14th May 2018 – Isa Betancourt, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Isa BetancourtMy name is Isa (pronounced Ee-sa & short for Isabelle). I work in the Entomology Department of the oldest continuously operating natural history museum in the Americas: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, est. 1812 and located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I work daily with the moth and butterfly specimens that are a part of the Academy’s historic insect collection. The collection contains 4 million insect specimens representing over 100,000 species, some of which are two centuries old! When I’m not immersed in the Academy’s insect collection, you’ll find me out collecting insects from center city Philadelphia fountains as part of my urban entomology project that seeks to examine biodiversity and evolution in the city. In addition to working full time as a Curatorial Assistant of Entomology, I am a master’s student studying communication at Drexel University with the goal of becoming an evermore effective insect ambassador.

During the week we will discus insect biodiversity and look behind-the-scenes at the museum’s active research collection. We will explore insect collection contents, personnel, research, and general operations.

Since the week kicks off with Mother’s Day, insect & spider mothers will be an overarching theme throughout the week. Various parental care strategies are used by these mothers. For example, while some terrestrial arthropods lay their eggs and promptly fly off, others carefully guard their eggs and even give their offspring a ride on mama’s back when the eggs hatch. Did you know that there is even a spider mother who feeds herself to her offspring?! This is only the tip of the iceberg! Get ready to explore the vast range of parental techniques in the terrestrial arthropod world.

In addition to the collection work and research, I host an insect-themed live broadcast called the #bugscope every Tuesday afternoon. It features live insects, insect collections, research, guest experts and more. I invite you to check it out and join a live broadcast sometime! You can find it and follow along at www.periscope.tv/isabetabug.


5th February 2018 – Morgan Jackson, University of Guelph

Morgan JacksonHi! I’m Morgan Jackson (@bioinfocus), and I’ll be your BioTweeps host for the week. To poorly paraphrase a classic Steve Miller Band song,

I’m an entomologist, I’m a taxonomist
I’m an educator, and I’m a science communicator
I do my research in a museum
I’m a PhD Candidate, I’m a father
I’m a terrible songwriter
and I want to share it all with you (woooooo woooooo).

I work in the University of Guelph Insect Collection on the taxonomy and systematics of flies. I’m fascinated by biodiversity, and have spent the last decade trying to figure out the identity, names, and relationships of species of stilt-legged flies (family Micropezidae) from around the world by spending most of my time either in front of a computer (aligning and analyzing DNA data) or in front of a microscope (aligning and analyzing morphological data). The species that I primarily work on are found throughout Central and South America, where they’ve gone largely unnoticed and unstudied. By giving them names and placing them onto the larger Tree of Life I hope to raise their profile (even just teeny, tiny bit) and allow other scientists and naturalists to observe, identify, and make new discoveries about their natural history, behaviour, and biology.

Most of my research is dependent on specimens archived and cared for in natural history museums around the world, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit dozens of collections to explore the hidden treasures they keep safe. Museums and natural history collections are my happy place, and I’m just as likely to geek out over cabinets and cases as I am the incredible biodiversity contained within them. Needless to say, I’m a big advocate for museums and natural history collections, and love reading about and sharing collections-based research.

So what are we going to talk about this week? All things entomological. Got a bug you want to know more about, or a photo of something you’ve seen but didn’t know what it was? Send it along and we’ll figure it out. Curious whether there are still species left to discover (spoiler: yes, plenty), or why taxonomists are constantly changing the names of species just as you’ve learned them? We’ll talk about all those things, plus how social media & smart phones are opening up new opportunities for natural history research. And seeing as I’m currently teaching the very university course that got me hooked on insects, expect to learn alongside my students as I prepare my lectures, and I’ll share my experiences as an early career scientist learning what it takes to plan, prepare, and teach a course that covers 50% of Earth’s known biodiversity.

Strap in and get those insect questions read; it’s gonna be a buggy ride!

22nd January 2018 – Stephen Heard, University of New Brunswick

Stephen Heard2

Hello everyone!  My name is Steve Heard, and I’m an evolutionary ecologist at the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, NB, Canada.

As a researcher, I’m mostly interested in the evolution of insect diet.  Among herbivorous insects, why do some species feed on just a single host plant and reject everything else, while others eat (nearly) everything they encounter?  When an insect adopts a new host plant, how often is the result the evolution of a new specialist species, and how often, instead, just a generalist species with one more host?  And when we answer questions like these, can it help us with economically important issues like the vulnerability of crops to insect pests or the spread and impact of invasive species?  I address questions like these in a model system (insects attacking goldenrods) and also in an applied context (insect pests of coniferous trees, a major issue in forestry).

I’ve been around a while and have done a few different things.  For my PhD, completed way back in 1993, I studied interactions among the insect inhabitants of pitcher-plant leaves.  As a postdoc I worked on coexistence in mushroom-breeding flies – but with a sideline in the shapes of evolutionary trees and what those shapes can tell us about the evolution of new biodiversity.  I began my first faculty job, at the University of Iowa, as a stream ecologist, but by the time I moved to New Brunswick in 2002, I’d moved on to my insect-diet work.  I guess you could say I have broad interests, or if you prefer, a short attention span!

Like every scientist, I’m about more than my own research. Among other things: I’ve written a book on scientific writing (The Scientist’s Guide to Writing); I teach courses in ecology, entomology, and writing; I do my best to mentor my grad students; I’m an editor for a couple of journals; and this year, I’m Chair of my academic department.  I’ll tweet about all of these roles, how I balance them, and how I see them fitting together.  Of course, I also have a life outside of science, in which I’m a husband and father, a (bad) curler, a (somewhat better) cook, and a voracious reader.

When I’m not on @Biotweeps, you can find me on Twitter as @StephenBHeard, and I also blog at ScientistSeesSquirrel.wordpress.com.

15th January 2018 – Meaghan Pimsler, University of Alabama

Meaghan Pimsler2Meaghan L. Pimsler is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alabama working with Dr. Jeff Lozier to integrate physiological, morphological, population genetic, and transcriptomic approaches to study the factors shaping adaptation in native pollinators.  She earned her PhD from in the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University, where she used de novo transcriptomics to investigate sexual dimorphism and behavioral ecology in an invasive blow fly with a unique and poorly understood sex determination mechanism. She received her BS in entomology from Cornell University in 2007, and subsequently spent three years in Okinawa, Japan working at two high schools as an English teacher.

After recuperating sufficiently from the rigors of her undergraduate education, she began her postgraduate journey with Dr. Jeffery K. Tomberlin and Dr. Aaron M. Tarone in 2010. Meaghan has had a deep and abiding love of arthropods her entire life, and determined at the age of four that she would be an entomologist. She helped found entomology clubs in both high school and college, and has helped organize many entomology themed outreach and enrichment events, including working with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on their BugFest, and with Cornell University’s Entomology Department on their Open House.

Meaghan is particularly experienced in the field of forensic entomology, and this has led to a certification in Crime Scene Investigation with Texas Engineering and Extension Services; teaching at workshops for federal, state, and local law enforcement groups; several national and international trips to give invited seminar talks; the opportunity to coordinate symposia at the 2013 and 2014 Entomological Society of America annual meetings as well as the 2016 International Congress of Entomology; and her election to Treasurer of the North American Forensic Entomology Association. Meaghan’s current passion, outside of her research, is science policy. After joining the organizing committee for the March for Science- Birmingham, AL, she was selected as an Entomological Society of America Science Policy Fellow in the Class of 2017. She looks forward to talking with you about entomology, bumble bees, bioinformatics, statistics, science policy, and anything else you might be interested in.

3rd July 2017 – Lauren Diepenbrock, North Carolina State University, Entomological Society of America

Lauren DiepenbrockI am an insect ecologist working in integrated pest management as a postdoctoral research scholar at North Carolina State University. This basically means that I study the ecology of insect pests and incorporate that into management programs to help growers produce healthy crops. At NC State, I study a challenging invasive vinegar fly, spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii), a nearly worldwide pest that impacts small fruit crops (cherry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, etc.). I also manage a multi-institutional Specialty Crops Research Initiative grant working with researchers all over the United States on coordinated research addressing the management of spotted wing drosophila.

Prior to my postdoc position, I did a Master’s at Florida State University where I studied the seasonal natural history of trap-jaw ants (Odontomachus brunneus) in North Florida with Dr. Walter Tschinkel. I consider myself very fortunate for this opportunity to observe these organisms and learn about their unique behaviors. The observational skills that I learned during this work have been helpful both in my PhD and postdoctoral research.

I did my doctoral research with Dr. Deborah Finke at the University of Missouri. For my dissertation, I looked at the impacts of resources, historical land use, and invasive species on native lady beetle communities in tallgrass habitats in Missouri. Tallgrass prairie was once the predominant land cover for much of this region and has, over time, been converted to agricultural land. I wanted to understand how changes in land use and the restoration of some lands to tallgrass prairie impacted insect communities, and I chose to focus on lady beetles because of recent studies documenting negative impacts of invasive lady beetles (e.g. Harmonia axyridis, Coccinella septempunctata) on native species. One of our major findings is that grasslands (native or agricultural) are really important for promoting the persistence of native lady beetles.

During my week on BioTweeps, I’ll talk about natural history, insect ecology, beneficial and pest insects, integrated pest management, and ongoing research.  There will likely be random cat pictures, discussion of experiences from grad school and beyond, how to make the most out of interesting opportunities along the way, the hunt for a faculty position… and anything else that is of interest at the time. I’m happy to answer whatever insect questions that I can and refer those that I cannot answer to people who can.