107 – Bryan Danforth – The Solitary Bees (in English)

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Andony Melathopoulos: [00:00:00] From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is PolliNation, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens, making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Andony Melathopoulos, Assistant Professor in Pollinator Health in the Department of Horticulture. 

On pollination we love books about pollinators, and this week's guest has a brand new book out. Long overdue, much needed: The Solitary Bees: Biology, Evolution, and Conservation. This week we talked to one of the authors, Dr. Bryan Danforth, who wrote the book with John Neff and Robert Minckley. Dr. Danforth is a Professor in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University and this book really meets a need in terms of being able to understand the diversity of behaviors, the ecological relationships that solitary bees have with the environment. And in addition, sort of thinking about solitary bees in terms of their role in crop pollination.

Okay. Hi, Dr. Danforth. Welcome to PolliNation. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:01:20] Thanks Andony. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:01:22] I was just watching; we're on Zoom and I saw that you held up a brand new book, the first copy, a book about Solitary Bee: Biology, Evolution and Conservation, which seems like an incredibly daunting task. What motivated you and your coauthors to take on this huge challenge?

Bryan Danforth: [00:01:43] Yeah, thanks. Yeah, it was about a five year project. So I think we started in 2014. I just want to start out by saying that the book was really a collaborative effort. I don't think I could have done this myself. My two coauthors Jack Neff and Bob Minckley each brought their own expertise and knowledge of these to the book.

Jack has, been incredibly deep knowledge of bees, especially the bee-plant relationships. But it helps that his wife is a botanist, and Bob's expertise is in desert ecology, faunistics, and he also has a very deep knowledge of, of the biology and ecology. So we really worked on this project together.

We bounced ideas off each other frequently via email and phone, and we were constantly kind of pestering each other with questions like, have you seen any papers on this or that topic? So it really was kind of a group effort. And I just want to start out by saying that. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:02:41] Yeah. So where did the idea come from? When did you guys all get together and say, hey, this has really been neglected; we need to take this on, or? 

Bryan Danforth: [00:02:49] I think we started thinking about this... I guess I may have been the one that started thinking about it... and it really came out of my experiences at the bee course, which has been taught at the Southwestern Research Station in Portal, Arizona for the last 20 years.

And the bee course is a 10 day intensive workshop on bee identification, biology, field methods; it's kind of boot camp for bee biologists. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:03:19] And we should say you're about to go, we're recording this in advance of the book launch. So you're, you're sort of packing up your net and ready to head out the door.

Bryan Danforth: [00:03:29] Yes. Yes. It's August 18th to the 28th this year. So, I think it really came out of the experiences there where students would ask questions, you know, great questions about bee biology. And, and we would do our best to answer those questions. And over time I started realizing that, well, first of all, we were getting sometimes the same question, so there's obviously an interest in these kinds of things. And that it would be really nice to put all these things into one sort of single resource. So I think it was both Jack and I started talking about this, maybe over beers at the bee course. And, and then, we brought Bob in because Bob has been working on bees for a really long time. And he's just down the road from me, he's in Rochester, New York.

So that's kind of where this evolved from; I really think it arose from kind of the experiences we had with students at the bee course. And the kind of topics that people were interested in. Oh, and by the way, I'm hearing the lectures by the instructors at the bee course, year in and year out has been an incredible help to me.

So I've had the privilege of hearing Terry Griswold talk about bee faunistics every time I've been at the bee course. I've heard Jack Neff talk about oil bees. I've heard Gerry Rosen talk about brood parasites. So, so I've kind of absorbed this stuff and felt like, okay, now's the time to kind of cut this into one coherent resource. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:04:57] That's fantastic. And I guess, you know, that sort of brings me to my next question about the audience you had in mind. Clearly those students in the bee course, those repeated questions that would come up, you could see where people people's interest was really, or were the lack of knowledge was, needing to fill a gap.

I imagine those students were, one audience, but what other audiences did you have in mind and how did you see this book meeting a need that wasn't being met? 

Bryan Danforth: [00:05:25] Yeah. So I think our target audience, we try to make it fairly broad. So, we wrote the book in a way that I think an interested backyard naturalist with a general understanding of biology could read it and enjoy it. But I think our more specific target audience for the book was really grad students, postdocs, professors in pollination biology, bee ecology, bee conservation, and those related fields.

And, I guess if I had sort of one single sort of person, I was writing the book for, it was the student in the bee course. But remember those "students," and I'm putting that in quotes because the students at the bee course are graduate students all the way to policy makers and tenured professors.

So the students is in quotes here. Those people come from a broad range of backgrounds. So academics, land managers, and policy makers. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:06:24] I have to say I'm pretty amazed because that's a pretty high grade audience, but at the same time, as I was reading through the book, I felt, really anybody who had an interest in bees is written in such a style that it has the references and annotations to be able to go back and track this work down as a scholar or as an academic, but it really was something you could read, cover to cover. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:06:47] Well, thanks. We hope so. We did, we did pretty extensive research, so I just thought I'd throw out that I think we've got 1400 references, 100 illustrations and, and I think probably 30 or 35 tables. So, there's quite a lot of interdigitating information in there. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:07:09] You know, those images I think are great. I was looking over a book that we have out in the Pacific Northwest is Bill Steven's book on Bees of the Pacific Northwest, which has that comparative... you have a bunch of faces and nests side by side. So you can do this, which this book does wonderfully. It really does have some great illustrations, where people can kind of like, Oh, I see the difference. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:07:36] Yeah, well I know the book you're talking about. That is a great book, and that was a real resource for me when I was a graduate student and we wanted the illustrations to be good quality.

So, we worked with a freelance illustrator named Francis Faucet who lives in Ithaca, New York. And she's worked with a lot of Cornell faculty over the years; she does beautiful carbon dust illustrations and she does a lot of artwork in Adobe Illustrator. So she worked with original illustrations from the peer reviewed publications, and then redrew them so that they would all be in a similar style.

And in fact, in some cases she had to go back to the original specimens in our collection to verify the drawings because they were grainy and, you know, sometimes the quality wasn't that great. So Francy you put a huge amount of work into this project and really deserves a lot of credit for making it aesthetically appealing.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:08:33] It is remarkable because you can see the references where the pictures are taken from, but they all have the same style. It looks really coherent. It's wonderful. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:08:42] Yeah. Yeah. Francy is fantastic and has real skills with Adobe Illustrator so all those files are electronic. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:08:49] There's a chapter in the book on nest architecture and brood cell construction, which must have been a challenge, both in terms of capturing the tremendous variation and nesting structure, but also what we don't know.

Can you tell us a little bit about the organization of the book, both in terms of the chapters, but also how you organize the materials within the chapters to try and capture this problem? 

Bryan Danforth: [00:09:11] Yeah. That's a great question cause it was a challenge. I can tell you, we spent a lot of time on the outline for the book before we ever started writing chapter.

One challenge was to find a way to cover all the relevant topics without repeating the same thing over and over again, or having topics reappear later in the book in some other chapter. I can give you one example: oil bees are a really interesting group, so there are about 450 species of solitary bees that specialize on this very particular floral reward: oils that are produced by certain plant families. 

These bees have specialized brushes, scrapers, combs for extracting these floral oils. They've got sponge-like hairs for manipulating them and carrying them back to the nest. They're particularly common in the tropics, for example, centrist. People in your, in your audience, won't be familiar with centris, but also there are old world oil bees, there are even North American oil bees like macropis.  Oil bees collect oils for two reasons. They collect oils to line their brood cells, and they collect oils as a larval food, so it replaces nectar and the pollen provisions of these oil bees. And it's a very nutritious floral reward. But that was kind of a challenge, that particular topic.

So, do you put it in the chapter on nest architecture because oils are used to line the brood cell? Or do you put it in the chapter on floral resources, because this is a floral resource that bees harvest and feed to their offspring? So that's, I'm just taking that as an example we ended up putting it largely in the floral resources chapter, and simply referring to it in the nesting architecture chapter. But yeah, there are topics like that, that kind of span many, many different chapters, but we tried not to make the mistake of repeating ourselves. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:11:01] Fantastic. Well, let's take a quick break. We'll come back and want to get more into the specifics of the book. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:11:07] Sounds good.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:11:20] Okay, we're back. Now, there's this long tradition of solitary bee research. It goes back a hundred years or so, but there's also been this explosion of new research, particularly in the last decade. How on earth were you able to thread together these discoveries from the past and the present?

Bryan Danforth: [00:11:37] That is another great question, and that was actually one of the most fun aspects of writing this book, was to see the connections between the older literature, and the newer literature, and to try to reinterpret those older discoveries with what we know now about these topics.

So, I can think of a couple of examples. First I'll give you an example that has to do with phylogeny. You know, we've always considered the bee family colletidae to be primitive bees. Colletids have bifid, wasp-like glossa. They carry pollen internally and many of them look very wasp-like so hilaeus, uriglosines looks very wasp-like. 

They also come from Australia where all primitive animals, like the duck billed platypus reside... just kidding. But you know, molecular phylogenetic studies over the last 10 years have completely overturned that view. So colletids are no longer viewed as primitive; they're actually a relatively recently derived group, and they're nested well within the phylogeny of bee families. So now we can reinterpret some of these traits of colletids that we thought were primitive, kind of with that in mind. So now let's think back about colletids, you know, they have a bifid glossa because it's an adaptation to applying a fixed cellophane lining that they use to line their brood cells. 

And why do they have a cellophane lining? Well, it's to collect three soupy liquid provisions. And in fact, their larvae are highly adapted for swimming across this soupy provision , and digesting that kind of novel floral reward or novel mode of cell provisioning. 

So, really now we can just flip this whole thing around. And some of these aspects of colletid biology are clearly derived and clearly adaptations to a unique set of traits that they have evolved alone; no other group of bees does this kind of thing.

So that's one example. I can give you another example. There are papers dating back to the 1970s, that report, in certain groups of bees that the pollen provisions are fermenting. That the pollen provisions have a yeasty smell to them. Some people describe it as Vegemite.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:13:56] Oh, yeah, for sure. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:13:58] People describe it as cheesy, and literally these are bees that collect pollen provisions, and if you dig up those pollen provisions, there are literally bubbles coming off them. The pollen provisions are fermenting; it looks like it looks like a brew, a pot of bee beer.

So, this is an incredibly cool observation that's buried in these papers in the seventies that suggests that some bees are using fermentative yeast as a food source for their offspring. And now let's fast forward to 2019, when Sean Stephan's lab is publishing studies using stable isotope analysis, that show that bees are actually not strictly herbivores.

They appear to be omnivores, digesting, a mix of plant and animal... well, fungal based nutrients. So this result was foreshadowed by these papers by, Roberts Rosen Moleski, you know, decades ago. So rereading those papers was like kind of Eureka for me. I was like, Oh, now I get it. We've seen this all along.

It's been staring us in the face, and Shawn's just been able to show that empirically that these bees are really doing something very interesting with their pollen. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:19] That's remarkable. I can imagine people made these observations a long time ago, both in terms of looking at colletes larva and, or, the nesting behavior, but also, in this example as well with the fermenting brood provisions that, they may not have known what they were... you know, they were making these observations, really fascinating natural history observations, but they really, are sort of pulled into some kind of framework only subsequently.

And I can imagine... we had a conversation way back with Mark Winston who wrote The Biology of the Honey Bee, and sort of thinking about his book as being also received in the future. Like this book is going to be this little snapshot in time. You're going to be called on to do a revision in a few years and it's going to be, but it will stay as a, kind of like a moment in time when things are synthesized.

Did you guys have conversations about, thinking about this as being something that's going to be around for awhile? 

Bryan Danforth: [00:16:20] Yeah, we hope so. We also hope that we'll get a chance to revise it. So we, we don't know how many of the books will sell.

We're hoping that maybe five, 10 years down the road, we'll have a chance to make some revisions to the book. And, to update some of the chapters. I mean, for example, I think we're just starting to understand kind of what's going on with bees and microbes. 

Our chapter on that topic is called the microcosm of the bee brood cell. And we talk about bacteria, fungi, nematodes that live in pollen provisions. Of course mites; there's a whole literature on mites that are associated with solitary bees. And, and again, that literature is now kind of old.

It was largely reviewed by George Ichord in the eighties and nineties. And there just hasn't been a ton of work done on those mites recently. And there's fascinating stories there; I mean these mites are certainly benefiting the bees in many cases.  You know, there's xylocopinae bees that have a carinaria, little homes for the mites. And the mites climb into these pockets on the propodium of the female bees and they're transported, as the females leave their nest, to the new nest. So the bees clearly, they want these mites around and what are these mites doing? Well, they're feeding on fungi that are probably pathogenic, in the pollen provisions of that carpenter bee.

So there are some great examples like that, where we hope that the book will stimulate kind of new research on these topics that have been kind of lingering there for awhile, and are just fascinating kind of stories. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:18:08] Well, you've mentioned a couple of the chapters, but I'm wondering, is there a chapter that you, you consider one of your favorites? Or tell us a little bit about some of the chapters that you're really delighted with and, now that you have a copy in hand and you've looked through it, you've been "that's was a good chapter." 

Bryan Danforth: [00:18:25] You don't want to know about which chapters I think are the bad job?

Yeah. Okay. Since you gave me early warning, I picked three chapters that I thought I'd just bring to the attention of your listeners. So I'm particularly excited about, so one chapter is chapter 12. So this is "Bees and Plants: Love Story, Arms Race, or Something in Between?". This is kind of a fun chapter on the relationship between bees and flowers.

 This was our chance to talk about, you know, be plant coevolution the history of pollenivery, the origin of bees from predatory wasps, but also how bees and plants interact today. And one thing we cover in this chapter is new evidence that plants... really, we have to look at plants as basically defending themselves against their pollinators.

I really believe that we have overemphasized the love story aspect of this relationship. Yes, these are pollinators. They do wonderful things for flowering plants, but they're also herbivores that are consuming vast quantities of floral rewards. There's some beautiful studies that document just how much of gets consumed by specialist bees versus deposited on a con specific stigma. And these are papers by Clemens, Shalane, vine, and Andreas Mueller in Switzerland. And, it's like 95% of the pollen that these plants are producing ends up in the digestive tract of a larval bee. A very small fraction of it ends up on the stigma of a flower. 

So really plants have to kind of defend themselves against these pollinators. And they do this in various ways: so they can defend themselves against their floral visitors by having a specialized, floral morphology, they can have special mechanisms for delivering the pollen in small doses, so think of poricidal anthers as an example. The pollen isn't dispensed all at once; each buzz extracts a certain amount of pollen, and the plant then kind of makes the bee come back and revisit that flower. So poricidal anthers are a great example of how flowers are kind of protecting themselves against their pollinators. And really not all bees can buzz, you know, honeybees can't buzz so that's why they're not very good tomato pollinators. 

We reviewed a recent paper by Steve Buchman and Sophie Cardinal that shows that buzzing occurs widespread across the bees, but it might be, I think it's 50% of all bee genera have ever been reported to actually buzz a flower.

So buzzing is not that common, and you have to have a certain kind of behavior to do that. So that's one way that plants are protecting themselves. Another, I think is through chemical defenses. More and more evidence is suggesting that pollen is chemically protected. That pollen is actually fairly toxic to certain generalists bees, and that work is coming out of the groups in Switzerland, Andreas Mueller, Christoph Pross.

Also it's a recent graduate from my lab: Kristen Brochu showed that cucurbit pollen is actually highly toxic to Bumble bee visitors. Bumblebees love cucurbit flowers but they're nectaring. They're not collecting the pollen. And I don't want to tell you any more, cause Kristen hasn't published a paper, yet. She'll get mad at me if I do.

 So I love this idea that flowers are okay. They need pollinators, but they need to keep them at arm's length. They need to keep them; they need to control their behaviors in ways that don't allow them to sort of over exploit the floral resources. So that's one thing we developed in the book.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:22:07] That sounds like a fantastic chapter. Tell us another one. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:22:12] Okay. Chapter 13. We wanted to really delve into the literature, supporting the idea that solitary bees are actually economically important. So this is a chapter where we tried to take all the literature that's been coming out really recently as a consequence of the CCD, story in 2007-2008. By the way, we should point out that the financial crisis coincides with the arrival of CCD. So those two events, 2008... it was bad. We wanted to just get into the literature on sort of what role to do the native, mostly solitary bees have in crop pollination.

So we, we focused on that in chapter 13, and we kind of pulled together all the literature. We tried to provide a framework for how to really quantify the contribution of any bee species or any component of the bee fauna in terms of pollination. So we kind of laid out this idea that... it's an old one in pollination biology, but that the effectiveness of a pollinator, or the total importance of a pollinator is a combination of its abundance and its per visit effectiveness.

So if we take studies that look at abundance and per visit effectiveness, many of those studies suggest that while these are really important crop pollinators in certain crops. Now almonds are a special case. We all know that almonds are a very particular case where we really couldn't produce almonds without honey bees.

But there are a lot of crops, especially in the Eastern U.S., where we grow things on a fairly small scale where the native bees are really, probably more important than the honey bees. In New York for example, we have apple growers. I mean half the apple growers don't rent honeybees anymore. So they're relying on the native bees to pollinate their apples.

So this is the chapter we kind of develop that idea and sort of provide our kind of perspective on really how important wild solitary bees are for crop pollination. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:24:15] Oh, fantastic.  I should point out we had Mia Park on a previous episode and you guys had that fantastic guide to orchard...  we'll put it in the show notes. It's a really, if people haven't seen it before, it's just a really lovely, well laid out book for growers on the bees that come to orchards. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:24:32] Yeah, of course. Yeah, Mia was instrumental in these early studies of the role of wild bees and apple pollination in New York.

I mean we're up to 120 species of wild bees that visit flowers just in New York state. And Mia's work shows that these solitary bees are far more effective on a per visit basis than honeybees. And we have video to document that we can show that when honeybees are visiting these apple flowers, most of the time they're nectaring, and so they don't come in contact with the stigma. 

But the solitary bees like Andrena, Osmia, Bombus.. well no, Bombus is a social bee, but anyway, the wild bees, they land right on top of the anther column, they scramble across the anther column and they're coming in contact with the stigma throughout their visit.

So there's good reason to think that on a per visit basis, the solitary bees are doing a more effective job, largely because they're after pollen more so than nectar. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:25:35] And I remember being in some system, I remember being in low bush blueberries and the density of andrena are high; they actually can get in high numbers and with certain crops. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:25:44] Oh, yeah. Yeah. And they're even specialists. So we have some specialist apple visitors that are largely visiting apple. Blueberries, you've got some specialist andrena, you've got a specialist anthophora. So, yeah, specialists can be very good pollinators for these crops.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:26:01] So you also told us there's three chapters. What's the third chapter that you wanted to highlight? 

Bryan Danforth: [00:26:06] I just want to encourage people to read chapter five, "The Surprising Utility of Males."

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:26:12] Good. Good. I'm glad to hear about it. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:26:16] Yeah, we try to have a sense of humor in writing this book.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:26:19] Clearly. The chapter titles are really good, and I guess that's one of the things I also notice is there these boxes in the book and in the chapter I saw, these little stories, little vignettes, sort of allow the key concepts to be brought up.

I don't know, made more solid. And I guess there was this one of these sidebars about the Riverside cuckoo bee taskforce. Tell us, tell us about the boxes and some of the stories in there, but I want to know more about this cuckoo bee taskforce. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:26:55] Thanks for asking about that. So yeah, we did sprinkle, one to three or four of these boxes throughout the book. And these are vignettes that just kind of highlight interesting stories that we came across. So this particular one is a funny story from the 1990s that only your listeners from UC Riverside will know about. In the spring of 1992 I received a phone call when I was a postdoc at Smithsonian, from Kirk Fisher at UC Riverside.

And Kirk explained that a new and seemingly very rare brood parasitic bee had been discovered on the campus of UCR. So this was great news for bee systeminists, for systematics. But not such good news for the UCR administration and the USDA, because they had planned to build a multibillion dollar oil salinity lab on the site where this bee was recorded.

And the bee had been discovered by a retired chemistry professor, turned bee taxonomist, named Ken Cooper and he named the bee Hulk at this IDs Ruthie, after his wife, Ruth. And Ken had kind of a rough relationship with UCR administration. So he was quite happy to go ahead and move forward with listing this as an endangered species knowing that this would put a kibosh on this soil salinity lab. 

So the USDA decided that they better find out more about this bee. I believe this is a brood parasitic bee; this is not an important crop pollinator. So this may be one of the rare occasions where USDA is funding research on brood parasitic bees. But they funded this kind of rapid response team to survey for a Hoka Saudis Ruthie sort of in around the UCR campus, as well as the surrounding area in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

And so Kirk hired me and several grad students from UCR; George Ichord was brought in as a consultant as well. And we were tasked with carrying out a survey of the bee, and to determine how rare it really was. And so we, you know, we called ourselves the Cuckoo Bee Task Force or the CBTF.

And we even had a tee shirt; I think at some point we printed t-shirts. But this was pretty big operation; Kirk had I think probably 10 people working for him for about a six week period, full time, traveling all over the San Bernardino and Riverside counties looking for the bee. 

Fortunately, we knew the host; the host was calliopsis pugiones, which forms large nesting aggregations in that area. And in the spring, it was a beautiful time of year out there. So we visited these sites, we dug up nests, and we confirmed that Hulk of the Saudis Ruthie is actually present at a number of nesting sites of calliopsis pugiones.

It actually has a fairly high parasitism rate. So I think it was at some sites, we had 30% of those cells were parasitized by hookup studies Ruthie. So we ended up documenting that the bee probably is not going to go extinct tomorrow, but it does live in these pretty fragile habitats in an area that's developing very rapidly.

But I mean, from the perspective of red listing, it wasn't necessary at the time to red list that species.  So the UCR could go forward and the USDA could go forward with their soil salinity lab. And I did check recently on the web, that the soil salinity lab is still there. It's quite a nice facility. It's right on the citrus research site that we worked for that project. So, that was just a funny story about, we thought kind of a relatively famous cuckoo bee. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:30:50] Well, this is great because I imagine all those kinds of stories are almost dominated by honeybees and social bees. It's nice to have a new set of stories for the solitary bees, along those lines. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:31:05] That's right. Well, it is kind of a mystery. I mean, PH Timberlake, who was a very prolific bee taxonomist working at UC Riverside used to take his lunch break, and walk around campus collecting bees. And, he never picked up this bee. So I guess it is kind of one of those mysteries, like how did this thing go undetected for so many years in a campus with a well known department of entomology?

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:31:33] With one of the best, native bee people in the West coast walking 

Bryan Danforth: [00:31:41] around.

So, there are maybe bees that sort of don't appear every year, and they're quite unpredictable in terms of their emergence and phonology, so they go undetected for years.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:31:58] Well, I think that's fantastic. And I think this book will go a long ways. We have a lot of volunteers here in Oregon who are surveying for bees and they've talked to... Andy  Moldenke pops in every once in a while and he just reinforces how little we know about bee natural history, and it sounds like this book is going to really meet their needs in being able to thread things together and be able to pose questions. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:32:22] Oh, yeah. Well, Andy Moldenke had a huge influence on Jack Neff. Jack is one of the coauthors of our book, and Andy is acknowledged in the book. So, sweet, say hello to him for me. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:32:30] Oh we will. Andy's always there to tell us we don't know anything, which is a great service actually. Okay, well, let's take a quick break. We got a set of questions we ask all our guests. I'm very curious what your answers are going to be. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:32:47] Okay. Thanks.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:33:00] Okay. And we're back. So obviously probably one of my favorite books is going to be this new book on solitary bees, but is there another book that you want to just tell listeners about? 

Bryan Danforth: [00:33:11] Yeah. Well, thanks. I thought I'd just mention that one book I found really helpful when we started this this project, and this was a book recommended by my coauthor, Bob Minkley, is a small paperback by Paul Sylvia; it's called How to Write a Lot, really. And it's a great book. I mean, I'll show it to you, your readers can't see it. It's a tiny book. You can read it in a weekend. And it's a book written for people in our field, in academics. So it's written for grad students, postdocs, faculty, extension professionals.

And it's, it's a great book; it's very funny to read. He has lots of very useful tips for how to get writing done in this kind of world of just constant distraction and limited attention span. So, I found this book really helpful. For example, he emphasizes the need for an outline when you're writing and I took that to heart. 

And one of his quotes that I love is, I'll just read it to you:  "a complex project requires a strong outline. Without one, your original point will be eclipsed by the mass of past research. Instead of writing review articles, people who don't outline should drive to the local animal shelter and adopt a dog, one that will love them despite their self-defeating and irrational habits."

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:34:34] Well, I think it really hits home, especially when you know, the daunting tasks that you guys had of bringing all this... we could have got swamped really quickly with just all the information out there. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:34:47] Yeah. Yeah. So this was a helpful book to us and the outlining was a really good starting point for our book.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:34:54] Fantastic suggestion. Well, the next question we have is: is there a go to tool for the work that you do that you really want people to know about? 

Bryan Danforth: [00:35:03] So I thought back about my time since I've been at Cornell, and I'd have to say the PCR machine is the tool that has just revolutionized my life as a graduate student.

And as a postdoc and a starting professor. It gave us the ability to sequence genes, to target particular regions of the genome, and a ton of the work that we've done on bee phylogeny is based on old school PCR amplification, and sanger sequencing. Of course, we're all now moving towards Illumina sequencing, so I guess if you asked me this question, you know, I could say the Illumina sequencing machine is now my favorite tool. But I think looking back, the PCR machine just and sanger sequencing just revolutionized our ability to make new discoveries in bee phylogeny, and reinterpret previous studies based on morphology, and reevaluate what we knew about bee phylogeny.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:35:58] I can imagine for a lot of our listeners, when they think about somebody who works with native bee taxonomy, they think about a person in a microscope with a lot of specimens. But I think that point is really important, that there are so many bees and it's hard to know what are, you know, related characteristics, what's convergence, and really until you're able to look at their genetic structure that you can't build those relationships really well.

Bryan Danforth: [00:36:22] Yeah, and the DNA sequence data just gave us great insights. And it's funny, I'll just give you one:  in apids, for example, we discovered that... and this is work by Sophie Cardinal, that the brood parasitic apids form a monophyletic group. We used to think that the brood parasites were scattered throughout the family apidae, and that each genus of boot parasite attacked it's related genus of hosts.

It turns out that's totally wrong. And that came out of this sort of sequencing of bee genes. That gave us a whole new way to look at the evolution of brood parasitism. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:36:57] Oh yeah. That was the notion that I had in my mind is that these were a relative that just went cuckoo. But not the case.

Bryan Danforth: [00:37:09] There are some relatives that have gone cuckoo, that's true. There are a few examples of that, but you know, the nomadines, the group that includes nomada, and all those groups that we think of as kind of being the apidae brood parasites, they were scattered across multiple apid sub families and tribes, and Sophie's work, really just right off the bat, as soon as we started looking at the results said, no, no, no, that's not right. We're getting, ericrocidine and rathemines and ocerines, and they're all coming out with the nomatides. So,that kind of reoriented  our view of brood  parasitism. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:37:48] Okay. Well, that's, that's a great tool. And last question I have, and this must be really hard. We ask everybody if they have a favorite pollinator species. For you, it must change from day to day, or have you had one from the beginning? 

Bryan Danforth: [00:38:00] Can I pick a family?

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:38:02] Yeah, that's okay. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:38:04] It's a small family. I'm a big fan of melittids, the family melittidae is one of my favorites. So this is a group of just 200 described species. They are all solitary. They are all ground nesting. They are mostly host plant specific. There are just fantastic examples within the melittidae of very narrow host plant specialists. So the melittids to have this very intimate relationship with their hosts. They've never kind of gone polylectic; they've kind of retained that specialist affiliation with certain plant families. 

They have morphological adaptations for harvesting pollen and nectar. They are in tight synchrony with the flowering of their host plants. And I just think melittids are kind of this fantastic, and actually quite primitive group of bees that I get very excited about when I collect.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:38:57] Well, thank you so much and congratulations to you and your coauthors on this really magnificent feat. 

Bryan Danforth: [00:39:03] Thanks. Thanks a lot Andony. It's been great talking to you.

Andony Mela_thopoulos: [00:39:14] Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you, and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that could be featured in a future episode.

You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally you can tweet questions or comments, or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating. It makes us more visible, which helps others discover PolliNation.

See you next week.


Although solitary bees make up the bulk of bee diversity, there hasn’t been a comprehensive biology book about them. That is until now. This week we catch up with Dr. Bryan Danforth about his new book, The Solitary Bee, authored along with Frances Fawcett, John Neff, and Robert Minckley. Dr. Danfoth is a Professor in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University in Ithaca NY. He pursued his MS and PhD under the guidance of Charles Michener at the University of Kansas, he had a post-doc with Ron McGinley at the Smithsonian and a second post-doc with George Eickwort at Cornell. He joined the Cornell faculty in 1996. His lab focuses on bee phylogeny, evolution, and biology with an emphasis on solitary, native bees.

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