2019 in Review

Lots of hard work paid off for lab members this year. And since we’ve not been great about updating the lab news, this will be a post with lots of news.

Matt Austin received a full year Dissertation Fellowship, that started in the fall, and Andreia Figueiredo was awarded a Raven Fellowship that will allow her to spend the spring semester in the field.

Many successful grants were written! Undergrads Katelyn Hanners, Dannice Alexander, and Brittany Alexander were all awarded grants from the Harris Center for their work on bees. Andreia was awarded a grant from the St. Louis Zoo for her work on orchid bees. And Rachel Brant was awarded grants from the Harris Center and the Webster Groves Nature Study Society for her work on sweat bees.

Lots of data were collected! Tian Manning completed her experiment on colony learning in bumble bees, with a monumental effort from Brittany, Dannice, high school student Kamau MuseMorris, plus many others. Matt brought a long-running bumble bee experiment on producer-scrounger dynamics to a close, completing efforts started by former student Isabel Rojas-Ferrer. Rachel finished her first season of data collection on sweat bees in community gardens and in the prairie, with help from Katelyn, Moses Alshimary, and a drone. Matt finished his field work for his dissertation, and buckled into genetics and modeling. Andreia completed her second field season in Florida, with some great lab work in St. Louis from Jacob Kottmeier, and high school senior Sindhu Bala. Fly work continues, with Michael Austin learning more about costs of learning in our evolved lines, undergrad Logan Philpott collecting some nice data on spider predation on high learning flies, welcoming three interns into the fly world (Candice Krull, Carly Spielberg, and Jacob Ryno, who have been learning lots of techniques), and last, but definitely not least, Jill Lee completing all the data collection on her thesis on overshadowing in learning.

It was a good year for pollinator outreach! Our reworked table kit was a success at the 13th Street Community Garden and North City Farmer’s Market during Pollinator Week. Aimee taught classes for two rounds of the Master Pollinator Steward Certificate, and the Master Naturalists. We hosted many lab tours. And last, but not least, we contributed a graphic on pollinator conservation for the Pollinator Pantry brochure from the St. Louis County Parks.

And finally, a number of papers made it into press, including Matt’s paper in American Naturalist on size size and bumble bee range changes. Tian presented her first poster ever at the Animal Behavior Society conference, along with a poster from Rachel and a great talk from Matt. Andreia, Matt, and Rachel all presented posters at the Entomological Society of America meeting. And Aimee gave talks at Animal Behavior and at the European Society for Evolutionary Biology.

Andreia’s Notes From the Field

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).

Powdered Flies

We annoyed some flies this week. The plan was to powder them and then track them via camera traps. Usually what happens is that flies groom all the powder off except for a bit at the top of their thorax, and then they are easily seen in a group. That did not happen with our newer evolved populations: these flies groomed everything off within 24 hours. So it is back to hand painted flies for us.