- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Distributed throughout South and Central America, orchid bees are easily distinguished by their brilliant metallic coloration, primarily green, gold and blue, says researcher Santiago Ramirez, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology.
He'll discuss "The Evolution and Chemical Ecology of Orchid Bees" at the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium: Keeping Bees Healthy on Saturday, March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center. His talk begins at 10:15 a.m.
“Insects rely more on chemical signals than on any other sensory modality to find, identify, and choose mates,” Ramirez points out. “Euglossine--or orchid--bees constitute a diverse group of conspicuous insect pollinators from tropical America. Male euglossine bees do not produce their own pheromones, but instead gather and accumulate perfume compounds from orchid flowers, fungi, and other resources, to subsequently present to females during courtship display.”
"They are extremely charismatic organisms," he says.
"Male-gathered perfumes are stereotyped, species-specific, and divergent among closely related taxa, suggesting that they play a key role in maintaining, and possibly originating, reproductive isolation among lineages."
Ramirez says that “Most insects rely on chemical signals (semiochemicals) to gain precise information on the location, identity, and quality of potential mates. Despite the ubiquity and importance of semiochemicals across the insect phylogeny, the underlying genetic and molecular mechanisms that control signal chemistry and signal detection remain poorly understood. Moreover, whether insect sex semiochemicals mediate reproductive isolation, speciation, and lineage diversification remains surprisingly unexplored given the vast diversity and ecological dominance of insects on Earth.”
His research involves integrating diverse techniques from multiple disciplines, including behavioral ecology, chemical ecology, population genetics, functional genomics, and neuroethology “to answer specific questions about the genetic basis, function, and evolution of chemosensory communication in arguably one of the most important groups of insect pollinators in the American tropics.”
Ramirez received his bachelor's degree in biology, with honors, from the Universidad de los Andes (Colombia) in 2001, and his doctorate in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University in 2008. He served as a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley from 2008 to 2012 before joining the UC Davis faculty in 2013.
The symposium is sponsored by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Keynote speaker at the symposium is noted bee scientist/professor/author Tom Seeley of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., who will speak on "Darwinian Beekeeping."
The daylong event "is designed for beekeepers of all experience levels, including gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in the world of pollination and bees," said Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center. "In addition to our speakers, there will be lobby displays featuring graduate student research posters, the latest in beekeeping equipment, books, honey, plants, and much more."
To register, access the Honey and Pollination Center website. For more information, contact Amina Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or Liz Luu at email@example.com.