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.
The Gratton lab welcomes its newest lab member, Matt McCary! Matt joins us from the Wise lab at the University of Illinois in Chicago where he recently completed his PhD . Matt will be working with Claudio, Randy Jackson, and Tony Ives on projects related to understanding ecosystem linkages between aquatic and terrestrial environments in Iceland. I recently had a chance to ask Matt about his research projects, hobbies, and life at UW.
- Where are you from? Where did you do your PhD?
I am from the south suburbs of Chicago, IL. I received my Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
- What was your PhD about? What are your research interests?
My dissertation research examined the effects of invasive plants on soil food webs in metropolitan woodland ecosystems. Here, I adopted a multidisciplinary framework, which included a combination of meta-analyses, field experimentation, and Next-Generation DNA sequencing to profile soil microbial communities. In a nutshell, my dissertation findings show that invasive plants can severely alter the function and structure of woodland food webs, with the effect weakening as you move up trophic levels.
- What will you be working on in the Gratton lab?
The project I will be working on as an NSF postdoctoral research fellow will examine how vegetation productivity and structure alters feedback loops between above- and belowground food webs. This research will be conducted at Lake Mývatn in northeastern Iceland; a system known for its high production of aquatic insects (midges), which emerge, mate and die on land, thereby providing a resource subsidy to the surrounding terrestrial landscape. I will investigate how these midge subsidies change the energy flow of food webs in subarctic heathland (low productivity) and grassland (high productivity) ecosystems. Because of the structure and low production of heathlands surrounding Lake Mývatn, I expect these ecosystems to exhibit the most pronounced feedback-loop changes in response to midge subsidies.
- Where can we find you when not at work?
You can find me at the gym working out, playing computer chess games just about anywhere, or watching Netflix at home.
- What are you looking forward to doing in Madison?
Going to a Badger football game!!
- What is your favorite 90s TV show or song?
Favorite 90s TV show: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
- What’s your favorite insect?
Although it is technically not an insect, the zebra jumping spider (Salticus scenicus) is my favorite!
Amanda joined the Gratton lab (co-advised by Tony Ives) in September and will be working on a project trying to understand what causes the impressive population cycles of midges in Lake Myvatn, Iceland. Here is more about Amanda who recently completed her Masters from Loyola University Chicago.
Welcome Amanda! Where are you originally from?
Crown Point, IN
What was your past research about?
My previous research for my MS focused on anthropogenic impacts on urban streams in the Chicago area. Specifically, I researched point sources and concentration of microplastic contamination in streams and the effect of this novel substrate on aquatic bacterial community composition.
What will you be working on in the Gratton lab?
I am involved in the Lake Myvatn project which aims to understand what drives the high amplitude and irregular population cycles of midges in the lake and how these dynamics influence other components of the aquatic ecosystem and the surrounding terrestrial landscape. Broadly, I am interested in community trophic interactions and consumer-resource dynamics. I am interested in how the food quality for midges may be influenced by biotic and abiotic factors in the lake, and how food quality and quantity influence midge growth rates (and possible implications for population cycling and community dynamics).
Where can we find you when not at work?
I’ve enjoyed exploring various parts of Madison via running, and checking out the numerous restaurants, coffee shops, etc. And I enjoy spending time with my boyfriend and two cats.
What are you looking forward to doing in Madison?
I really enjoy all of the outdoor activities available in Madison—and the beer and cheese!
What’s your favorite insect?
Out of loyalty to the study system, I will say Tanytarsus gracilentus
As summer approaches, here’s a preview of the our fieldwork projects…
Pollinators in bioenergy landscapes: This project is trying to understand the impact pollinator conservation strips around switchgrass plantings have on native pollinator communities. Fieldwork will be conducted at study sites throughout Central Virginia working with partners in the biofuel industry as well as a groups focused on wildlife habitat and conservation. Methods will include a mix of pollinator and plant community measures including bee bowls, sweep samples, bee nesting boxes and plant surveys. Led by Kiley Friedrich.
Arthropod communities in bioenergy landscapes: This field season is a continuation of a multi-year project aiming to understand how management of bioenergy crops such as grasslands, corn, soybean, influences the composition and functioning of arthropod communities and ecosystem services such as pest suppression and pollination. Habitat characteristics will be analyzed at multiple spatial scales to understand how communities vary by landscape composition and land management. Led by Tania Kim and Brian Spiesman.
Trophic cascades in the face of White Nose Syndrome: The forecasted decline of cave-dwelling bats in the face of White Nose Syndrome, which causes up to 90% mortality, will act as a natural experiment to understand the role of bats as predators of arthropods in agricultural landscapes. In partnership with the Peery Lab and the Wisconsin DNR, this is the first field season of a 5-year project which will include acoustic monitoring of bat activity, next-generation sequencing of bat guano collected by citizen scientists, and insect trapping of natural enemies and agricultural pests. Led by Emma Pelton.
Bumblebee foraging: This summer is an expansion on RFID tracking efforts with bumblebees. The aim is to determine if any relationship exists between bumblebee foraging and floral resources at a landscape scale. If relationships do exist, this work will contribute to understanding which landscapes are best to help conserve wild bees. Led by Jeremy Hemberger.
Intrepid post-doc alum David Hoekman, who is now a staff scientist at NEON Inc., the NSF-funded center for continental scale ecology and monitoring recently wrote this piece for their blog on his research in Iceland. Thanks David for the great summary!
January 22, 2013
As I stand in the sun on the shore of a beautiful Icelandic lake, the wind dies down and the midges rise from their resting places in the lakeshore grasses and wildflowers. The fog of midges quickly thickens and I am soon engulfed and surrounded by the noise of millions of tiny wings buzzing around me.
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Posted by Claudio