4th March 2019 – Patrick Kennedy, University of Bristol

Patrick KennedyI’m a postdoc at the University of Bristol, working on the evolution of animal conflict and cooperation – based in the brilliant lab group led by Professor Andy Radford. I recently finished my PhD, which explored the evolution of altruism (organisms helping others at a personal cost) in South American paper wasps. I focused on a mysterious paradox in social insect biology, and spent my PhD enthusiastically sticking tiny radio-tags to wasps in Panama, French Guiana, and Brazil. As a result, I’ve been thoroughly stung in the name of science. I’ll be biotweeping about the strange world of animal cooperation. Why do we seem to find cooperation everywhere we look, from social bacteria in the gut to elephants on the savannah to the trillions of hard-working cells that make up our bodies?

The enigma of where cooperation comes from has baffled biologists for 150 years – ever since Darwin struggled with the mystery in The Origin of Species. Those 150 years have been filled with a host of exotic characters boldly announcing their own evolutionary solutions – including legions of entomologists, game theorists, political scientists, the occasional sinister eugenicist, people doing dubious things with dolphins, and even one prison-breaking anarchist Russian prince. The controversy got so heated in the 70s that angry communists poured a bucket of water over the head of the world’s leading ant biologist mid-way through a lecture. However, the product of this intense and often acrimonious scientific debate has been the rise of a solid modern understanding of the key principles in the evolution of cooperation. Today, biologists have a spectacular general theory of cooperation. Even so, the debate is far from over, and a number of major riddles about the evolution of cooperation remain to solved…


4th February 2019 – Nancy Miorelli, SciBugs

Nancy MiorelliNancy Miorelli is an entomologist living in Quito, Ecuador. After earning her Master’s degree in Entomology from the University of Georgia in 2014 she promptly moved to the heart of the Ecuadorian cloud forest where she volunteered at an ecolodge for two years. During her time motorbiking through the jungle, designing educational programs, filming insects for Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid, and convincing tourists that they really did love insects, Nancy continued to work on various SciComm projects including #FaceBug and the blog Ask an Entomologist.

After two years, she moved from the cloud forest to the concrete jungle of Quito where she continues her SciComm endeavors with Ask an Entomologist, travelling to conventions, and starting a new Periscope channel.  She embarked on her own insect tourism business focusing on the interconnections of ecology, conservation, local Ecuadorian culture, and tourism. These are not your typical Ecuadorian tours as these tours take you off the traditional beaten path walked by thousands of tourists each year.   Her objective is to promote tourism and conservation in some of Ecuador’s most threatened and most biodiverse ecosystems including the northern Ecuadorian coast and the cloud forest. Agriculture and mining are the two biggest threats to these fragile ecosystems.

Her main scientific interest is the structural coloration of insects – particularly in butterflies. The intricacies of the microstructures that insects employ to expertly reflect and absorb light are still being discovered in this relatively new field and their applications to our modern-day technology are limitless; including improving fiber optics, security encryption, and eye implants. Nancy is particularly interested in why the butterflies are creating these structures, how the microstructures function to manipulate light, and how we can copy these structures and apply them to our modern-day technology.

19th November 2018 – Elizabeth Franklin, University of Guelph

Liz FranklinMy name is Liz Franklin and I am an behavioural ecologist and entomologist. My passions are wide spreading but I generally come back to the behaviour of individuals and groups, particularly in the social insects (that’s ants bees and wasps). I studied ant behaviour for my PhD and now I study bumble bees again like in my undergraduate. I am originally from the UK but right now I am working at the University of Guelph in Canada as a post doctoral fellow working on a range of projects to understand how bumble bees use landscapes.

Next to doing science my next favourite thing is talking about it! I am a massive advocate of science communication and engage both in outreach for my work but also as a volunteer. Hopefully I can give some advice to those who are interested in this area.

Along with sci comms I hope to talk about the social insects, highlight some of the cool research going on out there, particularly in the realms of behaviour. I will give a shout out to bee diversity, test the waters of your bee knowledge and hopefully answer your burning social insect questions.

Look forward to speaking with you all!

25th June 2018 – Lewis Bartlett, University of Exeter & University of California Berkeley

Lewis BartlettI’m Lewis – a PhD researcher at University of Exeter, and a visiting researcher at University of California Berkeley. I’m also in collaboration with the University of Georgia (USA), Emory University (USA), and Heriot-Watt University (UK).

My work is currently focussed on better understanding the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, current declines of both domestic and wild bees, and the relationships between the two. I’m a huge bee enthusiast – and teach / certify beekeepers as part of my work. Speaking with beekeepers is a big part of what I do – and necessitates a different understanding of science communication compared to public outreach. Prior to bees and diseases, I worked on ice-age extinctions, habitat fragmentation, and arguably the world’s most ambitious ecological simulation. My research dips into a massive variety of techniques – from the field to the lab to statistics to differential equation modelling.

Doing research and holding positions in two different continents has given me a two-point perspective on the lives of PhD researchers, and the differences are pretty profound. There’s things to be learnt from all systems.

As far as non-research academic activities go, I count teaching and learning as a big part of my interests – both at the school and University levels. Comparing approaches to university teaching between Britain and the US has been an eye-opening experience. In particular, teaching quantitative skills & programming is a devotion of mine (for better or for worse!).

Understanding access, diversity, and inclusion in ecology is also a topic close to my heart (as both a first-generation, working class university graduate and a ragingly flamboyant gay man). Seeing again how these issues differ between the UK and the US is remarkable in approaches and nuance.

Expect hot-takes on bees, on diseases, on outreach, teaching, and moving around as part of academic ecology in this week’s Biotweeps coverage – probably punctuated with makeup, nail polish, and countless examples of how bees and other insects influence art & fashion.

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.