This past spring, Vern successfully defended his MSc thesis, which was about maternal care in the small carpenter bee, Ceratina calcarata. This species is normally considered to be solitary or subsocial, meaning that mothers raise their brood alone, without help from any other females. This entails a great deal of work for the mother, who constructs a nest, provisions each egg with pollen provisions, inspects the developing larvae and pupae, and then, as Vern discovered, feeds her adult offspring. What if mom isn’t there to feed the adult offspring? In an elegant set of field experiments, Vern removed mothers, and discovered that if mom dies or disappears, one of her daughters takes over and feeds her siblings. So, in effect, Vern induced helping behaviour in a supposedly solitary bee!
Evidently, both student and supervisor were very pleased with the thesis defense outcome!
High school mentorship student, Nicolas Orrego, with his winning poster
Almost every year, a high school student joins our lab to carry out a 4-month research project. In September 2013, Nick Orrego joined our lab to investigate how changes in local weather patterns influence sweat bee body size. We already had quite a bit of evidence showing that when weather conditions are generally warm and dry, bees produce larger offspring, whereas in cool, rainy conditions, they tend to produce smaller offspring. In eusocial bees, differences in body size between queens and workers influence social interactions and the degree of despotism by queens. Weather therefore can influence social interactions through its effects on body sizes of queens and workers. Nick spent four months carefully measuring and dissecting females, and showed that the relationship between weather conditions and body sizes were completely supported: bees produced in the poor weather of 2012 were considerably smaller than those produced in the fine conditions of 2011 and 2013.
Nick presented his research results as a poster at the Niagara Regional Science Fair, winning two prizes – the Brock University Biology Award and The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Award! Now Nick is spending the summer as a research assistant in our lab, enlarging the data set to include 10 years of specimens, as well as several additional species.
Grad student Jess Vickruck’s latest project with co-author, Wes Lesco: Behaviour and development of Keller John Lesco, born 21 February 2014 (see Figure 1, below). We are all looking forward to further observation and documentation of this interesting new juvenile form!
Figure 1. Keller considers the impact of sudden, acute environmental change.
Scott MacIvor is a PhD student in the Packer Lab at York University. He recently discovered that megachilid bees occasionally use trash as nesting materials. Discover magazine (and many others) have picked up the story – click here for the link.
We are really pleased that the second paper from Amy Rutgers-Kelly`s MSc thesis has finally been published:
Rutgers-Kelly A, Richards MH. 2013. Effect of meadow regeneration on bee (Hymenoptera: Apoidea) abundance and diversity in southern Ontario, Canada. The Canadian Entomologist, 145, 06, 655-667, DOI: 10.4039/tce.2013.42. PDF (Copyright: Cambridge University Press)
In this paper and its companion, we examined the return of bees to the Glenridge Quarry Naturalization Site (GQNS) in southern St. Catharines, next to Brock University. As its name suggests, the GQNS was once a limestone quarry, then a major landfill site, which was closed in 2001 and rehabilitated as a park by 2003. Bees had almost certainly been eradicated from this site for many decades, so we studied their return in order to understand how quickly bees can repopulate naturalized areas when they suddenly become available. We found that the return of bees begins as soon as new habitat becomes available, and estimated that it would take about 3-5 years for the GQNS to return to bee abundance and diversity levels similar to nearby meadows at Brock University. Amy’s MSc research inspired our lab to continue observing bee diversity at Brock, at the GQNS, and two more former landfill sites in Pt. Colborne and Wainfleet.
Getting this into print was a bit of a marathon! Amy did her fieldwork in 2003 and collected thousands of bees. She identified most of them and analysed a huge amount of data in order to complete and defend her MSc in 2005. Why did it take so long to get this published? The main reason was the the sheer immensity of the task of accurately identifying more than 10,000 specimens representing more than 100 species, in the absence of a type collection or museum collections or even a species check list of Niagara bees. Had we known what we were up against, we might never have started! But I’m glad we did.