It's a tough world out there for pollinators.
Take it from UC San Diego bee scientist James Nieh, who will be on the UC Davis campus next week to speak on "Animal Information Warfare: How Sophisticated Communications May Arise from the Race to Find an Advantage in a Deadly Game Between Honey Bees and Their Predators."
His seminar, part of the fall quarter seminar series hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will take place at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 25 in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive. Fellow bee scientist Brian Johnson, associate professor of entomology, is the host.
"In addition to the classical arm race that has evolved between predators and prey, information races also occur, which can lead to the evolution of sophisticated animal communication," says Nieh, a professor in the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Division of Biological Sciences. "Such information can shape the food web and contribute to the evolution of remarkable communication strategies, including eavesdropping, referential signaling and communication within and between species, including between predators and prey."
"I focus on the world of information exchange (acoustic, olfactory and visual) that has co-evolved between Asian honey bees (Apis cerana, A. florea, and A. dorsata) and their predators, the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina and V. mandarinia)," Nieh says in his abstract. "I will explore how and why such information races occur through the remarkable examples provided by these high social insects."
He presented a TED talk on "Bees and Us: an Ancient and Future Symbiosis" in July 2019.
A native of Taiwan, Nieh grew up in Southern California and received his bachelor's degree in organismic and evolutionary biology in 1991 from Harvard University, Cambridge, and his doctorate in neurobiology and behavior from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., in 1997. He subsequently received a NSF-NATO postdoctoral fellowship to study at the University of Würzburg in Germany. A Harvard junior fellowship followed.
Nieh joined the faculty of the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution in 1997 as an assistant professor, advancing to associate professor in 2007 and professor in 2009. He served as vice chair of the section from 2009 to 2014, and as chair from 2014 to 2017.
His latest co-authored research, published in the journal Chemosphere in 2019, is titled Combined Nutritional Stress and a New Systemic Pesticide (flupyradifurone, Sivanto®) Reduce Bee Survival, Food Consumption, Flight Success, and Thermoregulation.
Assistant professor Rachel Vannette is coordinating the fall quarter seminars. Nieh's seminar is the first of the fall quarter. (See list of seminars.) Vannette may be reached at email@example.com.
Nine speakers are booked for the fall quarter seminars sponsored by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The seminars begin Wednesday, Sept. 25 and continue through Wednesday, Dec. 5.
Coordinated by assistant professor and community ecologist Rachel Vannette, the seminars will take place at 4:10 p.m., every Wednesday in Room 122 of Briggs Hall except on Nov. 20 (no seminar due to the Entomological Society of America meeting in St. Louis, Mo).
James Nieh, professor, Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Department of Biological Sciences, UC San Diego
Topic: "Animal Information Warfare: How Sophisticated Communication May Arise from the Race to Find an Advantage in a Deadly Game Between Honey Bees and their Predators" (See lab website)
Host: Brian Johnson, associate professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology
Nathan Schroeder, assistant professor, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Topic: "Stem Cells and Neurobiology of Nematodes"
Host: Shahid Saddique, assistant professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology
John Mola, doctoral candidate, Neal Williams lab, Graduate Group in Ecology
Exit seminar: "Bumble Bee Movement Ecology and Response to Wildfire." Mola specializes in bee biology, pollinator ecology and population genetics.
Host: Neal Williams, professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology
Rebecca Irwin, professor, applied ecology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
Topic: (to be announced; she specializes in the ecology and evolution of multiple-species interactions, pollination biology, and species invasions)
Host: Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology
Julián Hillyer, director of the program in career development and associate professor of biological sciences, Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation, Nashville, Tenn.
Topic: "Not So Heartless: Functional Integration of the Immune and Circulatory Systems of Mosquitoes"
Host: Olivia Winokur, graduate student, Chris Barker lab
Takato Imaizumi, professor, Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle
Topic: Circadian Timing Mechanisms in Plant-Pollinator Interaction"
Host: Joanna Chiu, associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology
Brock Harpur, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, Purdue University
Topic: "Caste Differentiation in Honey Bees from the Bottom Up"
Host: Santiago Ramirez, associate professor, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, College of Biological Sciences
Allison Hansen, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, UC Riverside
Topic: Insect Herbivore-Microbe Interactions
Host: Clare Casteeel, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology
No seminar (meeting of Entomological Society of America in St. Louis, Mo.)
Jackson Audley, doctoral candidate, Louie Yang lab and Steve Seybold lab
Exit seminar (topic to be announced). Audley studies the walnut twig beetle, Pityophthorus juglandis, which in association with the fungus, Geosmithia morbida, causes the insect-pathogen complex known as thousand cankers disease.)
Host: Steve Seybold, lecturer, forest entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and forest entomologist and chemical ecologist with the Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Davis
The seminars are free and open to all interested persons. Some will be recorded for later viewing on YouTube. More information on the fall seminars or schedule is available from Vannette at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pollinators aren't just bees, butterflies, beetles and bats.
They're also birds, like hummingbirds.
Ornithologists tell us that hummingbirds can easily eat their weight in a day, feasting on carbohydrates (nectar from blossoms and sugar water from feeders) and protein (insects and spiders).
The hummingbird menu includes such insects as ants, aphids, fruit flies, gnats, weevils, beetles, mites and mosquitoes. They also raid spider webs to grab a quick spider meal and any hapless insects trapped there.
We were thinking of insects and pollinators today (this blog focuses on insects and the entomologists who study them) after reading a UC Davis research paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that tested sugar water in hummingbird feeders.
Fact is, sugar water in hummingbird feeders can contain high densities of microbial cells but “very few of the bacteria or fungi identified have been reported to be associated with avian disease,” says community ecologist and co-author Rachel Vannette of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The research is one of the first to explore the microbial communities that dwell in sugar water from feeders and compare them to those found in flower nectar and samples from live hummingbirds.
“The potential for sugar water from hummingbird feeders to act as a vector for avian pathogens--or even zoonotic pathogens--is unknown,” said Vannette, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “Our study is one of the first to address this public concern. Although we found high densities of both bacteria and fungi in sugar water samples from feeders, very few of the species of bacteria or fungi found have been reported to cause disease in hummingbirds.”
“So although birds definitely vector bacteria and fungi to feeders, based on the results from this study, the majority of microbes growing in feeders do not likely pose significant health hazards to birds or humans,” Vannette said. “However, a tiny fraction of those microbes has been associated with disease, so we encourage everyone who provides feeders for hummingbirds to clean their feeders on a regular basis and to avoid areas where human food is prepared.”
The paper, “Microbial Communities in Hummingbird Feeders Are Distinct from Floral Nectar and Influenced by Bird Visitation,” is the work of first author Casie Lee, a UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine student; Professor Lee Tell of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Medicine and Epidemiology; Tiffany Hilfer, an undergraduate student and Global Disease Biology major; and Vannette.
Lee, mentored by Vannette and Tell, led the field experiment and performed bird observations and laboratory work during a summer project funded by the Students Training in Advanced Research (STAR) and Merial Veterinary Scholars Programs.
The researchers also compared the microbes in the feeders to those in floral nectar and found they differed in microbial composition.
“Birds, feeder sugar water, and flowers hosted distinct bacterial and fungal communities,” they wrote in their abstract. “Floral nectar and feeder sugar water hosted remarkably different bacterial communities; Proteobacteria comprised over 80% of nectar bacteria, but feeder sugar water contained relatively high abundance of Firmicutes and Actinobacteria, as well as Proteobacteria. Hummingbird feces hosted both bacterial taxa commonly found in other bird taxa and novel genera including Zymobacter (Proteobacteria) and Ascomycete fungi.”
The UC Davis scientists conducted their research at a private residence in Winters, attracting two hummingbird species, Calypteanna (Anna's Hummingbird) and Archilochus alexandri (Black-chinned Hummingbird) to drop net feeder traps. They mixed bottled water with conventional white granulated sugar (one part sugar and four parts water).
See more information--and photos--on their research on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
But back to insects and the hummingbirds that eat them. Entomologist Doug Tallamy of the University of Delaware says that "hummingbirds like and need nectar but 80 percent of their diet is insects and spiders."
Wildbirds on Line says: "I frequently put overripe bananas of my fruit feeder to attract tiny fruit flies, which in turn attract the hummers. The hummingbirds eat every fly and return in a few hours to feast on the next batch of fruit flies that discover the overripe fruit. What an easy way to observe hummers eating insects!"
Now that's an idea! Fruit flies for the hummers!
Vannette, who researches pollinator microbiomes, titled her innovative project “Characterizing the Structure and Function of Pollinator Microbiomes." She investigates the communities of bacteria and fungi in flowers and pollinators, including bees and hummingbirds. “Our work to date suggests that microbes in flowers are common and influence pollinator behavior,” she says.
The Hellman funding will allow her to link microbial communities in flowers with their influence on pollinators by examining microbial modification of nectar and pollen chemistry, and examine how microbial effects vary among plant and pollinator species, and with environmental variation.
We remember the groundbreaking research published by Vannette and her colleagues last year in the New Phytologist journal. Their paper, titled “Nectar-inhabiting Microorganisms Influence Nectar Volatile Composition and Attractiveness to a Generalist Pollinator,” showed that nectar-living microbes release scents or volatile compounds that can influence a pollinator's foraging preference.
Nectar-inhabiting species of bacteria and fungi “can influence pollinator preference through differential volatile production,' Vannette related last September. “This extends our understanding of how microbial species can differentially influence plant phenotype and species interactions through a previously overlooked mechanism. It's a novel mechanism by which the presence and species composition of the microbiome can influence pollination. Broadly, our results imply that the microbiome can contribute to plant volatile phenotype. This has implications for many plant-insect interactions.”
The 11 Hellman Fellows will receive a total of $244,000 in grants for research in a wide range of disciplines. Since 2008, UC Davis has received nearly $3 million in Hellman grants, awarded to 136 early-career faculty members. The Hellman Fund provides grant monies to early career faculty on all 10 UC campuses, as well as to four private institutions.
Vannette joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2015 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's biology department, where she was a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow from 2011 to 2015 and examined the role of nectar chemistry in community assembly of yeasts and plant-pollinator interactions.
She received her bachelor of science degree, summa cum laude, in 2006 from Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., and her doctorate from the University of Michigan's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Ann Arbor, in 2011. Her thesis: “Whose Phenotype Is It Anyway? The Complex Role of Species Interactions and Resource Availability in Determining the Expression of Plant Defense Phenotype and Community Consequences.”
We look forward to hearing more about this exciting research!
The department launched the seminars Wednesday, Jan. 10 with epidemiologist Amy Morrison of Iquitos, Peru, discussing dengue.
The seminars will continue through March 14. All will take place on Wednesdays from 4:10 to 5 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive.
Next up: UC Davis alumnus Fiona Goggin, a member of the entomology faculty, University of Arkansas, will present a seminar on “Molecular and Phenomic Approaches to Study Plant Defenses Against Insects and Nematodes” from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 17 in 122 Briggs Hall.
Goggin, who received her doctorate from UC Davis and her bachelor's degree from Cornell University, focuses her research program on plant defenses against herbivory, with emphasis on mechanisms of resistance against vascular feeders such as aphids and root-knot nematodes.
The list of speakers:
Jan. 17: Fiona Goggin, professor of entomology, University of Arkansas and a UC Davis alumnus. Topic: “Molecular and Phenomic Approaches to Study Plant Defenses against Insects and Nematodes."
Jan. 24: David Gonthier, postdoctoral fellow, Clare Kremen lab, UC Berkeley. Topic: to be announced. His primary research objective is to understand the importance of biodiversity across natural and managed ecosystems.
Jan. 31: Amanda Hodson, UC Davis postdoctoral fellow and assistant professional researcher with Louise Jackson's Soil Ecology Lab, UC Davis. Topic: "Molecular Detection and Integrated Management of Plant Parasitic Nematodes." Her research interests include soil ecology, integrated pest management and ecological intensification of agricultural systems.
Feb. 7: Marm Kilpatrick, assistant professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz. Topic: to be announced. He studies ecology of infectious diseases and population biology. His research "unites theory and empirical work to address basic and applied questions on the ecology of infectious diseases as well as population biology, evolution, climate, behavior, genetics, and conservation."
Feb. 21: Kerry Mauck, assistant professor of entomology, UC Riverside. Topic: to be announced. She studies insect vector behavior, plant-pathogen interactions, chemical ecology, and integrated disease management.
Feb. 28: Candidates for nematology position. (Pending)
March 3: John Tooker, associate professor of entomology and Extension specialist, Department of Entomology, Pennsylvania State. Topic: to be announced. His areas of expertise include insect ecology, plant-insect interactions, conservation biological control, chemical ecology and gall insects.
March 7: Alvaro Acosta-Serrano, senior lecturer, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Topic: to be announced. His research focuses on fundamental aspects of the biology of kinetoplastid parasites and their vectors, and on developing molecular tools to control and prevent parasite transmission in disease-endemic areas.