Insect Digestive Physiology
Many studies have attributed the success of bees to their mutualistic pollenivorous lifestyle, but we still know very little about how pollen-feeding affects bee health and fitness. Several studies have suggested that oligolecty (pollen specialization) is the ancestral condition in bee groups and that bees need to overcome physiological or neurological constraints in order to broaden their diet. Physiological constraints are most likely related to the pollen quality and the mechanisms of pollen digestion. Pollen nutritional content varies widely and is known to affect bee survival, especially under conditions of stress. Plant secondary defense chemicals can also have an impact on bee health. Additionally, it appears that bees have differential abilities to digest pollen, meaning that not all bees have the same capacity to extract nutrients from any given pollen source. This complexity of adaptations to the pollen diet makes bees an excellent system for investigating digestive adaptations to a unique diet.
My current work in this areas is assessing the digestive adaptations that generalist and specialist bees use to deal with the pollen diet, focusing on North American cucurbit species.