Vargo was elected a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America

Newswise – Edward Vargo, PhD, Professor and Chair of Urban Entomology Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of EntomologyElected a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America.

Vargo is internationally recognized for his research on the reproductive biology and molecular ecology of social insects and urban insect pests. He received his award at the society's recent annual meeting in National Harbor, Maryland.

“Fellow is the community's premier award, and when I look at the people who have been named, it's a pretty distinguished group,” Vargo said. “I think the award recognizes what an entomologist has achieved over the course of their career and their impact on the field.” So it's a great honor to be included in this group.”

Scientific curiosity leads to entomology

Vargo's interest in entomology did not begin with a fascination with insects.

Louis Thomas's book, The Life of a Cell, first captured his imagination. He was interested in the behavioral and biological concepts surrounding Thomas's explanation of how cells work together to benefit the body. He then discovered that ants and termites, bees and wasps can be considered “superorganisms” because, like the cells of an organism, they coordinate individual activities and work together for the benefit of the colony.

His doctoral research focused on the social regulation of reproduction and development in fire ant colonies.

“In class we were working on this very large pest species, but I was in the lab doing very basic research, so we weren't really looking at how fire ants affect humans and ways to control them,” he said.

In 1987, Vargo was awarded A National Science Foundation Postdoctoral fellowship with Luc Passera, PhD, University of Toulouse, France, Paul Sabatier, on the regulation of reproduction and caste development in Argentine ants.

In the late 1980s, fire ants spread to Austin and became a pest in agriculture and urban areas around major areas of the state. Vargo returned to the University of Texas to study the reproductive biology of fire ants as a research fellow from 1989 to 1998.

“Fire ants, like many invasive species, have started,” he said. “They hang around for a while and then something happens and it just explodes. “I started working with the Texas Department of Agriculture on fire ant issues and realized it's important.”

Scientific capabilities with social pests

Vargo began studying a pest he had no experience with, termites, when he joined North Carolina State University's entomology department as an assistant professor in 1998.

“There was a lot we didn't know, and that's why we found the basic biology and foraging, because termites have a very cryptic way of living and foraging underground,” he said.

New genetic and molecular methods have allowed Vargo and others to understand termite social organization, feeding dynamics, and other behaviors. According to Vargo, this approach has helped him and other scientists understand invasive pest species and the history of their introduction.

“I saw an opportunity to get some basic biological information and also do something that was interesting to the pest management industry in terms of controlling them,” he said. “It was an integration of molecular ecology with urban entomology, using molecular genetic methods to understand colonies and populations.”

Understanding urban pests

Vargo assumed his current position in 2014. His interdisciplinary research in urban entomology uses genetics, behavior, and physiology to study the reproductive biology, population genetics, and pest management of urban insects.

Next-generation genomic sequencing has added much more power to identify genetic differences between species and how individuals are related from one population to another, he said.

Vargo's genetic research examines the reproductive structure of termite and ant colonies, the dispersal and population biology of bugs and cockroaches, the biology of urban pest invasions, and management approaches aimed at eradicating termite and ant colonies.

He presented information on how environmental changes are affecting the population dynamics of the nation's No. 1 ant pest, the stink ant. This species is native to the USA, and its single-queen colonies are very small in forests and rural areas. But Their social behavior changes dramatically There can be thousands of queens in urban and suburban areas and colonies.

“More people have a problem with it than with any other ant species,” he said. “And so we're trying to better understand this big change in social organization when they move from a natural to an urban environment.”

His research also explores the growing concern of insect pest resistance to insecticides and how to reduce or prevent the spread of resistance genes in pest populations.

His research on chemical communication in social insects focuses on the role of queen pheromones in caste determination, king and queen recognition by workers, and the regulation of reproduction in ant and termite colonies.

Vargo's group has published more than 180 scientific papers and book chapters. He has given or co-authored more than 300 presentations at regional, national and international meetings. He supervised 10 doctoral students, nine master's students, 11 postdoctoral fellows and six visiting scholars.

He has held leading positions in professional societies, including President of the Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Sections of the Entomological Society of America; President of the North Carolina Entomological Society; and President and Treasurer of the North American Division of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects. He worked as an associate editor Environmental EntomologyAnd it advised the governments of Korea and Australia to stop and remediate introduced fire ants.

“It's really an honor to be recognized and to feel like your peers appreciate your hard work,” he said.