Kurt Milton Pickett - BioOne

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In Memoriam: Kurt Milton Pickett (1972–2011). MICHAEL S. ENGEL,1,4 JAMES M. CARPENTER,2. AND JOHN W. WENZEL. 3. Gone – flitted away,. Taken the ...


In Memoriam: Kurt Milton Pickett (1972–2011) MICHAEL S. ENGEL,1,4 JAMES M. CARPENTER,2



Gone – flitted away, Taken the stars from the night and the sun From the day! Gone, and a cloud in my heart.

—Alfred Tennyson (1809–1892), The Window; or, The Songs of the Wrens, 1871 On the evening of Friday, 11 February 2011, the world lost one of its most promising stars in entomology, sociobiology, and empirical and theoretical phylogenetics. Kurt M. Pickett passed away after a long and painful struggle with cancer. He was 38. Kurt grew up in southern Louisiana, one of five boys born to Kathy and Henry Pickett. Kurt had an interesting ancestry in that he was partly of Cajun origin as well as a direct descendent of Major General George Pickett who led the infamous ‘‘Pickett’s Charge’’ on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. From an early age Kurt was also an active participant in many service organizations, including the development of the Philadelphia Center in Shreveport. He remained throughout his life a significant contributor to the social dialogue of all the communities in which he resided. After graduating from Louisiana State University with a B.S. in Biology in 1996, Kurt relocated to the Ohio State University in Columbus where he would undertake graduate study in Entomology under the direction of his mentor and close friend, John W. Wenzel. Kurt first undertook work on the social behavior of paper wasps, finishing a M.S. in 1998 before expanding his work to encompass a significant phylogenetic component alongside his behavioral investigations. After completing his Ph.D. in 2003, Kurt started a highly successful stint as a Theodore Roosevelt Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History, working with James M. Carpenter. In 2007, Kurt joined the faculty in the Department of Biology at the University of Vermont and despite the fact that his health struggles dogged him throughout the days of his brief tenure he was an exceptionally productive and positive member of his faculty, receiving an early promotion to Associate Professor shortly before his passing. He was also Curator of Invertebrates for the University of Vermont’s Zadock Thompson Natural History Collection, and made considerable strides 1

Division of Entomology, Natural History Museum, and Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, 1501 Crestline Drive – Suite 140 University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045 (e-mail: [email protected]). 2 Division of Invertebrate Zoology American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, New York 10024-5192 (e-mail: [email protected]). 3 Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213-4080 (e-mail: [email protected]). 4 Corresponding Author: Michael S. Engel Accepted 13 January 2012; Revised 23 February 2012

E 2012 Kansas Entomological Society



Fig. 1. Kurt M. Pickett in his University of Vermont office, March 2009 (photo by M.S. Engel).

toward improving the conservation and development of this research resource. His courses in Evolutionary Biology and Field Zoology were among the most highly regarded and students consistently raved over Kurt’s exceptional dedication to education. Beautiful oration came naturally to Kurt, emphasizing why he was so loved by his students, and he was a hotly sought speaker. Kurt was one of the brightest young contributors to theoretical systematics and was simultaneously an authority on the systematics, biology, and social behavior of

Fig. 2. Kurt M. Pickett in his Vermont home, August 2009 (photo by K.K.M. Engel).



Vespidae, particularly the paper wasps. In his studies, he wisely and expertly synthesized data from diverse sources ranging from DNA sequences and protein structure to adult and larval morphology. Even a cursory perusal of his list of publications immediately strikes one with the breadth and depth of his knowledge, highlighting his love for entomology and natural history as well as a rigorous consideration of the statistical methodologies used for arriving at and supporting evolutionary hypotheses. Fieldwork was another passion, and Kurt participated in expeditions to places such as Belize, Brazil, and Paraguay, as well as regular collecting trips throughout North America, particularly New England. Through such travels he not only obtained material for his on-going molecular and proteomic studies, but also developed a significant collection of vespid species and their nests for the several research collections with which he was affiliated, creating a resource that will benefit generations of aculeate researchers. We mourn the incredible loss of future knowledge that would have been contributed by our friend, the generations of researchers in diverse fields he would have galvanized and brought together, but mostly the wonderful individual he was and the considerable joy he brought into our lives. It is, of course, the man himself that we miss the most – his laugh, his wit, his erudition, his spirit, his smile, and that light that shown in his eyes. He was truly one of the more remarkable individuals in our Science and the world has withered a little with his early departure. Publications of Kurt M. Pickett M.S. Pickett, K. M. 1998. Exogenous odor mediation of kin recognition in paper wasps. Ohio State University, Columbus, OH. viii + 69 pp. Ph.D. Pickett, K. M. 2003. Evolution of transitional forms: Behavior, colony dynamics, and phylogenetics of social wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Ohio State University, Columbus, OH. xv + 271 pp. 1. Pickett, K. M., A. McHenry, and J. W. Wenzel. 2000. Nestmate recognition in the absence of a pheromone. Insectes Sociaux 47(3):212–219. 2. Henderson, G., and K. M. Pickett. 2000. Paper wasps. pp. 28–29. In: Gold, R. E. and S. C. Jones (eds.). Handbook of Household and Structural Insect Pests. Entomological Society of America, Lanham, MD. vi + 154 pp. 3. Pickett, K. M., and J. W. Wenzel. 2000. High productivity in haplometrotic colonies of the introduced paper wasp Polistes dominulus (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Polistinae). Journal of the New York Entomological Society 108(3–4):314–325. 4. Blackledge, T. A., and K. M. Pickett. 2000. Predatory interactions between mud-dauber wasps (Hymenoptera, Sphecidae) and Argiope (Araneae, Araneidae) in captivity. Journal of Arachnology 28(2):211–216. 5. Pickett, K. M., D. M. Osborne, D. Wahl, and J. W. Wenzel. 2001. An enormous nest of Vespula squamosa from Florida, the largest social wasp nest reported from North America, with notes on colony cycle and reproduction. Journal of the New York Entomological Society 109(3–4):408–415. 6. Pickett, K. M. 2003. A new species of social wasp in the genus Apoica Lepeletier (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Polistinae, Epiponini). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 105(3):592–598. 7. Freudenstein, J. V., K. M. Pickett, M. P. Simmons, and J. W. Wenzel. 2003. From basepairs to birdsongs: Phylogenetic data in the age of genomics. Cladistics 19(4):333–347. 8. Simmons, M. P., K. M. Pickett, and M. Miya. 2004. How meaningful are Bayesian support values? Molecular Biology and Evolution 21(1):188–199. 9. Pickett, K. M., and J. W. Wenzel. 2004. Phylogenetic analysis of the New World Polistes (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Polistinae) using morphology and molecules. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 77(4):742–760.



10. Pickett, K. M., and C. P. Randle. 2005. Strange Bayes indeed: Uniform topological priors imply nonuniform clade priors. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 34(1):203–211. 11. Pickett, K. M. 2005. The new and improved PhyloCode, now with types, ranks, and even polyphyly: A conference report from the First International Phylogenetic Nomenclature Meeting. Cladistics 21(1):79–82. 12. Pickett, K. M., S. R. Rissing, and J. W. Wenzel. 2005. Iconoclasts of evolution: Haeckel, Behe and Wells and the ontogeny of a fraud. American Biology Teacher 67(5):270–277. 13. Pickett, K. M., G. L. Tolman, W. C. Wheeler, and J. W. Wenzel. 2005. Parsimony overcomes statistical inconsistency with the addition of more data from the same gene. Cladistics 21(5):438–445. 14. Pickett, K. M. 2005. Is the PhyloCode now roughly analogous to the actual codes? A reply to Laurin et al. Cladistics 21(6):608–610. 15. Randle, C. P., and K. M. Pickett. 2006. Are non-uniform clade priors important in Bayesian phylogenetic analysis? A response to Brandley et al. Systematic Biology 55(1):147–151. 16. Steel, M., and K. M. Pickett. 2006. On the impossibility of uniform priors on clades. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39(2):585–586. 17. Pickett, K. M., J. M. Carpenter, and W. C. Wheeler. 2006. Systematics of Polistes (Hymenoptera: Vespidae), with a phylogenetic consideration of Hamilton’s haplodiploidy hypothesis. Annales Zoologici Fennici 43(5–6):390–406. 18. Varo´n, A., L. S. Vinh, I. Bomash, W. C. Wheeler, I. Te¨mkin, K. M. Pickett, J. Faivovich, T. Grant, and W. L. Smith. 2007. Program documentation for POY 4.0.1665. American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, http://research.amnh.org/scicomp/projects/poy.php 19. Pickett, K. M., and J. W. Wenzel. 2007. Revision and cladistic analysis of the nocturnal social wasp genus, Apoica Lepeletier (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Polistinae, Epiponini). American Museum Novitates 3562:1–30. 20. Wheeler, W. C., and K. M. Pickett. 2008. Topology-Bayes versus Clade-Bayes in phylogenetic analysis. Molecular Biology and Evolution 25(2):447–453. 21. Held, D. W., C. Wheeler, C. M. Abraham, and K. M. Pickett. 2008. Paper wasps (Polistes spp.) attacking fall armyworm larvae (Spodoptera frugiperda) in turfgrass. Applied Turfgrass Science. doi:10.1094/ATS-2008-0806-01-RS. 22. Andena, S. R., J. M. Carpenter, and K. M. Pickett. 2009. Phylogenetic analysis of species of the neotropical social wasp Epipona Latreille, 1802 (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Polistinae, Epiponini). ZooKeys 20:385–398. 23. Pickett, K. M., J. M. Carpenter, and A. Dejean. 2010. ‘‘Basal’’ but not primitive: The nest of Apoica arborea de Saussure (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Polistinae). Zoosystema 31(4):945–948. 24. Pickett, K. M., and J. M. Carpenter. 2010. Simultaneous analysis and the origin of eusociality in the Vespidae (Insecta: Hymenoptera). Arthropod Systematics and Phylogeny 68(1):3–33. 25. Pickett, K. M. 2010. Phylogenetic inference and the evolution of behavior. pp. 707–712. In: Breed, M. D. and J. Moore (eds.). Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior [Vol. 2]. Academic Press, Oxford, UK. 2672 pp. [Vols. 1 & 2] 26. Randle, C. P., and K. M. Pickett. 2010. The conflation of ignorance and knowledge in the inference of clade posteriors. Cladistics 26(5):550–559. 27. Roskens, V. A., J. M. Carpenter, K. M. Pickett, and B. A. Ballif. 2010. Preservation of field samples for enzymatic and proteomic characterization: Analysis of proteins from the trophallactic fluid of hornets and yellowjackets. Journal of Proteome Research 9(10):5484–5491. 28. Carpenter, J. M., L. Dvorˇa´k, J. Kojima, L. P. T. Nguyen, A. Perrard, and K. M. Pickett. 2011. Taxonomic notes on the Vespinae of Yunnan (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). American Museum Novitates 3709:1–10. 29. Carpenter, J. M., L. Dvorˇa´k, and K. M. Pickett. 2011 [2012]. Dolichovespula albida (Sladen), a valid species, not a synonym of D. norwegica (Fabricius) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae, Vespinae). Entomologica Americana 117(3–4):113–116.

Taxa Proposed by Kurt M. Pickett VESPIDAE: Polistinae Apoica (Apoica) ambracarina Pickett, 2003 Apoica (Apoica) ellenae Pickett, 2007



Eponymy VESPIDAE: Polistinae Metapolybia miltoni Andena & Carpenter, 2011 [2012] HALICTIDAE: Halictinae Chlerogella picketti Engel, 2010