Research in our laboratory focuses on the plant-animal interactions from the perspective of conservation biology and evolutionary ecology. One of our three major areas of interest is bee pollination in fragmented landscapes (Fig. 1 and 2). The project's goals are to develop predictors of bee diversity in fragmented landscapes and test methods to enhance this economically important group of insects. These studies focus on ecological factors controlling diversity of solitary bees in fragmented prairie landscape. We are particularly interested in local vs. landscape scales effects (Fig. 3) on diversity, what habitat types bees frequent, and if habitat can be rehabilitated for solitary bees.
Our second area of active research involves dispersal of insects in fragmented landscapes. Our empirical studies of beetles that feed on a single plant species (monophagy) (Fig. 4) have shown that interactions between beetle and host plant characteristics shape dispersal patterns and population structure. The dispersal patterns in these studies have been mathematically modeled to test hypotheses about "foray sampling" by beetles, use of small clusters of host plants as "way stations", and variation about dispersal behavior within populations. Presently we are using the mathematical model to predict dispersal to new locations and we will test the predictions experimentally in the field. We are also examining morphometric differences in males and females that may influence flight ability and dispersal distances.
Lastly, we have begun collaborative studies with research groups in California and Germany exploring the role of wild bees in pollination of important agricultural crops. We are focusing on the contribution of wild bees to almond pollination in the Central Valley of California because of the economic importance of the crop and the recent difficulties with colony collapse disorder experienced by honey bee keepers (Fig. 5). Almond pollination is interesting ecologically because different varieties are self-incompatible and for nut production to occur, pollinators much move pollen between different varieties. On-going studies suggest that wild bees contribute significantly to almond pollination if natural areas are nearby and that they may stimulate (Fig. 6)
Keywords: evolution, ecology, pollination, dispersal, genomics