Doctor Claudio Gratton received this year’s Vilas Associate Award from the Univeristy of Wisconsin-Madison. This is a highly competitive award that grants funding to university professors for specific projects. Claudio’s winning project proposal, titled “Do exotic plant-insect mutualisms affect native bumble bees? A case study in Iceland,” investigates the interactions of three organisms found in Iceland: Iceland’s only native bumble bee species, Bombus jonellus , an non-native bumble bee species, Bombus terrestris, and a non-native legume, Lupinus arboreus. Claudio’s central question is how the two non-native species, B. terrestris and L. arboreus, impact the native B. jonellus. Claudio hypothesizes that the impact of non-native L. arboreus on native B. jonellus will be dependent on the presence or absence of the non-native B. terrestris in a habitat. Lupinus arboreus could be a beneficial pollen source for both B. jonellus and B. terrestris. When B. jonellus is the only bumble bee species in a habitat, its populations could increase due to the availability of the non-native legume’s pollen; however, if B. terrestris is present, then this non-native bee could outcompete B. jonellus for access to L. arboreus, depleting a pollen source for B. jonellus. Therefore, in the case where both bumble bee species are present, L. arboreus may negatively impact B. jonellus by helping increase B. terrestris‘ populations. In sum, the potentially positive effect of L. arboreus on B. jonellus populations could be reversed to be a negative effect if B. terrestris is present in the habitats. This project is an exciting endeavor for Claudio as it merges two of his interests: the ecology of Iceland’s insects and the conservation of wild bees.
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