Jess gets noticed at CSEE2015!

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Jess’s talk on the phylogeography of Eastern Carpenter Bees was quite a hit!  It garnered an honorable mention in the student talk competition.

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Sweat bee workers that could start their own nests – but don’t

Originally posted on insectessociaux:

Miriam Richards, Associate Editor, Insectes Sociaux

In a recent issue of Insectes Sociaux, we described a rather surprising example of behavioural flexibility in an obligately eusocial sweat bee, Halictus ligatus (Rehan et al. 2013). This is a particularly well studied species that has been the subject of hundreds and hundreds of hours of behavioural observations. As in many eusocial sweat bees, there is considerable evidence in H. ligatus for queen-worker conflict over oviposition rights in Brood 2, a conflict that often results in queen domination, if not monopolization, of Brood 2 egg-laying. Many H. ligatus queens appear to be multiply mated, so relatedness of workers to queen-produced brood is low enough to suggest that workers might often achieve higher fitness through personal reproduction rather than by raising siblings (Richards et al. 1995). Why don’t workers that are bullied by queens and which can’t lay eggs in the natal nest simply…

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Not an April Fool – OGS award for Jess Vickruck!

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Rounding out our string of good news announcements in the last little while:  yesterday (April Fool’s Day) Jess celebrated her birthday with an OGS award that will see her through the last year of her PhD.  Congratulations, Jess!

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Extreme Bees in Extreme Environments: A visit with Laurence Packer, bee biologist extraordinaire

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Before the seminar – some last minute adjustments and email

Last week, Laurence Packer visited our department to deliver a seminar about close encounters with extreme bees.  These bees live in extreme environments, like the Atacama Desert in Chile, usually the driest place on earth.  Many of the bees Laurence has collected, described, and studied in Chile are only a few mm long – if you stood them on their hind ends, they could keep their heads above water even if the average yearly rainfall happened all at once.  It’s amazing that flowers bloom or bees survive in such places.

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During the seminar – some interesting flower bits

Laurence was my PhD supervisor at York, long enough ago that we can now count the time in decades.  It’s a delight to still be able to learn from him.  And also a delight to have persuaded him and spouse Gail Fraser to stick around for a day, talking about birds, bees, university politics, and lots of other interesting topics, not to mention a careful evaluation of several Niagara wineries!

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After the seminar – Laurence regaling Gail and Miriam with more tales of extreme exploits in extreme environments

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More good lab news – NSERC grad fellowship for PhD student, David Awde

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Everyone in the lab was delighted this week that Dave was awarded an NSERC Post-Graduate Scholarship, which will support him for the next three years.  Dave switched to the PhD programme in September 2015, and this funding is perfectly timed to (eventually) get him to the finish line.  Currently, Dave is working on the first of several planned thesis chapters, comparing the nesting biology of Lasioglossum (Dialictus) laevissimum here at Brock, to populations in other places, as well as to other species of eusocial sweat bees nesting at Brock.

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PhD student, Jess Vickruck, now has her own webpage!

Check Jess’s new independent webpage.

The grad students grow up so fast.  Sniff.

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Dialictus genome project update

L. laevissimum Photo:  USGS Native Bee Inventory  http://www.flickr.com/people/54563451@N08

L. laevissimum
Photo: USGS Native Bee Inventory
http://www.flickr.com/people/54563451@N08

At long last, our genome project is truly underway – the sequencing has been done so now begins the process of assembly!

Getting to this point, we ran into an unexpected series of setbacks with DNA quality control.  A major issue lay in quantifying the DNA for sequencing from very tiny bees.  We used a Nanodrop spectrophotometer, which fooled us several times into thinking we had more DNA than we actually did.  It turns out that the total DNA from a tiny sweat bee like Lasioglossum laevissimum, when eluted in a reasonable liquid volume, is at a concentration well below accurate levels of measurement for our instruments.  This explains why some people refer to Nanodrops as expensive random number generators.  We actually found the Nanodrop to be quite accurate in measuring relatively high DNA concentrations from big bees.   A second set of problems arose with DNA quality – low quality DNA might not produce sufficient or high enough quality DNA libraries.  After several apparently unsuccessful attempts to solve this problem, we instead decided to ignore it! Lo and behold, we got all the libraries we originally planned for.

So now we have billions of sequences to assemble.   We will be learning a lot of new skills soon.  Once we have more or less figured out how to do this, we hope to use this genome assembly and annotation project not only for our research, but also to teach bioinformatics skills to undergrad and grad students to widen their technical experience.  This should be fun!

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