Cross-pollination at Entomological meeting in Austin

Like the bats swarmed from under the Congress street bridge at dusk, so too did the mellitologists congregate for the bounty of bee-related talks and posters at this year’s Entomological Society of America in Austin. Pollinator-related research covered a wide breath of topics, ranging from urban to agricultural landscapes, and evolutionary biology to landscape ecology. Such a diversity of subjects provided ample opportunities for cross-pollination.

This was particularly true of Monday’s pollinator-focused graduate student 10-minute paper competition, presided over by Teresa-Pitts Singer of the Logan Bee lab. Not only does it seem like are there more researchers than ever before, but the topics are becoming more interconnected, the techniques more sophisticated, and as a result, interpretations are more nuanced. In the midst of this diversity of bee-related subject matter, there were also many convergences upon central themes including the importance of floristic diversity across scales and need for additional research on native bee nesting.

Many of the speakers from the graduate session gathered to discuss the exciting techniques and case studies presented over lunch. Of course, we duly noted that one out of every three mouthfuls of tex-mex cuisine consumed relied on pollination from our humble study organisms. The table was a-buzz with lively discussions. At one point Shelly Wiggam-Ricketts, from Kansas State, rapped the table to get our attention: “In 5 years, we need to organize a symposium on all the amazing research we’ll have done examining native bee life history and conservation.” We all nodded in agreement.

With all the interesting work going on now, I wonder what will we be researching a few years from now? Will we have answered the key questions that hold our attention today? Will our findings alter pesticide use, or encourage homeowners to plant more pollinator-friendly gardens? Will farmers reduce field sizes, increase crop rotations and increase on-farm floristic diversity? What new insights will this group of motivated graduate students add to the field, and what new questions will they tackle? Time will only tell.

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