Research Overview

How are tropical bees agents of connectivity?

Bees, like microbes, live everywhere and interact as parasites, commensals and mutualists. They are not boxes of insects — they are 30,000 species living primarily in the temperate zone, without honey, queen, or castes, solitarily, and do amazing things, including making possible the reproduction of roughly half of all plants. Bees have deep relations with bacteria, fungi and archaea. They are much more likely to be social or make honey, or be present at flowers, in the tropics, where their total species richness is nonetheless much lower than in many warm temperate areas.

How is it that at the peak of social evolution in insects, there are honey and social bee colonies, with a queen, workers and drones, and why is this fact such an important feature among tropical, human societies?

Insect colonies — big ones — need to store fuel, materials, and protein to continue. Their dispersion matters. Their defenses from enemies must be well coordinated. Their need for making the most of stored protein, carbohydrates, etc. involves managing their microbial communities and propagating them through generations. People believe that bee food, including larvae, honey and pollen or ‘bee bread’ and propolis (a resinous mixture of building material) have medicinal value. The chemical, microbiological and botanical components are ripe for further investigation, especially in the tropics. Honey from native vegetation is usually from about 50 plant species, making honey the most biodiverse natural product.

How can we adequately measure the abundance of natural pollinators and decide what to do to better conserve them?

Animal populations never are stable. Surveys of living organisms, like bees or other pollinators, are few and far between, and often do not consider biologically important ‘recent’ events — e.g. periodic El Niño-Southern Oscillation droughts which are highly positively correlated with flowering peaks and bee populations, or heavy rainfall, or human impact. Bee nests are in the soil, in dead branches, in living trees, in tilled land, in urban areas, or in forest. Not all bees are the same, their parasite and predator pressures differ, their reproductive seasons are diverse, in the case of bee colonies, whole-colony reproduction does not occur with a high predictably. We need to make more efforts to fill our knowledge gaps, by making comparative studies.

How can we predict or understand the competition in complex networks like those involving pollinators and plants — which I have termed “silent competition” where there are no clear winners or losers — at least in the short term?

Competition theory never explained much about pollinators. Their interactions are properly defined in networks, in which they are facilitators, competitors or flat-out mutualists, simultaneously. It is a question for integral calculus, not short- or medium-term field experiments (which is the best that I or others can do, for a number of reasons), or based on a simple matrix or network. The Africanized honeybee studied for 17 years pre- and post-invasion in Yucatán gave us a reference point. They caused resource partitioning, and then evidently an expanded resource base, which their competitors benefit from. This is not Lotka-Volterra anymore.


University High School, Minneapolis, Minnesota 1965-69

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; advanced Spanish 1968-69

Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota; Humanities 1969-71

University of Washington, Seattle; Liberal Arts 1972

BS (entomology) Oregon State University 1975

Ph.D. (entomology) University of Kansas 1979. "Competition Studies of Colonizing Africanized Honey Bees and Native Bees in South America"

Selected Publications

Pot-Pollen: Stingless bees in Melittology. (2017). (Editor, with P. Vit and S. R. M. Pedro). Springer, New York.

The Pollination of Cultivated Plants. A Compendium for Practitioners (2017). Editor. FAO, Rome.

Orchid Bees of Tropical America: Biology and Field Guide (with Paul Hanson, 2004). InBio Press, Costa Rica.

Pollen and Spores of Barro Colorado Island. (with Enrique Moreno, 1991). Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis.

Ecology and Natural History of Tropical Bees. (1989). Cambridge University Press, New York.

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