Chemical Ecology of Diet Choice
There is mounting evidence for declines in both managed and wild pollinator species, necessitating support for wild bee populations in order to maintain pollination services. Unfortunately, the natural resources required by pollinators, solitary ground-nesting bees in particular, are relatively understudied. Many wild bees will collect pollen only from a small set of host plants, rendering the foraging choices made by adult bees extremely important, as they provide the only nourishment that the larva will receive to complete its development.
Obtaining quality pollen resources is therefore critical for female bees, suggesting an important role for pollen quality in shaping foraging preferences. Choosing pollen based on its chemistry and nutritional value may thus represent an important strategy by bees to improve larval health.
My current work in this area is investigating the mechanisms by which bees evaluate pollen resources and how these plant properties affect pollinator foraging preferences.
Agricultural crops have often been artificially selected for nutritional quality and plant chemistry, representing an ideal system for investigating how plant traits impact bee foraging choices. My current research focuses on the chemical ecology of foraging behaviour in the hoary squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, which is a specialist on squash and pumpkin (genus Cucurbita). P. pruinosa is abundant across North America, with obvious and easily accessible nesting aggregations located in agricultural fields. Squash and pumpkin are economically important crops, valued at $37 million annually, providing strong incentives for research to improve pollination efficiency.