About Tessa

I am an entomologist who uses field work and molecular tools to learn about the interactions between plant viruses, their insect vectors, and their drought-adapted, native perennial plant hosts.

I earned my BS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Irvine, where I was first introduced to working with aphids. I pursued this interest by completing an internship in Corvallis, OR, where I had a crash course in learning major insect groups and working in forestry field sites.

Now, I am a PhD candidate in the Mauck Lab at UCR as of Fall 2016. My projected completion date is around September 2021. The following gives a short summary of my career and the current projects.


PhD Candidate in Entomology

  • 2016 - Present
  • University of California, Riverside
  • Doctoral Program in Entomology
  • Viruses in native California perennial plants: advancing virus ecology by developing new study systems for manipulative experiments.
  • Advisor: Dr. Kerry Mauck

My research at UCR is composed of three major themes, each of which have contributed to my field, molecular, and analytical skills:

  1. Virus discovery
  2. Epidemiology studies of a crop-associated virus in native, perennial plants
  3. Experiments on virus effects on plant health and insect behavior



Bachelor's in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

  • 2011 - 2015
  • University of California, Irvine
  • Advisors: Dr. Sergio Rasmann and Dr. Kailen Mooney
  • Research topics:
    1. Genetic variation in induced and constitutive plant chemical defenses. I worked with Dr. Rasmann to develop my own undergraduate project working with milkweeds and using HPLC to determine concentrations of cardenolides in root and shoot latex.
    2. Tri-trophic interactions between chemically defended Canola plants, aphid herbivores and parasitoid wasps (predators). I worked in Dr. Mooney’s lab with postdoc Dr. Katsanis, where I maintaned aphid colonies on different host plants, and participated in choice assays, and wrote first drafts for methods sections of a paper.



Experience outside of academia

  1. June 2015 – September 2015
    • Field Crew Intern at Northwest Entomological Research Center in Corvallis, OR
    • I cooperated with a small team to monitor athropods in remote clear-cut logging plots as part of a project on indirect effects of herbicidal spray on biodiversity. I also worked independently on a project to characterize aquatic arthropod diversity for a future community lake restoration.
    • I gained skills in family and species level insect and plant identification, using GPS units on the ground, and general field work practices.
  2. October 2015 – June 2016
    • Volunteer at Natural History Museum of LA County
    • I contributed to an ongoing project by learning and identifying scuttle fly species diversity in Los Angeles.
    • I engaged with museum guests in the main museum of variable age range and diverse backgrounds.
    • I gained skills in species-level insect identification in a niche taxon and science communication techniques.




  1. Molecular/wet lab skills
    • DNA & RNA extractions (solvent and column based), reverse transcription, PCR, gel electrophoresis, primer design, Library prep for sequencing.
  2. Bioinformatics
    • Analyzing sequencing results using the Galaxy Platform and phylogenetic analyses using Qiagen CLC Main Bench. Some experience with MEGAX and PopART.
  3. Field skills
    • GPS, plant and insect identification, trained in wilderness first aid, insect trap techniques (yellow sticky cards, pitfall, pan traps, and vacuum sampling).
  4. Statistics & coding
    • Competent with basic analyses in R
    • Able to create high quality maps and figures (tables, plots) using R
    • Learning interactive data and plots through Shiny. Example from September 2020 here.
  5. Chemical ecology & animal behavior
    • experience with gas chromatography - mass spectrometry, compound identification, and sample preparation; understands principles of HPLC and GC.
    • experienced with electrical penetration graphing technique for aphid-feeding behavior analysis, able to tether aphids and psyllids for technique, whiteflies a work in progress.
  6. Languages: English (primary), Russian (conversation), and Spanish (conversation and written)



Published works & and in preparation

  • Shates, TM., Sun, P., Malmstrom, CM., Dominguez, C., Mauck, KE. “Addressing Research Needs in the Field of Plant Virus Ecology by Defining Knowledge Gaps and Developing Wild Dicot Study Systems.” Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 9, 2019, p. 3305 DOI
  • Shates, TM., Gebiola, M., Sun, P., Malmstrom, CM., Mauck, KE. “Geographic origins and genetic analyses of Cucurbit aphid-borne yellows virus in the USA.” Manuscript in prep.
  • Shates, TM., Sun, P., Mauck, KE. “Geographic and ecological drivers of virus prevalence and community composition in drought-adapted perennial plants.” Manuscript in prep.
  • Shates, TM., Helo, A., Aung, O., Mauck, KE. “Cucurbit aphid-borne yellows virus has species-specific effects on wild squash establishment, disease resistance, and interactions with virus vectors.” Manuscript in prep.

  • ResearchGate
  • GoogleScholar

  • Entomology Today Blog Post “The Bugs and the Bees: A Guide to Entomology Outreach, Even During a Pandemic”
  • Entomology Today Blog Post “Mentoring Undergraduates: How to Be a Guide for Genuine Research Experiences”