Dr. Vargo elected as ESA Fellow


December 28, 2023

Dr. Edward Vargo

Dr. Edward Vargo (Photo: Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Michael Miller)

Dr. Edward Vargo, professor and endowed chair of urban entomology in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Entomology, was elected as an Entomological Society of America (ESA) Fellow.

Dr. Vargo is internationally recognized for research in 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, Md.

“Fellow is the society’s premiere award, and when I look at the people who have been named fellows, it’s a pretty distinguished group,” Dr. Vargo said in the news release. “I think the award recognizes what an entomologist has accomplished throughout their career and their impact on the field. So, it’s a real honor to be considered among that group.”

Scientific curiosity leads to entomology

Dr. Vargo’s interest in entomology didn’t begin with a fascination for insects.

Lewis Thomas’ 1974 book, “The Lives of a Cell,” first captured his imagination. He was intrigued by behavioral and biological concepts surrounding Thomas’ explanation of how cells work together for the benefit of the organism. He then discovered ants and termites, bees and wasps could be considered “superorganisms” because, much like cells for an organism, they coordinate individual activity and work together to benefit the colony.

His doctoral research focused on the social regulation of reproduction and development in colonies of fire ants (Solenopsis spp.).

“In grad school, we were working on this very big pest species, but I was in a lab doing very basic research, so we weren’t looking at how fire ants impact people and ways to control them,” Dr. Vargo said.

In 1987, Dr. Vargo was awarded a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship to work with Dr. Luc Passera at the Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France, on the regulation of reproduction and caste development in Argentine ants (Linepithema humile).

By the late 1980s, fire ants had spread to Austin and were becoming a pest in agriculture and urban areas around major swaths of the state. Dr. Vargo returned to the University of Texas to study the reproductive biology of fire ants as a research scientist from 1989 to 1998.

“Fire ants started like many invasive species,” he said. “They hang out for a while, and then something happens, and it just explodes. I began to work with the Texas Department of Agriculture on issues that fire ants presented, and I realized this is important.”

Scientific opportunities with social pests

Dr. Vargo began studying a pest he had no experience with, termites, when he joined the Department of Entomology at North Carolina State University as an assistant professor in 1998.

“There was a lot we didn’t know, and so we were discovering basic biology and foraging behavior because termites have a very cryptic lifestyle living and foraging underground,” Dr. Vargo said.

New genetic and molecular methods presented opportunities for Dr. Vargo and others to understand termites’ social organization, foraging dynamics and other behaviors. Dr. Vargo said the approach has helped him and other scientists understand invasive pest species and retrace their introduction history.

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


About the Author

Ellen Wagner

Ellen Wagner is the digital editor for PMP magazine. She can be reached at ewagner@northcoastmedia.net.

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