17th June 2019 – Heather Slinn, University of Guelph

Heather SlinnI’m a PhD candidate in Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. My PhD research is interdisciplinary and spans microbiology, bioinformatics (analyzing biological data, for e.g. DNA sequences, using computer science), ecology and chemistry – where I often work collaboratively with chemists. My specialty lies in how plants, fungi and insects interact with one another in tropical ecosystems. I ask questions like; how does plant chemistry affect other organisms in the community? And, what variables are important for determining which fungi colonize the interior of leaves (termed fungal endophytes)? More recently, I’m working on a project that looks at whether digestion of seeds by bats influence fungi the colonize seeds and improve seed germination. This fall, I’ll be going to Brazil to work with a chemist on how these fungal endophytes contribute to the chemistry in plants. You might be wondering, why are these questions important? My work aims to contribute to our understanding of how species interact with one another in a highly diverse and complex ecosystem. This is especially important because of the decline in species diversity in the tropics, due to factors such as deforestation and climate change. There are also potential applications for agriculture, through how plants may defend themselves against enemies and pharmacy by discovering new compounds which may have properties to combat human diseases.

Part of the fun of being a tropical ecologist, is getting to travel to different sites and comparing the answers to our research questions. During my PhD, I’ve conducted research in the lowland rainforests of Costa Rica and the cloud forests of the Andes in Ecuador. These research trips can last anywhere between 1 week to 4 months. I enjoy exploring new places, learning new languages, eating tasty food and drinking the local beers and wines. So, this type of work agrees with me. However, when in Guelph, you can find me tending to my balcony garden, meeting with the Guelph chapter of a women in STEM organization and running in the trails. I hope you enjoy my week on @biotweeps.

Find out more about me and my work here:

Scholar: https://scholar.google.ca/citations?user=slaTV_UAAAAJ&hl=en
Website: http://www.heatherslinn.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/h_slinn

Advertisements

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…

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!

4th September 2017 – Sheryl Hosler, Northern Illinois University

Sheryl HostlerSheryl Hosler is currently a graduate student in the biology program at Northern Illinois University, where she researches community restoration ecology in a tallgrass prairie. Sheryl is passionate about arthropods, with her main study organism currently being dung beetles. Before grad school, Sheryl spent the better part of 5 years as an environmental educator. Strongly invested in science communication and outreach, Sheryl loves to teach the public more about environmental science. To further these efforts, she is the creator and host of 2 YouTube channels, Get Messy (for kids) and The Roving Naturalist (for young adults).

21st August – Rachael Bonoan, Tufts University

Rachel BonoanHi! My name is Rachael and I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Starks Lab at Tufts University in Medford, MA. As a lab, we study behavioral ecology to understand how animals deal with environmental pressures. My research focuses on how seasonal changes in honey bee diet (i.e. flowers!) affects honey bee health and behavior.

When we go to the grocery store, we have a lot of choices. While our choices do change with season (try to find pumpkins in the summer, or berries in the winter), those choices tend to remain diverse. The “grocery store” for honey bees is our lawns, our gardens, etc., and the choices aren’t always diverse. In the early New England spring, honey bees only have dandelions or clovers to choose from. The summer brings a more diverse choice of flower foods and in the fall, the main choices are goldenrod and aster. How might honey bees change their foraging habitats to cope with the lack of choices? How could the lack of choices alter the honey bee gut microbiome? How does a lack of diet diversity affect the honey bee’s immune system?

These are just the broad questions I am interested in answering during my Ph.D. One of the first studies I did as a Ph.D. student was on honey bees drinking dirty water—you can read about what I found here. Also, check out my personal website to follow my adventures in field biology and beekeeping!

Outside of my research, I enjoy communicating science to the public and am the President of the Boston Area Beekeepers Association. I can also be found playing middle infield for the Tufts Biology Department softball team (Base Pairs), kickboxing at a nearby gym, baking (especially brownies and cookies), crawling on the ground photographing insects, or visiting my waterside hometown in Rhode Island.