BEESS Spring 2023 Wrap-up

The following is a guest post by applied ecology graduate student and BEESS co-organizer, Alex Nelson

During the Spring 2023 Biology, Ecology, and Evolution Seminar Series (BEESS) we learned about parasite behavior manipulation, disease dynamics in plant populations, and actual bees! Our seminars this semester were in a hybrid format, but we still had plenty of in-person fun with student-speaker lunches and post-seminar dinners. 

Our first speaker was Kelly Weinersmith, an adjunct professor with Rice University. Kelly introduced us to her work on behavior-manipulating parasites, specifically a trematode (flatworm) and a hyperparasitoid (a parasite of a parasite) wasp. In California killifish, the trematode Euhaplorchis californiensis forms cysts on the fish’s brain, causing infected fish to be more likely to exhibit conspicuous behaviors – those that cause the fish to be noticed and eaten by a bird – more often than uninfected fish. Kelly’s work suggests that this is a strategy used by the parasite to increase transmission to birds, which serve as the next host in the parasite’s life cycle. Kelly also discussed her description of a new parasite species: the cryptkeeper wasp. This hyperparasitoid infects other parasitic wasps that can be found in plant galls. Kelly is still exploring the mechanisms behind the wasp behavior manipulation and ended her talk with some exciting future directions. 

Charles Mitchell of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill discussed his research on pathogenic fungi infecting the leaves of tall fescue, an ecologically and economically important type of grass. There are four main types of parasitic fungus that infect tall fescue, each of which have a different prevalence depending on the season. This seasonal component has implications for future disease dynamics in grasses as temperatures become more extreme with global change. Charles’ recent work has focused on creating mathematical models to simulate these seasonal epidemics, so that we can predict how spread of the disease may change over time. He’s determined that future epidemics may depend on co-infections of several fungi on the same plant and may increase due to interactions between different host grasses. Watch the seminar here.

Our final Spring seminar was led by Olivia Messinger-Carril, a bee scientist from New Mexico who has published several guidebooks on North American native bees. Olivia discussed her past work on capturing and differentiating between native bee species as a part of a vast network of decades-long biodiversity surveys across the United States. She now works with the Bureau of Land Management to continually monitor bees and ensure that new management practices aren’t a threat to native bee populations. Olivia also served as our Brandt Lecturer; an elected title given once a year to a researcher that the Applied Ecology graduate student body deems to be an outstanding scientist in their field. After Olivia’s seminar, Applied Ecology faculty member John Godwin hosted a catered dinner for attendees. Watch the seminar here

This concludes our BEESS seminars for the 2022 – 2023 academic year. Stay tuned for more snacks, science-chats, and interdisciplinary connections in the Fall of 2023!

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