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Tim Paine

Professor of Entomology
Tim Paine
Ash Whitefly
The Ash whitefly infests 40 species of plants in California—most severely impacting the shade and fruit tree nursery industry and commercial pomegranate orchards. And the economic impact has been estimated in the millions of dollars. By studying the complex ecosystems in which insects, plants and climate conditions interact, and by developing bio-control agents to manage accelerating rates of invading pests, scientists such as Paine, are developing and testing new methods to reduce the impact of detrimental pests on a variety of crops and native plants.

Areas of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences (2008-09)
  • Fellow, Entomological Society of America (2006)
  • Pacific Branch Entomological Society of America Distinguished Teaching Award (2006)
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2005)
  • University of Pretoria Hans Merensky Visiting Scientist (2004)
  • University of California, Riverside Distinguished Teaching Award (2004)
  • American Nursey & Landscape Association Norman Jay Coleman Award for Research (2001)


Q: Why is your work important?
The research in my laboratory focuses on the ecology, behavior, and management of insects feeding on forest and landscape trees and shrubs. It is primarily the study of interactions, such as how do insects find mates, how do they interact with competitors, how do they find their food plants or other insects they use as food, why are some plants more suitable or more susceptible to insect colonization than other plants, what are the interactions with associated bacteria and fungi, how do symbiotic associations benefit both the insect and the microorganism, what are the effects of the environment on the interactions between insects and their hosts, what are the general patterns of interactions and can predictions be generated that enable us to understand new associations. If we understand the interactions, we can learn how to exploit them to either reduce the impact of detrimental insects or enhance the effect of beneficial insects.

Q: What are the major applications of your research?
Results from our research include changing cultural practices for growing plants to improve their resistance to insects, determining mechanisms of plant resistance to insects so that they can be exploited for plant protection, introduction of insect natural enemies (predators and parasitoids) to reduce pest populations to levels that no longer cause damage, management of invasive species of insects that have been introduced into California, and describing insect pheromones that can attract or repel insects that can be used in behavioral control practices to reduce insect damage. Much of this research has been implemented in California, but has also been adopted in other parts of the world with similar pest problems.

Q: What is the ultimate goal of your research? What challenges are left to achieve?
The fundamental goal of the research is to understand the interactions with the ecological systems. However, there is also a practical applied goal of exploiting the interactions in ways that can result in sustainable and economical approaches to solve native and invasive insect pest problems. The challenge is the continuing pattern of introduction of new insects into California. Very frequently, there is little known about these new invaders in their native environment, much less how they will respond to a new environment with a different climate and different plant hosts.

Q: What doesn’t the public know or understand about this kind of research?
Insects evoke a wide range of responses in the public. It is a communication challenge at times to educate concerned individuals about the risks and benefits associated with insects. That is, there is often a lack of clear understanding about the environmental or economic impacts of insect invasions (the costs), the risks of different types of responses, including inaction, to invasions, and the societal costs and benefits of research into developing solutions.

Q: What does “Living the Promise” mean to you?
The citizens of California have entrusted the University of California with a mission to improve quality of life of protect the environment through discovery and application of new knowledge through research and education of new generations of students. I have the best opportunity at UCR to fulfill that trust. We are able conduct research to understand how ecological interactions enable systems to function and how to exploit those interactions to solve problems. We are also able to provide an educational environment for undergraduate and graduate students based around understanding the research mission so that these young scientists will be equipped to further expand the frontiers of knowledge and make their own contributions.

Q: How do your students inspire you?
Working with the students at UCR is a humbling experience. A very large proportion of our students are the first in their families to ever attend college, come from family backgrounds where English is not the primary language spoken at home, and a very large number of our students have family obligations, including care for siblings and the family business, that require great commitments of time.

Q: What is it about UCR that makes this a great place to do your research?
UC Riverside is internationally recognized as the birthplace of ideas and practices (e.g., integrated pest management and biological control) that have revolutionized management of pest problems around the globe. A sense of excitement for discovery is palpable and becomes part of the tradition that we can pass on to our students.
Tim Paine“The challenge is the continuing pattern of introduction of new insects into California. Very frequently, there is little known about these new invaders in their native environment.”

—Tim Paine
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