I was honored to receive the 2017 "Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor" award, from UNR! We try hard to create a research environment in which undergraduates have a chance to get a taste of science. Thanks everyone!!!!
Springtime, and lots to celebrate!
- Emily Breslow successfully defended her honors thesis on octopamine
- Devon and Jake received Whittell Fellowships for research at Little Valley
- Devon won 4th place ($250) for her poster at the UC Davis Bee Symposium, and Felicity gave an excellent lighting talk!
- Crystal Wang received a Nevada Undergraduate Research Award to fund an independent research project
- And, we had our annual Bee Bake Off!! Held annually in memory of Harvi Singh (a former undergrad who brought his A-game to bee-themed baking), we had many tasty contributions. This years's winner? Jake Francis! Pictured holding the "B" trophy, for his orange-buttercream bumblebee macarons.
Most flowers offer visitors some combination of nectar AND pollen, but nearly all research on bee cognition involves nectar alone (or, increasingly, pollen alone). We wondered how well bees learned an association between color and a given resource (pollen) when they were also collecting the alternative resource (nectar).
The paper tells a complex story that can be easily summarized: while collecting pollen had no effect on bees' ability to learn a nectar-color association, collecting nectar impaired their ability to learn a pollen-color association.
Read the whole story for our thoughts on why this might be happening, and what it might mean for plant fitness. This paper was a long time in coming, so it's nice to see out!
Dr. Felicity Muth, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab, is due to be on Science Friday today! (March 3, 11-1 PST). Felicity will be discussing new research on bee intelligence, alongside host Ira Flatow and UK researcher Dr. Lars Chittka.
Listen to the 17 minute segment, and read a few more details available at: http://sciencefriday.com/segments/the-secret-smart-life-of-bees/
If you found your way here after listening to the show, here are links to Felicity's:
- Scientific journal articles
- Interview with Smithsonian
- Personal website
- Bumblebee World Cup video! (just for fun-- the original bees playing soccer!)
Felicity and I were excited to be interviewed for this piece, which reports on a few recent findings that have expanded our understanding of the bee's sensory world. Among all the other great aspects of this article, nice to get links to the Muth et. al. and Russell et al. papers in Animal Behaviour!
It's been a busy fall (and it's not over yet!). Two recent developments of note:
1) The arrival of the new RFID system! It got stuck for 6 weeks in US Customs while they tried to classify it and sort out the paperwork from our German supplier/shipper. We all wish we had taken German in high school.
2) Our pollen taste paper got a nice write-up in the "Outside JEB" section of the Journal of Experimental Biology.
We're super excited about this short video and article put out by Deep Look, a science series produced by childhood-dominating Bay Area PBS station KQED! Filmmaker Josh Cassidy visited our lab for 2 days in April, and got some great footage of our bees on persian violet (Exacum affine). Jake makes a cameo in the footage, and his research is featured in the article by Lisa Potter. It was a great experience start to finish!
Deep Look is a great series that combines beautiful footage with truly in-depth science, and I highly recommend subscribing on YouTube!
In our new Biology Letters paper, Felicity, Jake and I showed that bees responded differently to pollen blends adulterated with a sweet (sucrose) or bitter (quinine) substance. The taste of pollen affected how much of it bees collected from a flower, as well as their tendency to land subsequently on a visually-similar flower. We're excited about the implications of these findings for looking at pollen chemistry in a new light! This was also a fun chance to use our thermal camera :)
The end of the year brought two reasons to attend the Biology Awards ceremony: Simon White successfully presented his Biology With Distinction project to the department, and Devon Picklum received a Wilson Scholarship!
The first annual Bee Bake Off was a major success! The first recipient of the Leonard Lab "B" was none other than Devon Picklum, with her sugar bee cream puffs. Emily's bee pizza would have won for "biggest bee" if there was such a cateogory (next year). And reassuringly, Felicity did not use dead bees in her creation.
It's an honor to have received the EECB program's Stephen Jenkins Mentoring Award!
Our NSF collaboration with colleagues at the University of Arizona (PhD Student Avery Russell, co-PI Dan Papaj and undergraduate Rebekah Golden) has produced a new paper in Behavioral Ecology, involving a first-of-its-kind experiment that explores what floral features bees learn from plants that reward bees with pollen alone. Avery pioneered the "frankenflower" design, which allows him to compare the responses of naive and experienced bees to flowers that have anthers matched or mismatched between Solanum and Exacum plants. Check it out on ResearchGate, or via the journal website. Congrats Avery!!
The 2015 COS Poster competition just wrapped up, and we were pleased to present five posters in the undergraduate and graduate divisions. All did amazingly well, and their posters will soon be on display in our building. Excitingly, Emily was awarded first place, and Cheyenne third place. Congrats to all on a great showing!
In our new Animal Behaviour paper (Muth et al. 2016 or try ResearchGate) , Felicity pushed the study of pollen learning forward by 1) demonstrating that bees can learn based on reinforcement by floral-collected pollen and 2) exploring what features of flowers they can learn, and how long they remember these associations.
We're excited about our new publication, "Colour learning when foraging for nectar and pollen: bees learn two colours at once" out today in Biology Letters. It was a fun experience to prepare a short-format manuscript, and Felicity's experiment uncovered some exciting findings about basic aspects of bee foraging.
When most people think about bee learning, they think of sugary nectar rewards. However, many bees collect both nectar and pollen (their source of protein) on a foraging trip. Felicity was interested in the cognitive aspects of this "multitasking". At least here when the rewards are on different flowers, bees can indeed learn to associate color + reward type. Doing so may come at a cost, as we found some evidence that bees focusing on a single reward performed better (more on that in forthcoming publications).
From the plant POV, it's interesting that bees seem to form expectations about what kind of reward a plant will offer based on its color. Could this have consequences for co-flowering plant species?