We are interested in the structure and function of complex biological and ecological systems, with a particular interest in behavior and ecology of social insects, and their role in agro-ecosystems. We are especially interested in developing scalable, automated approaches for quantitative behavioral ecology, and use bumble bees as a primary model system. See below for some of our research themes
Stress, resilience, and social behavior
The evolution of social behavior in insects is one of the most remarkable and important events in the history of life on our planet. Yet our understanding of how social behavior is affected by novel stressors such as pesticides or thermal stress is limited. We seek to understand the role of social dynamics, collective behavior, and group phenotypes (such as individual variation) in driving resilience to novel stressors. Understanding these responses also requires fundamental insight into the ecology and evolution of social behavior in response to environmental complexity and variability.
Pollinator health in agroecosystems
Insect pollinators help support crop yields and human wellbeing globally, yet many aspects of agricultural landscapes (including exposure to pesticides and altered abundance and distribution of food and nesting resources) can negatively impact bee health. We are interested in both understanding the effects of these stressors on bees and the ecosystem services they provide, but also using this understanding to guide management approaches that can simultaneously support pollinator health and food production.
Global change and plant-pollinator interactions
The interactions between plants and pollinator are highly dynamic, driven largely by the remarkable capacities for learning and behavioral flexibility of bees. We are interested in understanding the role of behavioral flexibility and dynamic foraging in plant-pollinator interactions in fluctuating environments. Example projects in this this theme include (a) behavioral thermoregulation during foraging and effects of landscape simplification, (b) the role of ash deposition on plant-pollinator interactions, and (c) the effects of pesticides and drought on individual-level interactions networks in bees.
Accessible tech for behavior and ecology
Emerging technologies such as low-cost, efficient edge computing (e.g., RPis) and machine learning are rapidly opening new opportunities for understanding the abundance, activity, and behavior of insects. In our research, we often develop custom technological solutions, and aim to make these tools broadly accessible to accelerate research in these fields. See the 'tools and methods' page for specific examples of this