Color Preference in Orchid Bees

Andreia and Aimee attended the first all virtual Animal Behavior Society meeting last week. It was really great to have a chance to see all the talks asynchronously, so neither of us missed anything we wanted to watch. The challenging part of the talks for everyone was fitting a presentation into only six minutes!

Andreia summed things up well:

And here is Andreia’s talk if you’d like to hear a little bit about her dissertation work on orchid bees.

Congrats to Dr. Matt Austin

Former grad student Matthew Austin successfully defended his dissertation, giving a wonderful talk describing some of his research during his five years at UMSL. He’s finishing up the final changes to his dissertation, and is starting his postdoctoral fellowship with the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University, where he will also be doing research at the Missouri Botanic Gardens.

We managed a drive-by celebration at his house later in the day. Hopefully we can have a belated in person celebration later this year.

Jose Antonio from the Parker Lab got a great screen shot at the end of the talk.

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.

Animal Behavior Society Meeting 2019

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.

Congratulations on student grants and fellowships

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!