New USDA grant starting!

We are thrilled to have been awarded a grant from the USDA along with some great collaborators, Nathan Muchhala from UMSL, Nicole Miller-Struttmann from Webster University, Gerardo Camilo from Saint Louis University, Kyra Krakos from Maryville University, Ed Spevak from the Saint Louis Zoo, and Peter Hoch, who recently retired from the Missouri Botanic Gardens. It is the range and depth of expertise that makes this project possible. Our team is working on ways to maximize pollination in urban orchards.

Using a gradient of urbanization in St. Louis, along with the network of community orchards supported by Seed St. Louis (formerly Gateway Greening), we will be assessing the pollinator communities of these orchards as well as the efficacy of their pollination services. We are hoping to answer two important questions: 1) How does the socio-environmental background in which orchards are embedded affect pollinator diversity and pollination services provided to orchards in the city of St. Louis? and 2) How do interventions aimed at increasing native bee diversity and density affect orchard fruit yields?

Our lab is responsible for measuring and analyzing the behaviors of the pollinators in our nine focal orchards (three urban, three suburban, and three peri-urban). PhD student George Todd will be taking the lead on a great deal of this data collection, as we record videos of bees and flies, and then analyze them for differences in how they interact with flowers and collect pollen. We were inspired in this work by recent findings from Rachel Brant, a PhD candidate in our lab who has found that sweat bees are using different patterns of pollen foraging behavior depending on how urban their environment is.

This will be a busy spring as we get all of our supplies together and finalize our protocols, which we were able to refine last spring as we were writing the grant. We will be looking for four undergraduates for paid positions this spring at UM (two working with our lab and two with the Muchhala lab), and are thrilled at the possibilities for some excellent senior theses and research projects.

Congrats Fall 2021 Graduates!

Our first in person commencement in TWO YEARS was this past Saturday. We were happy to watch a few lab members walk across the stage. Andreia Figueiredo Dexheimer graduated with her PhD. Andreia was also chosen as the Student Marshal for the Graduate School. And we have new bachelor’s degree graduates with Taylor Bayless, who worked on orchid bees with Andreia, and Amina Hamza and Omar Manzoor, who worked this fall on bumble bees. Congratulations to all of you!

Andreia and Taylor
Andreia and Aimee

Congrats to Dr. Andreia Figueiredo Dexheimer!

We are so thrilled to congratulate Andreia on her successful dissertation defense today! Andreia gave a fabulous talk in person and on Zoom. Her dissertation, “Cognitive Ecology of Color Vision in Orchid Bees,” involved a mix of field work in Florida, some conceptual work, and some lab work, both here at UMSL and with the Morehouse Lab at the University of Cincinnati. Andreia also worked with the Saint Louis Zoo for part of her research.

Congratulations Andreia! A tremendous amount of work and thought, as well as skill, was needed to navigate completing a dissertation in the middle of a pandemic. Excellent work!

Living STL episode on Dr. Charles Henry Turner

Lab alumnus Kamau MuseMorris and Aimee were both recently interviewed about bee cognition for a local PBS show dedicated to Dr. Charles Henry Turner. Dr. Turner taught high school at Sumner in St. Louis for 14 years and published a series of landmark papers on insect behavior and cognition, including about bees. Despite being well-known in his time, most people in St. Louis have never heard of him or his contributions.

A series of recent papers have further highlighted his work. Dr. Danielle Lee, colleague and professor at SIUE, wrote a paper, which highlighted Dr. Turner’s work along with his activism. Her paper deals with diversity and inclusion activism across the history of animal behavior research in the US, and is an excellent read for animal behaviorists.

You can watch this segment of Living STL here:

Catching Royalty

We managed to celebrate the spring a bit by catching a few queen bumble bees for Jeremy’s summer project. I never imagined we’d be allowed in to the Missouri Botanic Gardens with insect nets, so it was wonderful to be granted permission to collect a couple of queens and great fun to be able to do so on a day when the gardens were closed to the public. We then traveled to the Litzinger Road Ecology Center where James Faupel and an intern joined us to wrap up our captures.

Few things are more fun than hearing a buzz, spotting a queen, and running at her with a net. It is like being in a living Far Side cartoon. Beautiful morning and great to be doing science together after a long COVID winter.