Solis, M. Alma (Active)
United States Department of Agriculture
Lepidoptera Systematics/Diversity
Alma grew up in Brownsville, Texas, and in 1974 she entered Texas Southmost College as an English major. In her freshman year she was inspired by Barbara Warburton, professor of biology at the college and director of Rancho del Cielo Biological Station in northeastern Mexico, to become a biologist. She was to learn many years later that Brownsville, at the southern tip of subtropical Texas, is an important historical collecting locality in the United States. In 1978, Alma received her BS degree in secondary science education at the University of Texas at Austin. As an undergraduate her interest was plants and she worked for two years at the Rare Plant Study Center in the Lundell Herbarium as an undergraduate. She entered the graduate biology program at University of Texas at Austin and completed a thesis entitled A biogeographical comparison of the moths of Liquidambar forests. During her master's thesis she realized that the majority of moths she collected in northeastern Mexico were new to science and so became a doctoral student in systematic entomology at the University of Maryland at College Park. Her disseration was on a group of moths in the Pyraloidea or snout moths, a group of economically important moths that are pests on crops and stored producst.. In 1986 she was hired as an entomologist in the Systematic Entomology Laboratory, Agriculture Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and, upon completion of her PhD degree in 1989, was promoted to research scientist as a Pyraloidea moth and larval expert. She is curator of the Pyraloidea collection at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, and has been committed to upgrading this collection, probably the largest in the world, to 21th century standards. She has published more than 100 research papers and book chapters on the higher-level classification of Pyraloidea and species level identities of economically important pyraloids and been invited to teach workshops on the Pyraloidea in the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Mexico. She has conducted fieldwork in the United States, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, Paraguay, and the Philippines and is currently documenting Neotropical pyraloid diversity as part of the Area de Conservación Guanacaste project in Costa Rica. Alma was on a detail to the University of Texas at Brownsville as Associate Dean of the College of Science, Math & Technology in 1999. She was Research Leader of the Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL), ARS, USDA, for 10 years from 2003 to 2013. The lab is one of the largest in ARS with more than 15 scientists conducting research on the classification of arthropods. She was awarded the National ARS Administrator's Supervisory Outreach, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Award in 2012. She was President of the Entomological Society of Washington in 1997 and the Systematics, Evolution & Biodiversity section of the Entomological Society of America in 2016. Alma was elected to membership in the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1996. She became a member of the research committee in 1997, and chair of this committee from 1999 to 2006. She served as president from 2005 to 2008.