Greetings from Calgary!

Post defense photo.

We are only four months in to 2017, but it has been a busy year already! I defended my PhD at the end of January and three weeks later packed up the whole family and moved them 3200 km west to the other side of the country to start a postdoc at the University of Calgary with Dr. Paul Galpern.

While I’m here I’ll be investigating the effects of landscape on bee community composition and the contribution of native bee visitation to pollination services. Tying landscape, community structure and pollination together, we hope to quantify the contribution of wild bees in agricultural settings and to understand which landscape features support native bee populations.  These findings will in turn aid to inform conservation initiatives directed at maintaining pollinator habitat.

Lots of new things for me to learn, but excited for the new adventure!


A tiny bit of fieldwork

I have spent the vast majority of the summer writing and editing my thesis, but managed to take a couple of days off to open some eastern carpenter bee nests.  Inside these nests are both adult (mostly) reproductive females, and developing offspring. My hope is to assign maternity to developing bees in each nest to figure out definitively who is laying eggs (and how many each female gets to lay).

These nests actually came to me by way of my son’s daycare, who decided one morning that they were going to remove an arbour full of carpenter bee nests. Twenty minutes and two additional people later we had hit the carpenter bee jackpot!


Sealing nest entrances before we cut down the boards. Pro tip: if you get your labmate to hold the wheelbarrow you are less likely to fall! Photo credit: Andrea Cardama


The real fun came a few weeks later when we opened up nests to see who was inside. Getting to see inside eastern carpenter bee nests is always a treat. Because they almost always nest in milled lumber, people are generally reluctant to let me destroy their buildings to get a look inside nests. Opportunities like this one come along rarely and are very exciting. (For me that is. All of the employees at the daycare now think I am very odd!) At this point in the year (mid-July), nests contain adults as well as developing offspring. Opening nests without letting adults escape were tricky, but fun!


Carefully opening nests while trying not to let females escape. Photo credit: Lyndon Duff



Teamwork keeps bees from escaping! Photo credit: Lyndon Duff



Nests avoiding each other. Photo credit: Lyndon Duff



Developing pupae (left three brood cells) and left over pollen balls from eggs that didn’t survive. Photo credit: Lyndon Duff


Even though it was 40 degrees Celcius and we all ended up covered in sawdust it was a pretty great couple of days. I missed interacting with live bees!  Thanks to Andrea Cardama, David Awde and Lyndon Duff for helping wrangle bees with me.

The Brock Bee Lab gets a robot!

That’s right, you heard correctly. Last Friday we received a liquid handling robot in the mail! The robot, which we have affectionately called BeeBot1 is intended to help us with tasks like PCR, although it is taking us a bit more time to set up than originally planned. I for one am pretty darn excited about it. (From the photo below it appears Dave may be less excited than me). I mean, who doesn’t want to get a robot in the mail on a Friday!

Fresh out of the packaging!
Fresh out of the packaging!
Excitement from me, fear from Dave.
Excitement from me, fear from Dave.

Why conferences are great. (As if you didn’t already know!)

A really good conference is a great thing. You meet new people, reconnect with old friends, learn new things, and I think most importantly, talk to people who are legitimately interested in your research. <- This is the best part, especially when you are in a small biology department with few others who share your excitement for bee social evolution.

This year’s CSEE conference in Saskatoon was just that. It was the perfect size: not so small that you ran out of people to talk to, not so large that you were totally overwhelmed. Lots of talks that were right up my alley, but also some that made me branch out a bit. Friendly people that wanted to talk to you about your research and tell you about theirs. The University of Saskatchewan campus is beautiful, and Saskatoon is a really pretty city! (I must admit, I thought it would be flat and boring…I was wrong!) It may have helped that there wasn’t a single cloud the entire time I was there.

Now, back to data analysis!

2015-05-23 17.05.03
Lovely spot to listen to the plenary lectures.
View of downtown Saskatoon from the U of S campus.
View of down town Saskatoon from the U of S campus.

Flash cards for the bee genera of Eastern North America

Last night I learned that the amazing Sam Droege has released a set of 100+ flash cards to help us all learn the bee genera of eastern North America. The set includes beautiful images, but also flash cards with important taxonomic characters for distinguishing each genus.

I know what I’ll be doing to procrastinate over the holidays!

Flash cards can be found here: