It's good to see University of California scientists pursuing rare bumble bees.
The latest news on the bumble bee front: UC Riverside scientists recently rediscovered "Cockerell's Bumble Bee" (Bombus cockerelli Franklin), considered "the rarest of the rare" species of bumble bee in the United States.
It hadn't been seen since 1956. Then, on Aug. 31, 2011 UC Riverside scientists collected the species on weeds along a highway north of Cloudcroft in the White Mountains of south-central New Mexico.
In a Dec. 5th press release, UC Riverside senior museum scientist Douglas Yanega told senior public information officer Iqbal Pittalwala: "Most bumble bees in the U.S. are known from dozens to thousands of specimens, but not this species. The area it occurs in is infrequently visited by entomologists, and the species has long been ignored because it was thought that it was not actually a genuine species, but only a regional color variant of another well-known species."
Fast-forward to UC Davis Department of Entomology where native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, is pursuing the critically imperiled--and maybe extinct--Franklin's bumble bee (Bombus franklini Frison).
Thorp hasn't seen Franklin's bumble bee since 2006. Its range is a 13,300-square-mile area in Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California, and Jackson, Douglas and Josephine counties in Oregon. Up until now, its habitat was thought to be the smallest of any other bumble bee in the world.
Yanega believes that the range of the Cockerell's bumble bee is the smallest in the world. It's less than 300 square miles, he says.
Davis bumble bee enthusiast Gary Zamzow (he studies and photographs bumble bees and is a volunteer in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis), says the latest find is "an exciting discovery and encouraging news. Gives one hope in finding lost bumble bees."
And an interesting note: Henry James Franklin (1883-1958), who monographed the bumble bees of North and South America in 1912-13, named both of them. Franklin named Cockerell's bumble bee for Theodore Dru Allison Cockerell (1866-1948).
There should be a crowd at the UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar on Wednesday, Dec. 7.
That's when evolutionary ecologist Ruth Hufbauer, associate professor at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, who researches insect-plant interactions, will speak on “The Roles of Demography and Genetics in the Founding of New Populations.” Her talk is set for 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall. Plans call for it to be recorded and broadcast at a later date on UCTV.
This is the last in the series of UC Davis Department of Entomology seminars for the fall quarter. Host Louie Yang, assistant professor of entomology, will introduce Hufbauer.
Have you ever wondered how insect populations become established in a new environment? Their fate rests on both their demographic and genetic compositions, Hufbaue says.
Hufbauer, who co-organized a seminar on "Evolution and Biological Control" at the Entomological Society of America's 59th annual meeting, held last month at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, says that "Establishment success increases with the number of founders as well as with their genetic diversity. However, because more individuals typically harbor more genetic variation, demography and genetics are linked. To disentangle them requires factorial experiments manipulating numbers of founders of different genetic backgrounds--inbred to outbred.”
Hufbauer will present data from two such factorial experiments. “In both systems, demography and genetic background interact to determine the success of founders. Inbreeding led to reduced success, and those effects depended upon the species and the environment. Inbreeding and genetic drift can, however, have positive effects as well, particularly in the case of purging of deleterious mutations. A third data set supports the idea that purging can happen in natural populations, and may influence subsequent population dynamics.”
Hufbauer, who grew up in California, earned her bachelor of arts degree at UC Berkeley and her doctorate at Cornell. In 2000, she joined the faculty of the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, Colorado State University.
On her website, Hufbauer quotes Ukrainian geneticist/evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975): “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
She acknowledges that “these days studying and teaching evolution in the U.S. is quite controversial." So, she's thoughtfully posted some links to "sites from the scientific community aimed to educate people about the basics, not only of evolutionary biology, but also what physics and chemistry teach us about the world.”
What a remarkable project a biologist launched in Kenya involving honey bees.
It all began with farmers complaining that migratory elephants were raiding their crops and destroying their livelihood. What to do? How do you conserve the elephants and protect the crops at the same time?
Knowing that elephants dislike being around honey bees, biologist Lucy King came up with a clever idea: she installed bee hive fences around 17 farms in a two-year pilot project aimed at preventing the elephants' entry, according to an article in Discovery magazine. She placed the hives 10 meters apart and then connected them with wire.
When the elephants tried to push their way through the fence, the jostled bees, defending their hives, pushed back by stinging them. The elephant scattered and most--93 percent--never returned.
Can you say "Memory like an elephant?"
Now the farmers in Kenya cannot only protect their crops from the pachyderms but there's the added bonus of a second income: honey!
We wouldn't be surprised if this little experiment is tried elsewhere.
During Prohibition, bootleggers reportedly placed bee hives inside their liquor trucks to disguise their cargo and ward off inspection.
The bee fence could be the new "no trespassing" sign, the new "caution" tape, the new security guards.
Pomegranate growers could string a beehive fence around their fields to deter thieves. They could replace their signs, "No Trespassing; Violators Will Be Prosecuted" with "No Trespassing; Violators Will Be Stung." Banks owning foreclosed homes could fence off their yards with bee hives. Prisons could increase their security with a line of bee fences.
Problem is, though, one percent of the population is allergic to bees and if stung, they could go into anaphylactic shock.
And folks would perceive bees the wrong way--they'd forget about their pollination services and think only of insects that sting.
Then, too, some unethical folks would steal the hives, as they do during almond season.
But hey, it worked for the elephants!
If that word is not in your everyday vocabulary, just think of a symbiotic relationship where one organism transports another organism of a different species for the benefit of both.
And there you have it--at least part of it--of what evolutionary ecologist Leslie Saul-Gershenz of the University of California, Davis, is doing.
Saul-Gershenz researches a species of digger bee, Habropoda pallida, a solitary ground-nesting bee, and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus, found in the Mojave Desert ecosystem.
She and Neal Williams (her major professor) of UC Davis and Jocelyn Millar of UC Riverside just received a grant to study digger bee ecology and conservation. They're working with SaveNature.Org, which Saul-Gershenz co-founded.
The relationship between the bee and the blister beetle is part of it.
What's this symbiotic relationship about? The larvae of the parasitic blister beetle produce a chemical cue or a pheromone similar to that of a female solitary bee to lure males to the larval aggregation. The larvae attach to the male bee and then transfer to the female during mating. The end result: the larvae wind up in the nest of a female bee, where they eat the nest provisions and likely the host egg, Saul-Gershenz says.
Like to read more about this exciting research? Saul-Gershenz and Millar published their blister beetle/digger bee work, "Phoretic Nest Parasites Use Sexual Deception to Obtain Transport to their Host's Nest," in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, 2006).
That led Pulitzer Prize-winning author Natalie Angier to feature their work in "The Art of Deception," published in the August 2009 edition of the National Geographic magazine. Most recently, U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service entomologist Michael Ulyshen, writing for the Journal of Natural History, mentioned their work in "Bugback Riding: Transportation for the Masses" (September 2011).
Saul-Gershenz said she became interested in the subject while she was a graduate student at San Francisco State University. She wrote "Beetle Larvae Cooperate to Mimic Bees" in the journal Nature (2000).
Of her newest grant, she says: “Our preliminary data show that the blister beetle exploits four other native California bees including important pollinators in the genus Habropoda and Anthophora." Historically, M. franciscanus was known to be a nest parasite of Anthophora edwardsii distributed throughout California.
You may know Saul-Gershenz as a past president of the Pacific Coast Entomological Society. In 1991, she became the first female president in its 91-year history.
And they're not letting the secret out until Saturday, Dec. 3.
What it is: the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program will sponsor a "Cabinets of Curiosity" scientific art show on Saturday, Dec. 3 in Davis.
Billed as "found object and sculpture featuring 17 student artists," the event will take place from 7 to 10 p.m. at 721 7th St., Davis (corner of 7th and G streets). A performance art by Evan Clayburg is set for 8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
"But what's in those drawers?" we asked entomologist/artist Diane Ullman, co-founder and co-director of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. She is a longtime professor of entomology at UC Davis and associate dean for undergraduate academic programs in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Ullman did not disclose the secrets, but she said folks attending the event "will find out what happens when artists mix this concept with the strange world of insects using found object and sculpture."
A little background: She and Donna Billick of Davis co-founded and co-direct the Art/Science Fusion Program, which meshes art with science in undergraduate education and community outreach. Some of their work is showcased in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
The Dec. 3rd show "is based on the fusion of art and science, particularly insects and art and is based on the theme of Cabinets of Curiosity," said Art/Science Fusion Program teaching assistant Anna Davidson, who is a third-year PhD student in the Horticulture and Agronomy Graduate Group, housed in the Department of Plant Sciences.
"Cabinets of Curiosity were pre-museum, pre-Linnaeus collections of curiosities from around the world featured for the affluent in the 15th and 16th centuries," Davidson said. "Curious items were either displayed in cabinets or entire rooms. We have created a cabinet of curiosity consisting of 20 drawers. Each drawer is a shallow, glass covered box that tells a story about insects using found object and sculpture. Each piece is very unique."
"There will also be a local--but becoming more famous--performance artist named Evan Clayburg performing at 8 p.m. His piece will be a surprise. We will also have two Djs."
And the site? "The gallery is an empty house that we will transform into an art space to facilitate this one-night underground art show," Davidson said.
Davidson did provide a couple of "bug" images (below)--but the rest you'll have to see on Dec. 3.
And learn more about them...