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!

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).

Pablo’s Successful Defense

Lots of congratulations for Pablo Iturralde, who defended his MS thesis, “Transcriptomics of Learning,” this week. Pablo has been extremely busy during his time in the lab: running selections, collecting huge amounts of t-maze data, building automated t-mazes (including machining the parts himself), making libraries for RNA and DNA sequencing, analyzing sequencing data, working on more qPCR samples than we even want to count, and importantly, mentoring undergrads and high school students. We will miss Pablo and his many contributions when he leaves to start a PhD program in neuroscience this August at Brown.

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We didn’t manage a picture at the defense, so here’s one from last month of Pablo processing samples.

Congratulations to Andreia

Lots of congratulations to Andreia for receiving her first research grant for her dissertation research. The Harris Center for World Ecology is funding her new work on orchid bee cognition at the St. Louis Zoo.