the first evidence that a widely used pesticide can significantly impair the ability of otherwise healthy honey bees to fly, raising concerns about how pesticides affect their capacity to pollinate and the long-term effects on the health of honey bee colonies.

Founded in 1833, the United Kingdom-based Royal Entomological Society publishes seven academic journals and supports international collaboration, research and publication. Historical scientific luminaries Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace served as officers in the society. The society also organizes National Insect Week activities and aims “to promote excellence in entomology and demonstrate the importance of studying insects to everyone.”

Nieh received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1991 and his PhD from Cornell University in 1997. He completed a NSF-NATO postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Würzburg, Germany, and was a Harvard Junior Fellow from 1998-2000. He joined UC San Diego in 2001.

Nieh also leads a new three-year UC San Diego program designed to increase graduate student diversity. The University of California-Historically Black Colleges and Universities Initiative (UC-HBCU) combines diversity outreach and mentorship programs at UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences and Scripps Institution of Oceanography with students from Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA), which leads the nation in African-American biology graduates.