Mentoring, and Delta Science Fellows Early Career Leadership Workshop April 25-27

Woooooshhhh… that’s what the past two weeks have felt like!

The end of April was filled with presentations, meetings, field trips, manuscript revisions,  free food (I love free food…) and lots of mentoring.

The action started on April 23rd, as I proudly watched my undergraduate student, Vincent Spadone, present his undergraduate thesis work on ‘Interactions of the Biological Control Agents on the Invasive Water Hyacinth”.

My undergraduate student-Vincent Spadone- presenting his thesis research on the ‘Interactions of the Biological Control Agents on the Invasive Water Hyacinth’

Vince, a senior and Environmental Science Major at UC Berkeley, has been helping me with some of my research since the Summer of 2016. I have also been mentoring him on his senior thesis project exploring the inter-and intraspecific species interactions among the weevil, Neochetina bruchi, and the plant hopper, Megamelus scutellaris. These two herbivores have both been released in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the associated Tributaries for control of water hyacinth. Thus it was in Vince and my interests to explore the potential interactions between these two species and whether these interactions hinder or benefit the biological control of water hyacinth.

So far the results of his laboratory experiments are preliminary but it appears that the planthopper avoids contact with the weevil, and potentially has lower survivorship in the presence of the weevil. However, when both species are present- they appear to cause more damage on water hyacinth compared to when these species are on separate plants. However, more replication is needed to reach more accurate conclusions.

The next day on April 24th, I zipped to UC Davis to present my research to the lab (Ted Grosholz’s lab at UC Davis). Then,  I loaded up with research supplies from the UC storeroom and headed to Sacramento to get ready for the Delta Science Fellows Early Career Leadership Workshop (April 25-27). I had been looking forward to this workshop for quite some time now and I even had to purchase my first business suit ever to properly present my work to the Delta Stewardship Council on April 27th.

Below is my business outfit I finally settled on, and one that actually fit my muscular shoulders (thank you gymnastics and aerial arts for making shopping difficult).

Julie Hopper, ready for Business!
Ready to present my work!

We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Sacramento, so I had some time before the Welcome Dinner to run around the riverfront. I was shocked to see how high the water level was, even after all of the flooding we received. See for yourselves below!!

Sacramento Flooded River Front.jpg
The Flooded Sacramento River Front

After arriving, the two days zipped by, starting with a welcome dinner where the 2016 Delta Science Fellows and mentors got to meet the 2017 Fellows and their mentors. Then the next day was packed with presentations on the Delta, and lots of science communication and career advice. We also practiced our elevator pitches for presenting to the Delta Stewardship Council, and I think we did pretty well! You can see the video of us presenting below. I’m speaking at 24:09 (I was pretty nervous!): Delta Stewardship Council Presentations.

After, we were rewarded by a guided field trip to Putah Creek by Dr. Peter Moyle. Here are some pictures from our trip, including a group photo of the 2016 and 2017 fellows. Of course the trip was also accompanied by really good sandwich wraps and cookies!

March For Science, San Francisco, 2017

Wow- yesterday was a fantastic turn out for the Science March in San Francisco! There were thousands of scientists, science lovers and science allies that met at Justin Herman Plaza pre 11am for a rally with some great speeches, and great company, with the march setting off at 12:30 to the Civic Center where the Earth Day Festival merged with a science fair.

Below is my husband and fellow scientist-Gerid Ollison- holding up our sign at the SF Rally, and a snapshot of the march through SF. See my husband’s blog on his work as an evolutionary molecular biologist and bioinformatician here:

And below my mom (the short one of course) doing her part with her fellow friends and scientists in Washington DC- marching despite the poor weather!

photo 1

I saw some awesome posters that made me laugh. My favorites included “It’s so bad that even introverts are here!”, “Got Plague? Me Neither.. Thank Science”, “Heard of Polio? No? Thank Science”, “Make America Smart Again” and lastly- this ‘alternative cat’ below.

Alternative Cat San Francisco Science March

So.. what do we do from here?

Well in my opinion- we need to stay politically active and engaged in our local communities. Outreach is super important as more pro-science politicians will be elected if the general public understands the application and importance of science!

Also in order to increase and maintain funding for our science, we need to diversify the funding for our research (as mentioned by Jim Sanchirico at the Science Communication workshop that I blogged about last week).

All in all- I think this march was a good start in promoting the importance of science and creating awareness about the dangers of climate change denial, the defunding of science agencies, and silencing scientists.

Invasive Species Alert! Coypu River Rat (Nutria) confirmed in Los Banos, California

As some of you may have heard- the Bay-Delta (San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California) is one of the most invaded estuaries in the world (Cohen and Carlton, 1998).

Yesterday, at the IEP Aquatic Vegetation Project Work Team Meeting, I found out that one more exotic species will likely cause harm to this important ecosystem (unless we can stop it of course!).

Details-David Kratville, a Senior Environmental Scientist at the California Dept. of Food & Agriculture, called in yesterday to inform all of us at the meeting that a Coypu River Rat / Nutria was caught by a trapper doing beaver control work near Los Banos California (just south of the legal Delta Boundary)

Photos of nutria from left to right by Joyce Gross at UC Berkeley and Tony Northrup.

Damage- This river rat,  Myocastor coypus, is an aquatic rodent native to South America and can cause massive damage to ecosystems and native species. Nutria consumes up to 25% of its body weight daily, and destroys additional plants and marsh area while burrowing for food. Nutria feeds primarily on marsh plants, including the base of the plants, and often dig through the soil for additional roots and rhizomes to eat. Additionally, nutria is known to carry many pathogens and parasites that threaten humans, livestock and pets such as: bacteria that cause tuberculosis and septicemia, tapeworms, a nematode (Strongyloides myopotami, resulting in a rash known as “nutria itch”), and blood and liver flukes. All of these pathogens can contaminate swimming areas and drinking water supplies.

Strongyloides myopotami recovered from a feral nutria in Korea-Figure from (Choe et al. 2014)

History of Introduction- Nutria was originally purposefully introduced for the fur trade and control of aquatic weeds, first to Elizabeth Lake in California in 1899, and later in the 1930s in many other southern states. However, the damage from this species was soon recognized and eventually an eradication program in California was successful, with eradication announced in 1978. Unfortunately… it looks like this menace of a species is back.

What to do? –All is not lost at this early stage of detection. The best method at this point is to eradicate or relocate the current population before it grows (and hope that we don’t have too many gravid females in the area). Early control is key since nutria has a high population growth rate potential as they reproduce fast and all year round. If you spot this River Rat in California (see photos above), Immediately contact the CDFW Invasive Species Program to report your sighting ONLINE, by email to, or by calling (866) 440-9530.  If this species is found in California, do not release it. More information on the current status of nutria near the Bay-Delta will be posted to this blog as I obtain further updates.

Additional information on nutria


Christine Joab provided this update on the state of the invasion of Nutria in California:

·         Over the last year they have reappeared in three counties (Merced, Fresno and Stanislaus County); so far 20 have been found in the state.

·         CDFW is calling on residents to help them track the animal to get an accurate count on the size of the latest infestation

·         If you find or observe Nutria in California, do not release it. Do not kill it either. Contact CDFW and let them handle it.

·         Immediately contact the CDFW Invasive Species Program to report your sighting by:

o   emailing, or  

o   calling (866) 440-9530, or

o   completing and submitting an online Invasive Species Sighting Report:

Carter, J. & B. Leonard. 2002. A review of the literature on the worldwide distribution, spread of, and efforts to eradicate the coypu (Myocastor coypus). Wildlife Society Bulletin 30: 162-175.

Carter, J., Foote, A.L. & Johnson-Randall, A. 1999. Modeling the effects of nutria (Myocastor coypus) on wetland loss. Wetlands 19: 209. doi:10.1007/BF03161750

Cohen, A.N., Carlton, J.T., 1998. Accelerating invasion rate in a highly invaded estuary. Science 279, 555-558.

Choe, S., Lee, D., Park, H., Oh, M., Jeon, H.-K., & Eom, K. S. 2014. Strongyloides myopotami (Secernentea: Strongyloididae) from the Intestine of Feral Nutrias (Myocastor coypus) in Korea.  The Korean Journal of Parasitology,  52(5), 531-535. DOI:10.3347/kjp.2014.52.5.531

Science Communication- Tips from Pros at UC Davis on April 10th 2017

Last week I had the privilege of attending a full day ‘Science Communication‘ workshop at UC Davis.  I have a long history of appreciating those skilled in communicating science as I idolize many science writers (shout out to Carl Zimmer),  look forward to my monthly National Geographic issues and spent many rainy days during my childhood watching wildlife shows through the Discovery Channel ( especially David Attenborough’s films!).  However, I do not feel that I have reached my potential in the art of science communication (particularly to the general public)- and I think many other scientists share this sentiment.

Thus I am excited to share some of the tidbits that I learned about science communication (You can find the full presentations and recordings here: Link)

In the morning we started out with Kat Kerlin (Press officer and Science Writer for UC Davis) and her talk on ‘Communicating Science, Creating Trust: Can You Take a Message’ … with key take homes being: 1) have a CLEAR message and know your message, 2) combine your personal and professional work to make it more appealing to others, 3) don’t just discuss the general trends of your work, but give specific examples to tell a story- (ie: How is something specific impacted by something general?), 4) start with the impact/importance of your work before you get to the nitty-gritty and the background of your study system, 5) use analogies to describe your work to people that might be unfamiliar with your study system , 6) share your enthusiasm!, 7) create trust by forming people to people connections.

Next we had a social media specialist Sallie Poggie (Social Media Strategist for UC Davis) on “Effectively Using Social Media for Science Communications”. A couple take homes I took from Sallie were: 1) you don’t have to engage with trolls, and not all trolls are real people (some are bots!), 2) if you do engage on social media: “you should have ‘Elephant skin, and velvet gloves’ – you need thick skin and roll with the punches”, 3) make sure that the messages you are delivering translate to the community that you are speaking to (Ie – speak or write in spanish if you are speaking/writing to a hispanic community),  3) social media- such as twitter, is a way to self publish your findings and reach out to the masses- it can also direct attention to your work, result in new connections and potentially a job,  4) understand the social media platform that you are using, and use your privacy settings wisely, 5) don’t publish something unless you are ok with millions of people reading it and having your name attached to it for the rest of your life…. (dang!).

Continue reading “Science Communication- Tips from Pros at UC Davis on April 10th 2017”

IEP (Interagency Ecological Program) Workshop 2017, Folsom, CA

This week I had the opportunity to attend and present at the 2017 IEP (Interagency Ecological Program) Workshop from March 1st to 3rd in beautiful Folsom, California: Conference Link.

IEP is a really cool program and group of people that have been focusing on cooperative ecological investigations in the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary since 1970! I love this program since cooperation among different government agencies and academics is sometimes rare, but is absolutely critical in order to solve complex problems by combining resources and gaining ideas from multiple angles and viewpoints.  More about IEP here. 

This morning’s session was particularly exciting (disclaimer: I might be a bit biased!), Titled: “Into the Weeds: Lifting the Curtain from Aquatic Vegetation Ecology in the Delta”, with the session lead by one of my fellowship mentors: Dr. Louise Conrad (DWR).  Myself, Louise, and several others all gave presentations on the current state of invasive aquatic weeds in the Sacramento-San Joaquin and potential management implications (and of course including biological control!).

Also- while I was at the conference, I took myself on a running tour during the lunch hours as I’ve never been to Folsom, and it is a beautiful place. Here are some photos demonstrating the beauty and rich history in this cute town. You should definitely visit if you have a chance and plan to go outdoors!

Since I’m so close to Tahoe- Im going to go on a quick snowboarding trip on Saturday before I head back to the East Bay! Hopefully the storm holds off just enough to preserve my view of Lake Tahoe while boarding down the slopes!

Research update, the 2016 Delta Science Conference and GAMM analysis

Its been a while since my last post as I was busy in the lab and field preparing for the Delta Science Conference (Nov. 15-17 2016)  in Sacramento, Ca (and then of course the holidays happened!). The  Delta Science conference was terrific, I met a lot of great and friendly researchers from many different agencies and institutions.

Here is the link to my abstract for the conference. 

At this conference, I discussed my work as a Delta Science postdoctoral fellow, working with Paul Pratt’s laboratory at the USDA on understanding mechanisms for effective biological control of water hyacinth, with a focus on the weevil Neochetina bruchi. 

A manuscript on our latest findings is being prepared for submission-but for now keep reading below for a brief overview and update on my work. Also related to this blog is a recent post of mine on the UCANR DRAAWP Blog (Link).

Research Overview and Exciting Updates:  Continue reading “Research update, the 2016 Delta Science Conference and GAMM analysis”

If you build it, the weevils will come

Let’s face it – not everyday in the life of a scientist is filled with exciting and important discoveries. (And if this is not true for you – please share your secrets with me!)

Friday- My to-do list consisted of:

  1. Training a new undergraduate intern on processing frozen weevils (aka- smashing frozen weevils with plastic pestles in DI water) , and dissecting the weevil-mush (aka- homogenate) under phase contrast at 400x to look for microsporidia.
    • Footnote: Microsporidia by the way are hands-down the cutest parasites in the world. They are like little shiny hotdogs doing a waggle dance under the microscope. Then they become cooler if you imagine sunglasses on them. Ok.. I might be the only person that thinks this-  as several other researchers have voted for other parasites as #1 cutest…

Below is a photo of microsporidia (Nosema fumiferanae postvittana subsp.n.) from the Light Brown Apple Moth that I took during my PhD work. The mature spore form of the microsporidia in the weevil, Neochetina bruchi, look very similar under the microscope. .but so far I have not been finding high intensity infections … rather just 1-2 spores per slide for each weevil. Thus you can imagine it would be hard for a new intern to spot these little critters amongst all the other junk in a dissected bug.


Photo from my PhD work on: Nosema fumiferanae postvittana, a microsporidian pathogen in the Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana)

2. After training my new undergraduate intern, and a quick lunch- I proceeded to spend about the next 4 hours (can you believe that?! 4 hours?!) building a large cage for a bunch of weevils that an amazing technician brought back from the field for me. I had to build a large cage to make sure the weevils don’t fly off these plants and start eating other water hyacinth plants that were specifically being maintained as ‘healthy/clean’ for experiments.

The goal is to mass rear ~ 8000 weevils before February among these tanks and some others that I have going right now…. fingers crossed!


Cage I built with tanks holding water hyacinth infested by the super hero weevil herbivore, Neochetina bruchi


Interagency work and outreach

water-hyacinth-bio-control-wkshop2Photo: An outreach workshop for youth girls that I led in August 2016 on Global Change Biology and Biological Control.  G4G Bay Area Event Photos.

As part of my Delta Science Postdoctoral fellowship-  I work with several community mentors at the USDA, Department of Water Resources and NASA, in addition to working under Dr. Ted Grosholz at UC Davis. Through these mentors, I have had the awesome experience of attending several interagency meetings on how to combat invasive aquatic weeds in the Delta- as well as discussing other issues of concern in the Delta. An interagency group that I frequently interact with is DRAAWP (the Delta Region Areawide Aquatic Weed Project). I recently posted a blog on DRAAWPs website  about some outreach I did to promote young girls in STEM science through the Greenlight 4 Girls workshop in Richmond, California in August.

You can read about this in:  my blog post on DRAAWP’s website

About Dr. Julie V. Hopper

Postdoctoral Research Fellow: California Sea Grant Delta Science Fellowship

Ph.D. (2015) University of California, Berkeley

Broad Research Interests: Aquatic Ecology, Biological Control, Ecological Parasitology, Entomology, Global Change Biology, Multitrophic Interactions, and Pathology.

Postdoctoral Research: I am currently investigating the mechanisms for effective biological control of the invasive water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, California. Although the classical biological control agent, Neochetina bruchi, results in damage to water hyacinth, current control outcomes in the Delta have not reached the desirable levels observed in other regions of the globe where classical biological control has been implemented. I am collaborating with researchers from UC Davis, USDA, the Department of Water Resources, and NASA to achieve desired control levels of water hyacinth in the Delta and to inform future biological control programs.

For my CV, click here