59 Dr. Hollis Woodard – Bees in dynamic and extreme environments


Speaker 1: 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. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. If you've been listening to this show, you know there's a diversity of different bees across the United States, and they have really weird and interesting life histories. I thought it was a great opportunity to catch up with Dr. Hollis Woodard, who's an assistant professor of entomology at the University of California and Riverside. Now, Dr. Woodard asked some very broad questions about native bee ecology, evolution, and social behavior. And she's really interested in thinking about the underlying mechanisms that allow things like bumblebees and other bees to kind of respond to changing environments. And you'll hear this not only gives us some really great insights into the evolution of things like bee sociality but also gives us some really important tools for understanding how bees might respond to our rapidly changing planet. We also conclude the interview with a discussion about a national framework for monitoring changes in native bee populations. So this is a really great episode for getting some basic biology, some practical tools for conservation, but also thinking about something really big, like a national native bee monitoring program. Hope you enjoy the episode. Welcome to pollination, Dr. Woodard.

Speaker 2: Hi, thank you. It's nice to be here.

Speaker 1: Now you've done a lot of work on bumblebees and their behavioral and physiological adaptations to living across a broad range of environments. What can you tell us about where bumblebees live and how they've been able to radiate into so many different environments?

Speaker 2: So there are about 250 species of bumblebees. There is. There are. Yeah. They're found in all kinds of places. So there are some places where you don't find them. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is one spot where you don't get bumblebees. But they're mostly found in temperate areas, and they seem to do best in areas that are sub-alpine or alpine because they tend to be more cold-adapted. Okay.

So we think that they evolved in the Tibetan Plateau and radiated out from there. Really? Yeah. So Paul Williams in London at the Natural History Museum, he's really done a lot of the work on the biogeography of bumblebees.

Okay. So I have mostly worked on two species. There are two that are reared very extensively in the lab.

So this is Bommist Impatiens. It's a common Eastern bumblebee. It's reared for pollination here in the US.

Yeah. We work with that species a lot in my lab. And then there's another species, Bommist Restrits, that's the old world model bumblebee. So it's found in Europe primarily. And that species is also reared commercially for pollination there. So these two bumblebee species have been studied the most in the lab. And they're two species that I've worked with.

Speaker 1: So they're kind of like little lab rats. They kind of are.

Speaker 2: I hate to call them that.

Speaker 1: Furry ones, furry cute ones. Yeah.

Speaker 2: They are, they kind of are. We have a genome sequence, a pretty high-quality genome sequence for both of these two species. And so we're going to do molecular work, experimental work with bumblebees. These are the two that you would work with.

Speaker 1: How does working with like two species allow you to understand this broader question of how bumblebees adapt to different environments?

Speaker 2: That is a really good question. And there are definitely limitations. And this is something we've been thinking about a lot lately in my group is, you know if you want to know something if you want to ask a really pretty detailed question about how a bumblebee works in general, you want to go to these model species because you have these sort of tools available for working with them and manipulating them and really trying to answer your question. But if you want to answer something about how bumblebees came to be and how they've diversified to live in all these different environments, to answer those sorts of questions, you really do need to start moving outside of these two model species. So we've been thinking a lot lately about working with other bumblebee species. And so they were gearing up to do and we're starting to do it with the Arctic, some Arctic bumblebees.

Speaker 1: Tell us a little bit about that work. That's really exciting. But you've been up, you found a species up there that or it had been described before and just hadn't been seen for a while. Yeah.

Speaker 2: So we're completely piggybacking on someone else's wonderful discovery. So Byrne Heinrich did some work on these Arctic bumblebees in the 1990s. He found something really interesting about the species that live up in the high Arctic. So up in the high Arctic, there's a really short summer. There's a really short season for these bumblebees. And one of the things that looks like they do is that the Queens, when they emerge in the very beginning of summer, they sort of recycle some of the heat that's generated in the thorax during flight and they shunt it to the abdomen. And by doing that, it looks like there's evidence that they're able to accelerate development. And by doing that, they can sort of get a quick start on getting their reproducing and producing offspring for the season.

Speaker 1: Oh, OK. So they're running really hot.

Speaker 2: Yeah, they're running hot and they're doing it in a place that's really cold. And so it's this really cool pun-intended adaptation. High Arctic. And so that's one solution that bumblebees have, these bumblebees and the Arctic have to deal with the challenge of living in a place that is really cold for most of the year and has a really short nesting season. So that's one thing that we know about these. Yeah.

Speaker 1: And it strikes me. I've heard you say this before. I'll burn. Heinrich did a lot of work on thermo regulation, the physiology. And that that was one one kind of way of understanding bumblebee adaptation. But you've sort of been interested in going beyond that. Yeah.

Speaker 2: So we want to know, Bern and his group, they show very compellingly that bumblebees that live up in the high Arctic, that they have these warm, unusually warm abdomens and that that's associated with over-development and that they are able to get a quicker start on nesting because of this. But what's really exciting about that system is beyond that, we don't really know anything else about how they're doing things up in the Arctic. And so my group, one of the ways we tend to do things is we look to the genomes of organisms to give us some insight into things that might have changed. So you can sequence the genome of something and you can compare it to other closely related organisms and look for differences. So you're looking for differences in the sequences of genes, for example, between these different organisms. If you find differences and look at what those genes are and what they do, you can get another piece of insight into how something might have evolved and adapted to live in a certain place. So that's something that we're, it's sort of a different way to go about trying to understand how something has adapted to a new environment. So that's one thing that we're, we're working on right now. But one of the challenges is it's really, and this is a challenge of Arctic fieldwork in general, it's really hard to get specimens.

So, you know, obviously, I would love to go around and collect them all because that just sounds really fun. But instead in the Arctic, you really have to depend on collaborators to send you specimens. And so we're making a big push right now to try and get people to help us by sending us bumblebees from different sites around the Arctic. That's one, one thing that we're doing is this, this genome sequencing project.

Speaker 1: So I imagine so you, you take different genomes from different species and you're not only some of these thermoregulatory changes can be picked up, but other changes. Can you give us examples of what other things might, you know, be in a different environment might evolve to specialize?

Speaker 2: Well, one of the things in the Arctic that we're really interested in too is this idea that they, there's the midnight sun. So the days are very long during the summer. And in fact, in many parts of the Arctic, the sun never sets.

And so not fully. And so what you see is the bees will actually forage around the clock. So it's constant daylight and the bees take advantage of that. And one of the things that we know about bees and humans and all kinds of other organisms is that we have this internal clock. It's our circadian clock that regulates our activity patterns. We think that in these Arctic bees that are able to take advantage of the midnight sun and forage constantly, we might see changes in the clock.

And we know, yeah, it's really me. And we know for bees and other organisms too, the genes that are involved in the clock. So those have actually been characterized already in bees. And so we can look to those genes in the genomes of those bees and we predict that we might see some, some evidence that the clock has changed in some way. That's just an idea. We have no idea if it's true.

Speaker 1: Well, it strikes me that, you know, you've introduced this idea of looking at patterns of diversity and patterns of behavior using these molecular tools. And it seems like your work with bumblebees is motivated by a broader question of the evolution of sociality in bees more broadly. Kids, what can you tell us? Is there an underlying thread that explains why bees evolved to become social?

Speaker 2: Well, so there are really two big questions about sociality, I would say. One is why? Why did sociality evolve? And then the other would be how did it evolve? Meaning what exactly changed, for example, in the genomes of social bees?

So the first question, the why is really a very difficult question to answer because this happens in the lineage that gave rise to bumblebees, for example, maybe 70 to 100 million years ago. So it happened to be a long time. And so ago and so we can we can try to understand why and we can think about why from a theoretical perspective, but actually being able to answer that question is very challenging for this.

Speaker 1: You can't run an experiment. Yes.

Speaker 2: So there are people who are coming up with some really clever ways to still try to answer the why question. So you can, for example, look at some bees today. There are some bee groups that are flexible in their sociality so they can either live solidarily or socially. And so people are looking at what sorts of environmental and other factors might make a bee social under some conditions and solitary under others.

And there are other ways people are trying to do it. But in the group, in the bumblebee lineage, they've been social for so long now that it's really difficult, in fact, impossible to definitively answer the question of why they have all sociology. So the why question is difficult. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to answer it, but it is a difficult one to answer.

OK. But the how question is one that you can potentially start to answer. And so one thing, one way you can go about it is by comparing genomes. So some of the work that I've done in the past is comparing the genomes of solitary bees and social bees and looking for what's different.

And if you can detect certain changes in genomes that are associated with social lineages and you don't see in the solitary, you can start to get an understanding of how sociality actually evolved, at least at the molecular level.

Speaker 1: And this is work that you've done as well. So what did you find?

Speaker 2: Yeah, so this is the focus of my PhD was to use secular approaches to try to understand how sociality evolved in bees. That was the entire gist of the dissertation. So that's something that we've worked on in the past. I've worked on the past and today in my lab group, I still have people working on sociality, and we're still trying to understand. There are so many questions like how did bumblebee sociality?

How does it function today? There are a lot of things we really don't know about what goes on inside the nest of a bumblebee and how social behaviors influence bees and a colony. And so there are a lot of questions still to answer. But another thing we've become really interested in recently is not only trying to understand bumblebees as a social organism but trying to understand how and how they're faring in the world today as it's changing so dramatically. And how are bumblebees? What are the unique threats to bumblebees and how can we start to understand how those threats function in bumblebees and then how we can actually try to counteract them? So now we're not only interested in social behavior and evolution but also these questions about the ecophysiology and conservation of bumblebees.

Speaker 1: Let's take both of those things separately. They're so fascinating. The first one, when you did look at different taxa of bees and ones that are social and ones that are solitary, that kind of comparison, what were some of the things that sort of came out of the analysis? What things are sort of common that you don't find in solitary bees?

Speaker 2: Well, one of the lessons I learned from this work is that bees actually, so they evolved to sociality multiple times independently.

Speaker 1: Oh, they did. OK, so it's not like you had one group that is all social. OK, yeah.

Speaker 2: So there are these independent evolutions. And one of the things we learned is that if you look across the independent evolutions of sociality and bees, it looks like there are some things that hold across these independent origins.

And one of the things I'm remarkable. Yeah, which is really it is really neat if you think about it, because they're biology if you look at them today, it's really different. So it looks like there are certain metabolic pathways that have potentially been important across these independent evolutions of sociality.

So it's something about carbohydrate metabolism. It looks like it got tweaked or changed in some way. The way in which it got changed might be different across the lineages, but this pathway looks like it was repeatedly important across these independent origins of sociality, which is huge. And then the other thing is, though, that even though we see some evidence that's somewhere important across these lineages, they're also very lineage-specific changes, which is really more what I would expect is that the biology of these bees is so different. So probably how you involve sociality in these different groups. It involves under the hood, very different things going on. So both of those things, it looks like they're true.

And yeah, so it's so. But we have so much still to try to figure out about how this actually happened. The work that we did during my Ph.D. was really the first past at studying social evolution in bees at this molecular level, using this comparative approach.

Speaker 1: That's fascinating. So some of those some of the there are some changes that are common, even though they're different lineages, they have a common and some are, you know, very specific to that genre. Can you tell us just a little bit about the carbohydrate? How does that work? The carbohydrate metabolic pathways?

Speaker 2: Well, so interestingly in bees, it works pretty similarly to how it works in humans. So you have the breakdown and processing of sugar primarily for energy. So bees do this. In fact, they do this very rapidly. They do it using a pathway that's actually very similar.

It has a lot of the same major players as humans. Okay. Yeah. So it's really interesting in fact that when it comes to even though, obviously a bee flying around looks very different than a human. And then I was sitting here talking, if you start looking at the genome and in particular, these pathways that are important for functions that existed long before there were humans and bees, you know, way back in the day, in the evolution of life, things were breaking down sugars and using that to generate energy to fuel cellular processes. And so when you get down to that level, this molecular level, there's actually quite a bit of similarity between a bee and a human. Okay.

Our machinery. So it looks like the anyways in social bees, at least one thing that maybe was important in the evolution of socialities, there's something about sugar metabolism that gets tweaked or changed or recycled in some way. And that is potentially important in how you evolve a social bee. Okay.

Speaker 1: Just the other thread that we sort of brought up was that these molecular tools can be useful in kind of thinking up conservation strategies for things like bumblebees. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you see those things connecting?

Speaker 2: Well, when I was doing my PhD, I was very interested in really basic science questions. So, you know, the idea of how sociality evolves in bees is extremely fascinating, but it is a very sort of fundamental question. It doesn't necessarily help us understand how to manage or conserve bees today. Right.

Okay. But during my PhD, I had Sydney Cameron on my committee at the University of Illinois, she published some really important work showing that here in the US, as people are seeing in other parts of the world, some bumblebee species, look like they're not doing that well. So they are, the populations are declining, and their ranges are getting smaller. And so this isn't true for all bumblebees, but for some, including some here in the US, this is something that's happening. And so I started thinking, well, I've learned all this, this stuff about bee nutrition and behavior. And for this, this to answer these sort of fundamental questions, but if this group that I'm just completely, you know, crazy about, and it's so important for our agriculture and our natural ecosystems if this group is really in trouble right now, maybe I can take some of the tools that I figured out how to use to answer these really basic fundamental questions and actually start applying it to questions about how to conserve bumblebees. And so that's, that's become something that, over the last few years, certainly is more bumblebees. There's increasing evidence that they're in trouble. And now we have, you know, a federally listed bumblebee and we might have more soon as we, as we continue to learn more about how just how fragile they can be. The idea of using these tools to not just answer a question I find intellectually stimulating, but a question that's actually critical for human, you know, well-being and the conservation of entire groups of organisms, has become increasingly compelling to me.

Speaker 1: Is it a matter of being able to find out, I know there's some, like as you mentioned, there are some bumblebee species that are doing really well and some that are in sharp decline. Is it a matter of comparing the two and figuring out what's, is that?

Speaker 2: I think that's a great approach. So a quirk of our two bumble, model bumblebees. And this is one reason why there are models is that there are two that are doing really well. So you can put them under all kinds of different conditions and they persist and widespread in the parts of the world where you find them. And so they are two models are to this bomb us in patients and bomb us to trust us are two examples of, you know, quote-unquote, winners when it comes to bumblebees. So they seem to be very robust. So the next place to go, if you want to answer, well, what makes some bumblebee species vulnerable and some seem to persist? There's been some work looking at life history traits and other things that are associated with that, but certainly, another way to go about that would be to start really comparing the different species. These sorts of winner and loser bumblebees to see if you can find things that would help you understand why these, these ones aren't doing so well, why, why they're vulnerable. So yeah, I would love to see somebody doing that. We're not doing it. My group yet.

Speaker 1: Well, I know more, more, most recently you've been working on the bee ecology of bees in the high deserts that are just east of Riverside. What's so interesting about these desert bees?

Speaker 2: Well, we are in a biogeography hotspot here. Oh, when it comes to bumblebees or biodiversity hotspots, there are,

Speaker 1: when it comes to a bumblebee, there's, scratch that.

Speaker 2: Not bumblebees. You can find a bumblebee to save my life right here.

Speaker 1: That must have been a heartbreak for you as well. Oh, man. No bumblebees.

Speaker 2: And so Doug Yanagas here and he told me that you see bumblebees on campus all the time. Oh, we just like, ah, but it's still, it's like 113. degrees here today.

Speaker 3: Okay, all right.

Speaker 2: I can't handle it, which I totally get. Okay, so as I mentioned, I'm starting to think now sort of about getting outside the lab and studying how bees have adapted in sort of different interesting or quirky ways. And so one way you can do that, and that we are doing that is to look at bumblebees that have evolved to live in unusual places and maybe face extreme challenges. But here, right around here in the deserts around Riverside, we have tons of bee species. So the western, the southwestern deserts in the US, are the most bee biodiverse areas in the entire United States. We have lots of species here, including some bees that do some really unusual things. So there's, for example, a group of bees that it's in the same, they are in the same family as bumblebees, but they're extremely divergent from bumblebees. And they collect and feed on floral oils. So there's a plant here.

Yeah, it's really neat. There are some oil-collecting bees. There's a plant chimera here that produces those that these bees, the adults will fly around and the females now collect oils from these flowers, the chimera flowers, and they'll provision their nests with them. So the larvae, develop on some pollen and some nectar, but also this sort of high fat, oil-rich diet, which is, yeah, it's completely unusual for a bee. There are some other oil-collecting bees, but it's very, very rare to see this, but we have these bees right here in our back.

Speaker 1: All right. So they carry this stuff back. They make a little ball, it's got pollen, nectar, and some of this oil. And then they, what a weird life history.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it's really from a dietary perspective. It's very strange too. For a larva, you know, most bee larvae, they eat some, they're getting some fats that are in pollen, but much more of what they're eating is really protein and then sugars from nectar in the provisions. But for these oil-collecting bees, the fat content of their diet, it's enormous compared to most bee larvae. And so the bees are, they're feeding on something when they're, during their early development, it's very lipids or fat-rich. And so we want to know, there's a lot of questions about these bees and how they develop on this high-fat diet, how they metabolize the oil, how it influences their early development. So we've been starting to look for these bees in the deserts around here, but it's a very different scene from my bumblebee work, which largely involved ordering bees and keeping them in the lab. And I know exactly how to rear bumblebees, but these desert bees, they, you have to go find the plant, the host plant, and then you have to sit and wait for them. And you'll see them, but it's, it's a much more rare occurrence than, you know, a field full of bumblebees, you know, in a high elevation meadow, you just see bumblebees everywhere out in the deserts. You have to sit and wait for them. So we're starting to work on them, but we have a very sort of low-level work going on with those bees.

Speaker 1: How fascinating. Well, you've really, let's take a break. I want to come back because you really have seen the extremes of the bees in North America. It would be great to pick it up and ask you about monitoring and how we can understand trends in their populations.

Okay, we are back. So you and I have had this conversation before, along with a whole lot of us who figure out what's going on with our bees and our native bees. And obviously, with honeybees, this is an easy proposition. You go to the beekeeper, you ask them how their bees are doing, and they tell you and it's straightforward. But, you know, as someone like yourself who's seen these bee communities, studying them for various reasons, they are very different.

Monitoring bees in Alaska cannot tell you anything about how bees are doing in California, in the high desert there. So can you tell us a little bit about some of the challenges? If we were to do a national program for monitoring the health of native bees, what are some of the things that are facing us?

Speaker 2: Yeah, there are many, there are many challenges. So one of the issues is that bees, bee populations can use through space and time, so across the entire US, and honestly from hour to hour, or even less than that, what bees you find in any one place, any one point in time, it's constantly in flux. So it's a very dynamic thing. And so there's this idea that you know, you have bee populations in communities shifting and changing through time and across a fairly small spatial scale. But in spite of that, that dynamism of the system, we need to know if there are certain populations of bees in the US are declining precipitously.

So there are some we already know about. These are in particular some bees that are fairly charismatic, like some are bumblebees, and people tend to notice if they are not seeing them anymore, and there have been more survey efforts for bumblebees. So there are already some bees that we have some evidence that they're declining.

But presumably, there are many other populations of bees in the US that are, and unfortunately, we just don't have the data to help us make that call. And so there's this big push right now to start a program or a plan for monitoring bees in the US. And there's some evidence that, in spite of the challenges that it's difficult to do this, there are some pollinator large-scale monitoring efforts going on in Europe that appear to be quite successful. So if we want to try to do this, if we want to try to monitor the status of native bees in the US, some of the things that need to be figured out are, for example, a standardized protocol that can be used through time and space in a way that such that data are collected so that we could really stay whether something is declining or not. So to do that, we have to have a network of people monitoring bees who are all using methods that are similar enough that we can compare across places and collectors. So that's something that's one of the most fundamental pieces of trying to monitor bees in the US is having something that could be replicated in different places all over the country so that the data were comparable. That's one thing. But another thing is that bees are actually very hard to identify.

I am certainly not fantastic at it. There are many thousands of species here and some of them are easy to tell apart and then some of them are not so easy. And so we need to improve our ability to identify bee species because if we're going to be either collecting or taking lots of pictures of bees and then trying to understand whether they're declining each specimen or record or photo needs to be identified as a certain bee species, obviously.

So we're calling this referring to as a taxonomic bottleneck. So there are really a fairly small number of people in the US that can look at any bee and tell you exactly what species it is. And so that's something that we are thinking about a lot how do we improve knowledge about bees and their ability to identify bees? So that's another key thing that will need to be sorted if we're going to monitor bees as a country.

Those are some of the issues. But there's some really positive stuff too and that's that there are some groups here in the US that are already doing an amazing job of monitoring pollinators and there are all these new efforts going on. And one of the things we can do is start to unite some of these efforts that are going on and it's certainly in everyone's interest to try to work together and constate and standardize things so that we can move beyond, for example, the borders of a state because bees don't just exist. Many bees don't just exist within one state.

They actually have much larger ranges or at least cross state lines. So it would be good for folks to work together so we can really understand these trends in bees. So we wouldn't be starting from scratch. It would be more about trying to get everyone on the same page and get organized so that we can form a large collaborative effort to monitor bees across the country.

Speaker 1: Now you were recently involved in organizing a meeting out in West Virginia to work out some of the strategies or at least kind of outline these areas. And it's interesting as you point out there's this kind of fluctuation in space and time in bee communities. We don't have a standard protocol yet. Everybody can use it and there's an importance to that. This taxonomy problem and linking good efforts already together. When coming out of that meeting, what were some of the key solutions that sort of resonated that you heard that was like, oh, those sound like really ways forward to kind of dealing with these obstacles?

Speaker 2: One of the things I realized is this meeting, which was only a couple of days, we already, you start to see some consensus emerge. So even though you had, you know, dozens of bee researchers and folks that work on databasing, data science, with very different opinions, there were some issues that there were starting to be some consensus on. And so everyone, for example, agrees that the taxonomic bottleneck is something that resources need to be put into fixing or addressing if we're going to have a nationwide monitoring program. And so I think even having everyone on the same page about what some of the bottlenecks are and that we need to put resources into that is actually a very positive thing. There's also this idea, for example, as I mentioned, that you can't monitor all bees at all places in time, obviously.

So you have to make some decisions. An idea came up that there might be specific focal taxa. Maybe these are bees that are really widespread, at least across certain regions, or they're relatively easy to identify. Maybe some of these species or groups could be sort of sentinel taxa that are monitored and they might reflect more broad patterns in the population. So that was an idea that emerged about what those bee species would be and how representative they would be for other bee species something that still needs to be worked out. Oh, and another issue another thing that came out of this is that there are so many great data sets already here in the square, someone, be it a really great graduate student or an estate agency in a certain park or what have you, did a really nice job of monitoring bees for some number of years. And a lot of these data sets, they're just out there.

And so everyone agreed, for the most part, that these data sets should be mined and collated and analyzed if possible, if and where possible so that we could use some of the information that's already floating around out there. That's another big thing that it's nice to think that you're not starting completely from scratch. Yeah, great work out there.

Speaker 1: Especially, I guess, knowing whatever we do from here on in is comparing it historically to build treatments. We need to use all of that accumulated collection effort and be able to...

Speaker 2: Yeah, but then so there's this interesting thing that, yes, we should look at the historical data and use it when possible and it should guide what data we collect now.

I completely agree with that. The other thing is we should also be thinking, okay, all these efforts before have been done in really different ways and there might be aspects of the data that are less than ideal for putting them together with other data sets. So we should also really be thinking, okay, we can also start now. So there are some questions we're just not going to be able to answer about how these were doing before today.

But if we design a really nice standardized user-friendly protocol that could be used in lots of places around the US and start it now, then 10 years from now or even four years from now, we would really be thanking ourselves that we can really answer whether certain bees are declining in a certain area. Oh, that makes a lot of sense. Yeah, so in some ways it's about looking to the past and that's really important and we should try to pull what we can from those past data sets when we can. We should also be thinking, okay, if we're going to start something now, how do we do it really well so that future, you know, some of the US can actually say something about which bee populations are declining or shifting? I think both of those sorts of mindsets are actually really important.

Speaker 1: That's fantastic. Okay, well, this is great. Thanks for giving us a little flavor of what's to come I think this is really exciting for all our listeners to know that, you know, in a couple of years there could be a framework to tile these efforts together and the US will be on its way to having a kind of rigorous way to do what we already do with honey bees, track their populations over time.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it's a very, very exciting and important idea.

Speaker 1: All right, let's take a quick break. I got three questions I ask all my guests and I'm so curious what your answers are going to be. All right, we are back. I ask all my guests the same questions. The first question is a book recommendation. Is there a book that you want people to know about?

Speaker 2: One of my favorite books is Naturalist by E.O. Wilson. So it's called Biography. This is a book about his discovery of his love of natural history and then ants in particular, how he became a preeminent ant expert. So and then it's a story too about his, really it's about his sort of excitement and passion for learning about things and falling in love with a group of insects, which I just like because I've done the same thing.

Speaker 1: I remember talking to you about this book before and one thing that you mentioned was you thought it was, you know, E.O. Wilson's prodigious. He's done, he's written novels to do some very basic ant biology. But I remember one thing that stuck out in my mind was that you were really impressed how he sort of answered bigger, broader questions after kind of doing the groundwork with a group of organisms.

Speaker 2: Yeah, I like, so he's become a really a leader in conservation now and has written some really great books on that topic. And I really have a lot of respect for someone that starts honestly with some of the minutiae organisms, you know, like really learning about the diversity of ants and certain behaviors. I mean, he did some really fundamental work on ants and through time and after becoming really an expert on this group, he parlayed that in a sense into a passion for actually saving ants and other organisms too. And so he's a great example of a wonderful scientist who did their time doing their basic research and studying a system and then turned towards conservation and trying to do really sort of more applied work with a purpose that's not just to understand how something works, but to actually try to save it. And so he's been a big inspiration for me because of that.

Speaker 1: Well, clearly, you can see it in your work. I mean, it's I think there's a way in which I really admire where mechanism people understand the mechanism of the ecosystem or how it's adapted and use that knowledge and leverage it into conservation. I think it's a very powerful combination rather than just having an idea of the mechanism that you're dealing with. It's a powerful tool.

Speaker 2: I agree. Yeah, I think it's really what I like thinking too, let's take Bumblebees as, you know, a completely random example. So think about bumblebees. So we need people working on bumblebee community ecology to tell us what bumblebees you find in a certain place at a certain time. We need people doing bumblebee genomics. So we understand something about what's going on under their exoskeleton in terms of how they work. And then we need people working at the interface between those things that can help understand why we see some bumblebees in some places and not in others.

So what are their limits, their physiological limits? Why do they exist? I really like the idea of people working in all of these different sort of levels of biology and moving across them and trying to understand how things connect. I think all of those scales and questions and the synthesis between them is going to be it is necessary to try to conserve something. It's understanding what threatens it, why, and what are its limits. How does that all play out in our changing ecosystems? I think all of those things are necessary for conservation.

Speaker 1: Well, fantastic. And I remember reading Naturalists years ago. It's just a really, he's just a great writer. He knows how to write for a lay audience.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it's like I read it. I remember I got it for holidays one year and I sat down and I read the entire book in one sitting. I mean, the first time I read it. I mean, it was so good. So it's a yeah, it's just it's a really fun read and completely sparked my interest in entomology and social biology.

Speaker 1: Okay, our next question is a desert island tool. Is there something for the kind of work that you do? You just it would be indispensable. You really couldn't do without it.

Speaker 2: Al and second net would be the obvious answer. We need it to catch bees, especially if we want to get a good up-close look at them. So that would probably be what I would bring.

Speaker 1: Tell us a little bit about a net that's good for bees. I don't know if they've had people suggest nets before, but for listeners who are just getting started with collecting bees, what makes a good bee net?

Speaker 2: Well, I really like the Rosin's Mology net. Me too. Yeah, after the bee course, I was like, okay, I have to get one of these pure your nets. They are they just have a nice grip and they have these bags that are really good for you can kind of see the bee through it. But they're really soft. Really soft. I really like that. They're they're they're fairly indestructible. So they've got all the characteristics of a great common second net.

Speaker 1: I like that they come in different you can get different colors like Jedi. I never thought of the Jedi colors, but I like the blue and the red ones, maybe Sith.

Speaker 3: I got the blue. Yeah. Oh, you got the blue. Okay.

Speaker 1: Okay. Good. Insect net. Great. I think that would probably be what I would choose as well. You probably get that answer a lot. No, actually, we get we had a really good one. The one in one of the first episodes we had Joseph Wilson on and he has a converted golf club net, which I thought was nuts. But very cool. Okay, so the last question is there a bee that or a pollinator that when you see fly by, you're just like, oh, man, I love that thing.

Speaker 2: The bumble bees that you see up in the Arctic are really big. So okay. Yeah, they are. And the thinking is that a lot of things when they live in colder areas, tend to have a larger body size to do with conserving heat. So the bumble bees up in the Arctic, the tundra, it has really low vegetation. So it's very open and a lot of flowers are smaller.

I'm there. And then you just see these giant bumble bees flying around and they are just gorgeous colors. And this would be Bombus Polaris, one of the species that we're starting to work on, and a couple of other species that make it that far north. And they're just they're gorgeous bumble bees. So that's that's my favorite group that I've been thinking about. Fantastic.

Speaker 1: Well, thank you so much for being generous with your time. And I hope it cools down in California soon. And take care and I hope we'll catch up with you hopefully sometime in the future.

Speaker 2: Okay, thank you. Thanks for coming on.

Speaker 1: 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.

Bees can live in some extreme environments; from the hot deserts of the US southwest, to the tundra in Alaska and northern Canada. Dr. Hollis Woodard’s research focuses on the underlying mechanisms that allow these bees to adapt to these extremes, providing insights into basic bee biology that can help us understand how bees might respond to our rapidly-changing planet. Dr. Woodard is an Assistant Professor of Entomology at the University of California, Riverside. From 2013-2015, she was a USDA-NIFA Postdoctoral Fellow working on the nutritional ecology of bumble bees with Dr. Shalene Jha at the University of Texas at Austin. She received a PhD in Biology in 2012 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she worked with Dr. Gene Robinson on the molecular basis of social evolution in bees.

Listen in to today’s episode to learn about the bees that evolved in vastly different climates, and why Dr. Woodard’s lab studies the way they have adapted.

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“I started thinking, I have learned a lot about bee nutrition and behavior to answer fundamental biological questions about bumble bees, but if this group is in trouble maybe I can take what I learned to apply to questions of how to conserve them.” – Dr. Hollis Woodard

Show Notes:

  • Bumble bee diversity and the wide range of habitats they have adapted to living in.
  • How bees in the arctic have changed to fit within their environment.
  • How bees have evolved sociality multiple independent times, but how all share common sugar metabolic pathways.
  • Why some bumblebee populations are doing okay while others are in steep decline.
  • The challenges that are facing native bees today.
  • The key challenges to a national native bee monitoring system and some of the ideas for tackling these problems.
  • Why E.O. Wilson has been such a big inspiration for Dr. Woodard.

“There are some groups across the US who are monitoring for native bees and one the things we can do [to monitor bees as a country] is start to unite some of these efforts and link up and standardize approaches. We need to move beyond the borders of a state, because many bees don’t exist within the boundaries of one state.” – Dr. Hollis Woodard

Links Mentioned:

Learn more about Dr. Hollis Woddard’s favorites:

Connect with Dr. Hollis Woodard at The Woodard Lab

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