We decided to celebrate the fall by visiting a corn maze, and for those who could make it, we consumed large quantities of kettle corn, petted some animals, and destroyed pumpkins using slingshots and a cannon. Notably we did not get lost in the corn and no actual pain was caused by reading the “Cornundrums” placed throughout the maze.
We were lucky this year to have the annual meeting of the Animal Behavior Society very close: just a train ride away in Chicago. That it was a joint meeting with the International Ethological Congress made the travel even easier.
With Michael keeping the fly research going and Andreia in the field in Florida, the rest of us headed to Chicago. Matt gave a talk on his bumble bee museum study plus some new data from field work, Rachel gave a poster on her first year project on risk sensitivity in bumble bees, Tian gave her first ever meeting poster on the preliminary data from her senior project on colony learning in bumble bees, and Aimee talked about data from our long-running producer-scrounger bumble bee project. It was a busy week full of workshops, talks, and catching up with colleagues.
A new paper from the lab, published in Behavioral Ecology, assesses how bumble bee foraging decisions are affected by interactions between co-occurring traits of floral communities. Using a full factorial experimental design, this study examines how flower number, signal complexity, and nectar reliability affect which flowers bumble bees choose to feed from. The results show that all of these traits significantly affect bumble bee decision-making and, notably, that bumble bees forage more selectively when many options are present.
The paper can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/ary190
It has been a busy semester of grant and proposal writing for most of the students in the lab, and while many have not yet heard about their proposals, we do have some nice outcomes to celebrate.
This has been a record fall for successful student grants from the Harris World Ecology Center. PhD student Andreia Figueiredo received a grant to continue her field tests of cognition in orchid bees in Florida. MS student Michael Austin received a grant to complete a series of experiments on operating costs of learning in experimentally evolved flies. MS student Mladen Senicar will have funding to work on confocal imaging of experimentally evolved fly brains, and complete some qPCR measures of genes involved in brain development. And last, but not least, undergraduate Tian Manning was awarded funds to test bumble bee colonies for variance in learning abilities across their colony lifespan. Congratulations to everyone for their hard work writing, editing, and giving such excellent feedback to each other on drafts.
We are also celebrating that Matt Austin, who achieved PhD candidacy status earlier this semester, was awarded a Peter Raven Fellowship to enable him to spend his spring semester finishing up some bench work and then join the bumble bee queens in the field when they first emerge.
Looking forward to a very productive spring semester!
Andreia just returned from a full summer of driving (from Missouri to Florida and back!), several hours in the sun, long hikes in search for female orchid bee colonies and, more importantly, lots and lots of beautiful male orchid bees! These metallic green bees are major pollinators in tropical forests, which makes them an essential part of the ecosystem. Orchid bees are closely related to bumblebees and honeybees, but unlike their relatives, orchid bees do not form hives or colonies and do not show a true division of labor. That implies in one bee being responsible for foraging for multiple resources. All orchid bees need nectar, which is their food source, but males also visit flowers to collect scents (that they probably use to attract females), while females visit flowers to collect resin (which they use to build their nests) and pollen (which they use to feed their young). Because male and female bees have different needs, they end up visiting and pollinating different flowers from different species. In other words, multiple species of plants depend on these bees for pollination and the plant’s survival is dependent on the bees finding the flowers and moving pollen from one flower to another. Andreia’s work focuses on how male and female orchid bees learn about floral cues (color and scent), and she is currently continuing her experiments with bees that she shipped from Florida to the St. Louis Zoo.
It was a busy summer, and Aimee joined Andreia for the last part of the field season and the drive back (when they both memorized the soundtrack for The Lion King Broadway musical).