Some current research projects include:
I . With intensive field collections and observations, we are studying the role of environmental factors in shaping sweat bee social behavior, focusing mainly on species of Megalopta, including their interactions with predators and parasites. The geography and climate of Panama provides a natural laboratory with a north-south transect across the Isthmus as a rainfall and seasonality gradient. For Megalopta, we are expanding the scope of this project to include the other congeneric species throughout the Neotropics, and are gathering specimens for phylogenetic reconstructions of this taxon and related genera.
II . We use observation nests and experimental manipulations to study the development of social behavior in Megalopta bees. These bees either live as solitary females, or as a member of a small social group. Females fight other females to gain control of a social group <<watch females fight>> [ Quicktime Video - 4.6 MB ], and often food is exchanged to appease the aggressor <<watch a forager donate food>> [ Quicktime Video - 10.6 MB ] Our aim is to understand the proximate mechanisms by which reproductive decisions are made, and their consequences.
III . Megalopta bees are unusual because they forage for pollen in the dark of night <<watch a forager forced to work>> [ Quicktime Video - 8.7 MB ]. What factors favor the evolution of nocturnal foraging behavior in bees? In collaboration with Eric Warrant and colleagues at Lund University we are studying the homing behavior of nocturnal sweat bees and neural correlates to better understand how bees manage to navigate in such an extremely dim light environment.
IV . With Beth Capaldi of Bucknell University we are making a comparative study of the relative development of different regions of bee brains in relation to their behavioral and complexity. This survey is now being extended to ants and a diverse array of other insect taxa.
V . Ectatomma (Ponerine) ants are extraordinary learners, and are abundant in the Neotropics. We are using natural, intact colonies under controlled conditions to study what these ants learn, and how quickly they forget. We want to know how different species differ in their psychological capabilities, and how these differences might help explain differences in their ecological abundance in Neotropical forests.
VI . A number of Fellows have been studying aspects of the biology and natural history of attine ants, including their interactions with macro- and micro-parasites.