Judith X Becerra
- Associate Research Scientist, Biosphere 2
- Associate Research Professor
- Associate Professor, Entomology / Insect Science - GIDP
- Associate Research Scientist, BIO5 Institute
- Member of the Graduate Faculty
Judith Becerra is a Chemical ecologist at the Department of Biosphere 2, University of Arizona, where she does research on insect evolution, insect-plant and insect-bacteria interactions. As an undergraduate student at the National University of Mexico she focused in field ecology. Later she moved to the U. S. and did a PD at the University of Arizona on the ecology and evolution of insect-plant interactions. During her graduate studies she received awards from the Organization of American States (1985), the Mexican National Council of Science and Technology (1986), the National Audubon Society (1991) and the Center for Insect Science at the University of Arizona (1991). Then she became interested in chemistry and molecular biology and their applications in ecology. With funding from a Sloan Postdoctoral Fellowship in Molecular Evolutionary Studies (1993-1995) and two postdoctoral fellowships from the National Science Foundation (1995-1997) she learned DNA sequencing and phylogenetic reconstruction as well as analytical chemistry. With her last postdoctoral award from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (2001-2202) she studied time calibration of phylogenies using fossil data and techniques to reconstruct chemical characters using phylogenies. In 2002 she started a faculty position at the Department of Entomology of the University of Arizona and then in 2007 she moved to the Department of Biosphere 2 where she was awarded continuing status in 2009.
One of the most fascinating and challenging questions in biology is why biodiversity is higher in some groups than others. It is well known that interactions between species can drive evolutionary processes that promote species diversification. Judith Becerra’s research examines how chemical communication among species has contributed to the generation of the diversity of life. In her current studies she combine analytical chemistry with molecular phylogenetics, ecology, and biogeography to understand how chemical compounds in plants have promoted insect diversity on Earth. To perform this research I received the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (2003), a Beckman Young Investigator award from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation (2005), and was named Kavli Fellow by theU. S. National Academy of Sciences in 2009. She also studies the impact of bacterial symbiosis in formation of defensive chemicals in heteropterans. She is the author of 49 scientific articles, including one in Science and six in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. She is a member of the National Researchers System (SNI 2) of the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT). She is regularly invited to give seminars and presentations in national and international institutions and meetings and her research is cited in leading textbooks on evolution and plant-insect interactions.
- B.S. Ecology
- U.N.A.M., Mexico City, Mexico
- Mathematical Models on the Process of Decomposition of Organic Matter. Advisor: Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra.
- Ph.D. Evolutionary Ecology
- University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
- Adaptations to Ecological Interactions
- M.S. Ecology
- Mexican National Polytechnic Institute, Mexico City, Mexico
- Phenotypic plasticity in plants and Herbivory in the Mexican Madrone, Arbutus xalapensis (Ericaceae)
- University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (2014 - Ongoing)
- University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (2008 - Ongoing)
- University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (2002 - 2008)
- National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (2001 - 2002)
- University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (1997 - 2001)
- University of Arizona (1996 - 1997)
- Instituto de Ecologia (1995 - 1996)
- University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado (1993 - 1995)
- Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (1982 - 1986)
- North America Research Postdoctoral Fellowship Award
- National Science Foundation, Summer 1995
- Postdoctoral Fellowship in Molecular Studies of Evolution
- Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Summer 1993
- Fulbright Fellowship
- Fulbright Foundation, Fall 2017
- National Researcher
- Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, Mexico, Fall 2017
- Member, Level II
- Sistema Nacional de Investigadores, CONACyt, Mexico, Spring 2013
- 1885 Distinguished Scholars Award
- University of Arizona, Fall 2012 (Award Nominee)
- Kavli Fellow
- National Academy of Sciences, Summer 2009
- Beckman Young Investigator Award
- Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Fall 2005
- Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award
- National Science Foundation, Fall 2003
MAJOR FIELDS: Ecology and Evolution of Plant-herbivore Interactions, Coevolution, Evolution and Diversification of Plants and Insects.My research is focused on answering fundamental questions in the area of plant-insect interactions. In my studies I combine molecular phylogenomics with chemical, ecological, and biogeographic data to describe and explain the macroevolutionary patterns of defenses in plants and insects. In my lab we are currently focusing in two main projects. The first one investigates the coevolutionary interaction between the tropical tree genus Bursera and their herbivores, the beetle genus Blepharida. The second project in my lab investigates the impact of chemistry and symbiosis in the radiation of Heteropteran insects.
I teach a class for undergraduate students entitled Natural History of the Southwest (Ecol 230) and a graduate seminar on Plant-Herbivore Interactions (Sci 496B/596B) every Spring.
Natural History of SWECOL 230 (Spring 2020)
Natural History of SWECOL 230 (Spring 2018)
Plant-Herbivore InteractionsSCI 596B (Spring 2018)
Natural History of SWECOL 230 (Spring 2017)
Natural History of SWECOL 230 (Spring 2016)
Plant-Herbivore InteractionsSCI 496B (Spring 2016)
Plant-Herbivore InteractionsSCI 596B (Spring 2016)
- Becerra, J. X. (2004). Ecology and Evolution of the New World Blepharida.. In New Developments in the Biology of the Chrysomelidae..
- Becerra, J. X. (1994). Chrysomelid behavioral counterploys to secretive canals in plants. In Novel aspects of the Biology of Chrysomelidae (Coleoptera).
- Becerra, J. X., Gigliarelli, G., Marcotullio, M. C., & Curini, M. (2016). Chemical composition and biological activities of fragant Mexical copal resins (Bursera spp.).. Molecules, 20, 22383-22394.
- Larios, E., Burquez, A., Becerra, J. X., & Venable, D. L. (2016). Natural selection on seed size through the life cycle of a desert annual plant. ECOLOGY, 95(11), 3213-3220.More infoUnder stressful circumstances, seed size has important consequences for germination, survival, and reproductive success; all of these are important components of plant fitness. This study investigates the relationship between seed size and fitness in the Sonoran Desert winter annual Dithyrea californica. This species represents a unique opportunity to study natural selection on seed size in the wild due to a serendipitous detail of its life history: the seed coat remains attached and unchanged to the root throughout its life. It is thus possible to excavate the root and measure the seed size that originated each plant. We measured the relationship between seed size and germination by comparing seed sizes of germinated and dormant seeds in the field over four consecutive years. We also measured the effect of seed size on survival and reproductive success using data from censuses of plant mortality and fecundity of survivors, relating survival and fecundity to the size of their initial seed size, and the number of conspecific neighbors. Larger seeds had a higher probability of germination than smaller seeds. Plants originating from larger seeds had higher survival rates and higher fecundity than plants originating from smaller seeds. The amount of precipitation had a beneficial effect on plant fecundity and influenced seed-size survival selection. Plant competition decreased plant fecundity but not survival, creating a detrimental environment for plants only to grow and reproduce. This is the first study to show empirical evidence of seedsize selection throughout the whole life cycle in a natural setting. Further, maternal provisioning has benefits that persist into adulthood, and environmental interactions are important in determining survival and fecundity.
- Becerra, J. X. (2015). Macroevolutionary and geographical intensification of chemical defense in plants driven by insect herbivore selection pressure. Current Opinion in Insect Science, 8, 15-21. doi:10.1016/j.cois.2015.01.012
- Becerra, J. X. (2015). On the factors that promote the diversity of herbivorous insects and plants in tropical forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.More infoSome of the most fascinating and challenging questions in ecology are why biodiversity is highest in tropical forests and whether the factors involved are unique to these habitats. I did a worldwide test of the hypotheses that plant community divergence in antiherbivore traits results in higher insect herbivore diversity, and that predominant attack by specialized herbivores promotes plant richness. I found strong correlative support for both ideas. Butterfly diversity was greatest in regions where the community average species-pairwise dissimilarity in antiherbivore traits among plant species was highest. There was also a strong positive relationship between specialized (insect) vs. generalized (mammal) herbivores and plant richness. Regions where herbivory impact by mammals was higher than that of insects tended to have lower plant diversities. In contrast, regions in which insects are the main consumers, particularly in the Central and South American tropics, had the highest plant richness. Latitude did not explain any residual variance in insect or plant richness. The strong connections found between insect specialization, plant defense divergence, and plant and insect diversities suggest that increasing our understanding of the ecology of biological communities can aid in considerations of how to preserve biodiversity in the future.
- Becerra, J. X., & Noge, K. (2015). 4-Oxo-(E)-2-hexenal produced by Heteroptera induces permanent locomotive impairment in crickets that correlates with free thiol depletion. FEBS Open Bio, 5, 319-324.
- Becerra, J. X., Venable, G. X., & Saeidi, V. (2015). Erratum to Wolbachia-Free Heteropterans Do Not Produce Defensive Chemicals or Alarm Pheromones (vol 41, pg 593, 2015). JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL ECOLOGY, 41(9), 869-869.
- Becerra, J. X., Venable, G., & Saeidi, V. (2015). Wolbachia-free heteropterans do not produce defensive chemicals or alarm pheromones. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 41(7), 593-601. doi:10.1007/s10886-015-0596-4
- Horst, J. L., Kimball, S., Becerra, J. X., Noge, K., & Venable, D. L. (2015). Documenting the early stages of invasion of Matthiola parviflora and predicting its spread in North America.. The Southwestern Naturalist, 59, 47-55.
- Becerra, J. (2012). Molecular systematics of Blepharida beetles (Chrysomelidae : Alticinae) and relatives. MOLECULAR PHYLOGENETICS AND EVOLUTION, 30(1), 107-117.
- Becerra, J. X. (2012). The impact of herbivore-plant coevolution on plant community structure. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 104(18), 7483-7488.
- Becerra, J. X., Noge, K., Olivier, S., & Venable, D. L. (2012). The monophyly of Bursera and its impact for divergence times of Burseraceae. TAXON, 61(2), 333-343.
- Becerra, J., & Venable, D. (2012). Macroevolution of insect-plant associations: The relevance of host biogeography to host affiliation. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 96(22), 12626-12631.
- Eliyahu, D., Ceballos, R. A., Saeidi, V., & Becerra, J. X. (2012). Synergy Versus Potency in the Defensive Secretions from Nymphs of two Pentatomomorphan Families (Hemiptera: Coreidae and Pentatomidae). JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL ECOLOGY, 38(11), 1358-1365.
- Noge, K., Kimura, H., Abe, M., Becerra, J. X., & Tamogami, S. (2012). Antibacterial Activity of 4-Oxo-(E)-2-hexenal from Adults and Nymphs of the Heteropteran, Dolycoris baccarum (Heteroptera: Pentatomidae). BIOSCIENCE BIOTECHNOLOGY AND BIOCHEMISTRY, 76(10), 1975-1978.
- Noge, K., Prudic, K. L., & Becerra, J. X. (2008). Defensive Roles of (E)-2-Alkenals and Related Compounds in Heteroptera. JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL ECOLOGY, 38(8), 1050-1056.
- Oliver, K. M., Noge, K., Huang, E. M., Campos, J. M., Becerra, J. X., & Hunter, M. S. (2012). Parasitic wasp responses to symbiont-based defense in aphids. BMC BIOLOGY, 10.
- Olivier-Espejel, S., Sabree, Z. L., Noge, K., & Becerra, J. X. (2012). Gut Microbiota in Nymph and Adults of the Giant Mesquite Bug (Thasus neocalifornicus) (Heteroptera: Coreidae) Is Dominated by Burkholderia Acquired De Novo Every Generation. ENVIRONMENTAL ENTOMOLOGY, 40(5), 1102-1110.
- Becerra, J., & Venable, D. (2011). Nuclear ribosomal, DNA phylogeny and its implications for evolutionary trends in Mexican Bursera (Burseraceae). AMERICAN JOURNAL OF BOTANY, 86(7), 1047-1057.
- Noge, K., & Becerra, J. X. (2011). Germacrene D, A Common Sesquiterpene in the Genus Bursera (Burseraceae). MOLECULES, 14(12), 5289-5297.
- Becerra, J. (2010). Evolution of Mexican Bursera (Burseraceae) inferred from ITS, ETS, and 5S nuclear ribosomal DNA sequences. MOLECULAR PHYLOGENETICS AND EVOLUTION, 26(2), 300-309.
- Becerra, J. X., & Noge, K. (2010). THE MEXICAN ROOTS OF THE INDIAN LAVENDER TREE. ACTA BOTANICA MEXICANA, 91, 27-36.
- Becerra, J. X., & Venable, D. L. (2010). Sources and Sinks of Diversification and Conservation Priorities for the Mexican Tropical Dry Forest. PLOS ONE, 3(10).
- Noge, K., Shimizu, N., & Becerra, J. X. (2010). (R)-(-)-Linalyl Acetate and (S)-(-)-Germacrene D from the Leaves of Mexican Bursera linanoe. NATURAL PRODUCT COMMUNICATIONS, 5(3), 351-354.
- Becerra, J. X., Noge, K., & Venable, D. L. (2009). Macroevolutionary chemical escalation in an ancient plant-herbivore arms race. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 106(43), 18062-18066.
- Noge, K., Venable, D. L., & Becerra, J. X. (2009). 2-PHENYLETHANOL IN THE LEAVES OF BURSERA VELUTINA BULLOCK (BURSERACEAE). ACTA BOTANICA MEXICANA, 97, 9-16.
- Prudic, K. L., Noge, K., & Becerra, J. X. (2008). Adults and nymphs do not smell the same: The different defensive compounds of the giant mesquite bug (Thasus neocalifornicus : Coreidae). JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL ECOLOGY, 34(6), 734-741.
- Evans, P. H., & Becerra, J. X. (2007). Non-terpenoid essential oils from Bursera chemapodicta. FLAVOUR AND FRAGRANCE JOURNAL, 21(4), 616-618.
- Venable, D., Dyreson, E., Pinero, D., & Becerra, J. (2005). Seed morphometrics and adaptive geographic differentiation. EVOLUTION, 52(2), 344-354.
- Becerra, J. (2003). Synchronous coadaptation in an ancient case of herbivory. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 100(22), 12804-12807.
- Becerra, J. (2003). Timing the origin and expansion of the Mexican tropical dry forest. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 102(31), 10919-10923.
- Noge, K., & Becerra, J. X. (2003). 4-Oxo-(E)-2-hexenal produced by Heteroptera induces permanent locomotive impairment in crickets that correlates with free thiol depletion. FEBS OPEN BIO, 5, 319-324.
- BECERRA, J., & LLOYD, D. (2001). COMPETITION-DEPENDENT ABSCISSION OF SELF-POLLINATED FLOWERS OF PHORMIUM-TENAX (AGAVACEAE) - A 2ND ACTION OF SELF-INCOMPATIBILITY AT THE WHOLE FLOWER LEVEL. EVOLUTION, 46(2), 458-469.
- Venable, D. L., Flores-Martinez, A., Muller-Landau, H. C., Barron-Gafford, G., & Becerra, J. X. (2000). Seed dispersal of desert annuals. ECOLOGY, 89(8), 2218-2227.
- Evans, P., Becerra, J., Venable, D., & Bowers, W. (1999). Chemical analysis of squirt-gun defense in Bursera and counterdefense by chrysomelid beetles. JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL ECOLOGY, 26(3), 745-754.
- Becerra, J. (1997). Insects on plants: Macroevolutionary chemical trends in host use. SCIENCE, 276(5310), 253-256.
- BECERRA, J. (1994). SQUIRT-GUN DEFENSE IN BURSERA AND THE CHRYSOMELID COUNTERPLOY. ECOLOGY, 75(7), 1991-1996.
- BECERRA, J., & VENABLE, D. (1991). THE ROLE OF ANT-HOMOPTERA MUTUALISMS IN THE EVOLUTION OF EXTRAFLORAL NECTARIES. OIKOS.
- Becerra, J., Venable, D., Evans, P., & Bowers, W. (1991). Interactions between chemical and mechanical defenses in the plant genus Bursera and their implications for herbivores. AMERICAN ZOOLOGIST, 41(4), 865-876.
- BECERRA, J., & VENABLE, D. (1989). EXTRAFLORAL NECTARIES - A DEFENSE AGAINST ANT-HOMOPTERA MUTUALISMS. OIKOS.
- BECERRA, J., & EZCURRA, E. (1987). GLANDULAR HAIRS IN THE ARBUTUS-XALAPENSIS COMPLEX IN RELATION TO HERBIVORY. AMERICAN JOURNAL OF BOTANY, 73(10), 1427-1430.
- EZCURRA, E., & BECERRA, J. (1987). EXPERIMENTAL DECOMPOSITION OF LITTER FROM THE TAMAULIPAN CLOUD FOREST - A COMPARISON OF 4 SIMPLE-MODELS. BIOTROPICA, 19(4), 290-296.
- EZCURRA, E., GOMEZ, J., & BECERRA, J. (1986, JUN). DIVERGING PATTERNS OF HOST USE BY PHYTOPHAGOUS INSECTS IN RELATION TO LEAF PUBESCENCE IN ARBUTUS-XALAPENSIS (ERICACEAE). OECOLOGIA.