I love playing with DNA sequences, so we do molecular biology in the lab and often we get to play with sequences or microsatellite genotypes. Usually we do this for population genetics (e.g. great work by Jess Vickruck), so the actual molecules or sequences are secondary. Recently, we started thinking about the molecules themselves, instead of just using them as tools. A few years ago we decided that we needed some genome sequences of our own and jumped into the brave new world of Bee-o-Informatics (I can do silly puns, at least!). However, my own bioinformatics skills are just enough to keep me ahead of the undergrads in my Molecular Ecology course. Our new projects are collaborations with Brock colleagues, namely molecular biologist, Adonis Skandalis, and molecular evolutionist, Ping Liang. And of course, we need a grad student to lead the way.
Madiha Hafeez is our first student to focus on molecular evolutionary topics. She came to us a year ago from Pakistan and has been busily curating a great data set over the last few months. She has assembled, tracked down, corrected, and generally curated vitellogenin sequences for 40 bee species, thanks in large part to the generosity of Sarah Kocher and her lab at Princeton University. Some really interesting results are just starting to come in – we’ll keep you posted! In her spare time, Madiha is also a really good bee observer and is helping Lyndon Duff keep track of carpenter bees in the field.
Long-term field studies of animal populations generate some of the most interesting results in ecology, because they reveal cross-generational linkages between behavioural strategies and reproductive success. Long-term studies are almost always done on vertebrates, because biologists can find, mark and identify the same individuals and their offspring, year after year. That’s a lot harder to do with insects, which are small, highly mobile, and often impossible to follow in their natural habitat for more than a few minutes or hours at a time. Bees are an exception because they make nests that females return to all season. Eastern carpenter bees are even more exceptional, because they are philopatric, reoccupying nests for generations. This means we can track them and their offspring, year in and year out.
MSc/PhD student Lyndon Duff has been marking, observing, and genotyping eastern carpenter bees for 4 years at an aggregation that Jess Vickruck studied for 3 years. Here he shows off his newly designed carpenter bee dattractor, which might work a lot better if it would stop raining for more than 2 days in a row!
Jessi deHaan just started her first field season as an MSc student, studying thermal physiology of Ceratina, the small carpenter bees. Around here, Ceratina nest in twigs of shrubs growing in either sun or shade, so the baby bees may experience very different developmental temperatures. The image on the right was taken with a thermal camera and shows how hot a twig can get in full sun when the air temperature is only ~20C. Jessi has set up a field experiment to find out how hot it gets inside Ceratina nests and what consequences are for development and metabolism.
For more thermal physiology, check out T.E.M.P., the website for Glenn Tattersall’s lab at Brock University. He’s our thermal physiology guru!
Lyllian Corbin joined our lab in September 2018 to do an Honours thesis on the social behaviour of a tiny sweat bee, Lasioglossum (Dialictus) hitchensi. This summer she’s doing a USRA project, expanding her research to document sociality of another Dialictus, L. ellisiae. At the same time, she’s helping Lyndon Duff with his studies of eastern carpenter bees. She’ll be starting her MSc in September 2019.
This is one of my favourite pictures of Jess – here she’s marking hermit crabs for an Animal Behaviour lab.
Jess did her MSc and PhD in the Brock Bee Lab. Now she has her own lab! Here’s an announcement slightly paraphrased from the Acadian Entomological Society: In May 2019, Dr Jessica Vickruck joined Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Fredericton Research and Development Centre to lead the Entomology Science Program. Her research will involve insects relevant to integrated cropping systems, as well as other areas. And to top it off, NSERC awarded her a post-doctoral fellowship this year – just a wee bit too late to actually use it, but it’s nice to be successful!
In April, PhD student David Awde defended his thesis, entitled “Proximate influence on eusocial caste behaviour ”, featuring the sweat bee, Lasioglossum (Dialictus) laevissimum, with a little help from baby Peyton. The photo also includes Graham Thompson, who was David’s undergrad thesis supervisor and a member of his PhD supervisory committee, Adonis Skandalis, co-supervisor and molecular biology expert, and me.
At our university, a PhD defense comprises a talk by the “defendant” and then an oral examination that is open to the public. David started with an erudite, clear and enjoyable talk, followed by questions from the audience. One of the best audience questions was from his wife, Kristy, who knows a lot about bees, having been listening to David and the rest of us for years. Then the examining committee, which included two evolutionary biologists from other universities, and a chemist, set about the grilling. David actually smiled throughout most of it! However, his mother, who was sitting in the audience throughout the process, didn’t enjoy the process, as she informed us all later. Everyone else found that exceptionally amusing, since David demonstrated his expertise and his communication skills to the committee’s complete satisfaction. David has just begun a post-doc in Lexington, Kentucky.
Just did a quick check of our latest records. I keep telling everyone we have about 150 bee species in Niagara. But that number is now out of date – the specimen in the photo (taken by Nora Romero) brings us to 165 species. This is Osmia cornifrons, a European leafcutter that we found for the first time a couple of weeks ago, right on the Brock campus. We’re going to start making a photo catalogue so everyone, and especially residents of Niagara region, can identify bees in their gardens.
Our ongoing monitoring and pan trapping collections are all from sites south of the Niagara Escarpment, and we rarely identify andrenids, because we don’t have a key yet (Cory Sheffield is working on fixing that problem). If we trapped in more areas, especially the milder conditions north of the Escarpment, the number of species would undoubtedly be higher.