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Current Research

I am interested in the behavioral ecology of social insects and the evolution of social behavior – particularly in wasps, bees, and ants. Most behavioral research is conducted in the field, but there are many opportunities to engage in lab work to study how behavior, development, and social environment correlate with physiological and genomic factors. These are examples of projects that are starting up or in progress.

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Wasp invasive behavior

The German yellowjacket (Vespula germanica) and the common yellowjacket (V. vulgaris) were both introduced to New Zealand in the last century, and both have spread to densities so high that New Zealand is home to the densest populations of yellowjackets in the world (NZ Department of Conservation & Landcare Research). In collaboration with Phil Lester at Victoria University of Wellington, we will investigate how differences in colony aggression might be explained by species differences, geographic locations, ecological differences of the nest site and population density. Using NextGen sequencing, we can identify genes of interest, conserved across Vespula, that correspond to aggressive behavior. By identifying the factors that correspond to the most aggressive behavior in these invasive wasps, we can begin to develop strategies to combat them and their spread.

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Ecology of bumble bee behavior

Bumble bees play an important role in New Zealand pasture pollination. They nest in the ground, but are also sold commercially for use in greenhouse pollination. I am interested in understanding how the development of the individual and the colony differs between bees that nest in the ground outside, and those that can be purchased. In the photo above, a bumble bee forages naturally outside, but when she returns to her nest to deliver the nectar and pollen, she will interact with nestmates and brood before she decides whether or not to leave the nest for another foraging trip. Are there differences in how well colonies care for brood or how efficiently they collect food? Does this differ based on whether they nest in the ground or in a lab? We will begin to uncover how rearing environment (aka, ecology) affects development, behavior, and performance of bumble bee colonies

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Paper Wasp Personality

There is a lot of evidence that animals, not just people, have different personalities. Quantifying differences in personality types can be tricky in animals, but there are a number of studies that do just that. I am interested in using paper wasps as their colony sizes are relatively small (usually between 10-50 individuals) and they do not construct a nest envelope, so marking and observing individuals on the nest is feasible. I ask: (a) Do individuals within a colony have different personality types? If so, how do they develop those differences? (b) Do colonies within a population have different personality types? And (c) How does the mixture of individual personalities within a colony or colony personality type affect colony fitness? This project is being conducted in collaboration wtih Amy Toth at Iowa State University, U.S.