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!
Much of the research conducted in our lab focuses on beneficial insects in agricultural landscapes. Specifically, we investigate how the type and configuration of natural habitat in agricultural landscapes influences beneficial insects and the services they provide (e.g., pest control). In general, the more natural habitat found in a landscape, the more beneficial insects and the higher the level of services will be found. Sometimes, however, more natural habitat does not lead to more beneficial insects and higher levels of services.
In a recent paper co-authored by Claudio and former lab member Tim Meehan, Tscharntke and collegues present five hypotheses for when and why more natural habitat does not always lead to more beneficial insects and reduced pest populations. The hypotheses are:
- Pest populations have no effective natural enemies in the region.
- Natural habitat is a greater source of pests than natural enemies.
- Crops provide more important resources for natural enemies that does natural habitat.
- Natural habitat is insufficient in amount, proximity, composition or configuration to provide large enough enemy populations for pest control.
- Agricultural practices counteract natural enemy establishment and biocontrol provided by natural habitat.
In these cases where biocontrol fails to control crop pests, the authors suggest several alternative management approaches including improved plant resistance, crop rotation, or crop diversification. Furthermore, the authors conclude that, rather than focusing on the scale of individual farms, conservation programs should consider and be applied at the landscape scale, as this scale is more relevant to the insects and services they provide.
By working together and taking a large-scale approach to conservation management, farmers have the potential to make a big difference in the future health and functioning of the environment.
Tscharntke, T., et al., When natural habitat fails to enhance biological pest control – Five hypotheses, Biological Conservaiton (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2016.10.001
While many spend the final days of October perfecting Halloween costumes and nibbling on sweet treats, bat enthusiasts around the country gather for the annual Bat Week: October 24-31, 2016. This national, week-long event works to raise awareness around bat conservation and dispel many of the fears and misconceptions about our flying friends.
Hosted events, like the Wisconsin Bat Festival at the Milwaukee Public Museum, are great opportunities for scientists and conservationists to educate the public regarding the threats to bat populations and the ways that we can help. With over 1000 attendees, Amy Wray was excited to share her passion for bats with many first time visitors. “Through public outreach and activities for kids, we can encourage the next generation of bat scientists,” Wray says while explaining some of the interactive stations at the Wisconsin Bat Festival and Great Lakes Bat Festival, including this Mist Net Demonstration.
#Batweek maintained a strong presence across many social media platforms as bat supporters shared photos and facts about the important role bats play within our ecosystems. It is estimated that bat populations contribute between $3.7 – $53 billion to the agricultural industries (Boyles 2011).
Additionally, Wray presented some of her work on White Nose Syndrome at this year’s North American Symposium on Bat Research in San Antonio, Texas. Amy and her team are looking at the pre-White Nose Dietary baselines of bats in Wisconsin. Using black light trapping and bat surveys, they are investigating the insect communities available in bat’s foraging landscapes. The team is using bat guano and DNA sequencing techniques to verify the insect community data. The display case below demonstrates the wide variety of insects that bats feed upon.
Roost monitoring, bat counts and guano samples have been submitted by citizen scientists and private landowners in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bat Project making this a truly cooperative effort. Pictured below is a one of the many bats banded during an event with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Recently, Tracy Campbell joined the Gratton lab (co-advised by Chris Kucharik) as an Agronomy Master’s student. Tracy will be working with Claudio and Chris to organize a symposium on the use of Ecoinformatics (or “Big Data”) in Agricultural Research. To learn more about “big data” in Entomology and Agriculture, click here , here, here, and here.
1. Where are you from? Where did you do your undergraduate degree?
I’m originally from St. Louis, MO but most recently lived in Columbia, MO where I completed my BS in Biology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
2. What are your general research interests?
My general research interests include studying the intersection of ecology and the agricultural sector. Within the field of Agroecology, I’m interested in studying climate change and ways to help mitigate negative environmental changes.
3. What will you be working on in the Gratton and Kucharik labs?
I’m currently still pinpointing my research interests, but presently preparing for a symposium on Big Data in Agriculture that UW-Madison will be hosting in April 2017.
4. Where can we find you when not at work?
I enjoy spending time outside, running, hiking, or a casual bike ride.
5. What are you looking forward to doing in Madison?
I’m excited to explore all aspects of Madison: the bike trails, parks, coffee shops, as well as the local beer scene. While at UW-Madison, I’m excited to strengthen my knowledge of agroecology and all the disciplines that intersect.
6. What is your favorite 90s TV show or song?
90’s song: Save Tonight by Eagle-Eye Cherry
7. What’s your favorite insect?
Walking-stick (Diapheromera femorata)