Aimee & Nathan Win an UMSL Research Award!

Happy to share that the campus 2022 Co-Investigators of the Year Award went to lab PI Aimee Dunlap and department collaborator Nathan Muchhala, of Muchhala Lab, for their work on pollination in urban orchards. Of course both labs are heavily involved in this work, along with our awesome collaborators in St. Louis.

Its always nice to win an award, and even better to win awards with great colleagues! Biology did pretty well with our colleague Lon Chubiz also winning Junior Investigator of the Year!

Campus Daily story here: https://blogs.umsl.edu/news/2022/04/18/research-and-innovation-reception-2022/

Nathan Muchhala, Aimee Dunlap, Department Chair Wendy Olivas, and Lon Chubiz (picture by Eike Bauer)

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.

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.

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).