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What is it like to work in the Koch Lab?
What does a typical day in the lab look like? Well, it depends on the time of year! Research in my lab is interdisciplinary and requires a diverse team of professional scientists to achieve project goals. During the summer of 2020 we investigated foraging dynamics of bumble bees on public lands in Northern Utah. The video below captures some of our adventures and footage of the Western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis, foraging on Lupine. This species is classified as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and is currently being evaluated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The reports of each organization for B. occidentalis are hyperlinked above. Finally you can read more about my research on B. occidentalis by reviewing Publications on my website.
In 2020, our deployed Bombus huntii colonies were attacked by Cuckoo bumble bees (Psithyrus) (Lepeletier, 1832) (Hymenoptera: Apidae) (Figure 1A and 1B below). These Cuckoo bumble bees are a unique lineage of bees that depend exclusively on a host bumble bee species to provide nesting material, nutritional resources, and labor to rear offspring. We document usurpation incidence and population genetic data of Bombus insularis (Smith, 1861), a bumble bee species in the Psithyrus subgenus, on field-deployed B. huntii colonies in northern Utah. Although our results demonstrate that field-deployed bumble bee colonies are highly susceptible to B. insularis usurpation, applying a fabricated excluder to prevent the inquiline from invading a colony was 100% effective (Figure 1D). Genetic data extracted from captured Cuckoo bumble bees suggests that B. insularis females have the capacity to disperse across the landscape in search of host colonies at distances of at least 3.52 km and up to 7.04 km. Our study underscores the detrimental impact B. insularis usurpation has on the host bumble bee colony. You can read more about our study in the Journal of Insect Science.
Figure 1. selection of photos demonstrating (A) B. huntii colony development without B. insularis female inquiline, (B) B. huntii colony development with B. insularis inquiline (dead B. huntii queen removed from colony), (C) attempted usurpation and death of eight B. insularis females in a poorly-developed B. huntii colony (all B. insularis are in photograph), and (D) the utility of a Psithyrus excluder (yellow-colored gate with 7-mm-diameter hole that is attached to pollen trap developed by Judd et al. 2020) in preventing usurpation by B. insularis female (see Supp Material 1 [online only] for video documentation). Orange arrow identifies B. huntii queen; black arrow identifies B. insularis female. These images and figure legend are published in Koch et al. (2021) in the Journal of Insect Science.