Insects and Ecosystem Services on a Changing Planet:Insights from the Humble Bumble Bee;Networks:the Science of Interconnected Systems;Making a Garden for YOU

Come Explore the Unknown!


By Zoom:  at  

In Person: Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, Madison.

7pm Central. Every Wednesday Night, 50 Times a Year


13 April 2022    

Hi WN@TL Fans,

It’s been a slow spring acoming, and a dry one, too.  The crocus finally popped up and out on Sunday, but I’ve yet to see a dandelion blossom, even against the south walls of the houses in my neighborhood.  However, I’ve spotted some splotches of bluebells in the backyards, so I’m hoping the next couple of weeks will see a flurry of flowers.  I’m guessing the pollinators will be pleased to see the blooms open, with their anthers spilling forth their microspores, their pistils loaded with nectar.


It’s that thin slice of the year in Wisconsin when you can sanely leave open the back door and the front, too, and let the unscreened breeze waft into the kitchen and on through the living room without too much fear of welcoming in bugs or mosquitoes.  The bats are now stirring in the gloaming, and I gotta wonder what’s for dinner in the lingering light, with so few gnats and flies flitting about in the crepuscular skies.


This week we get to hear about what the changes in the seasons, and even more so, what the changes in the climate, are doing to the insect domain, and in turn how those changes affect what the insects can do for all the rest of us.

On April 13 James Crall of Entomology will speak on “Insects and Ecosystem Services on a Changing Planet:  Insights from the Humble Bumble Bee.”


Description:  Beneficial insects provide vital ecosystem services that support biodiversity and human wellbeing. Bees and other insect pollinators, for example, are vital to both global food production and conservation. Because of their critical importance, there is significant concern amongst both the public and researchers that populations of many insects – including key pollinator species – are declining.


While many factors – including climate change, poor nutrition, and disease – contribute to declines of pollinator populations, pesticide exposure (including neonicotinoid insecticides) is of particular importance in agriculturally-intensive regions such as the upper Midwest. Despite mounting evidence that exposure to even very low concentrations of neonicotinoids (and other insecticides) can negatively affect behavior, performance, and fitness of bees, recent work has also demonstrated that these effects can be highly complex and dependent on environmental context.  A critical challenge in pollinator health is therefore to better understand how simultaneous exposure to multiple stressors affect bees, and how these interactions change in space and time.


While understanding these complex, context-dependent effects can pose significant challenges. the rapid emergence of scalable, low-cost technologies (including computer vision, open-source electronics, and deep learning) are transforming our ability to study the impacts of anthropogenic environmental stressors on bees and other insects. In this talk, I will highlight some of our recent research in this area, particularly on the understanding the complex impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides on bumble bees. For example, we have developed automated behavioral tracking approaches for quantifying the effects of neonicotinoids on social behavior within bee colonies. These studies have shown that the impacts of neonicotinoids depend strongly on temperature, time of day, and social interactions. More broadly, these studies highlight the potential for emerging technologies and big data approaches to help us better understand and support insects in the digital age.


Bio:  I was born in Ohio and got my undergraduate degree at Swarthmore College (2007), with one degree in Sociology and Anthropology, and a second in Biology.  After a brief stint teaching high school biology in Ecuador, I pursued my PhD at Harvard University (Organismic and Evolution Biology, 2017). I also pursued my postdoctoral research at Harvard University, supported by a Rockefeller Foundation Planetary Health Alliance Fellowship and a USDA-NIFA Postdoctoral Fellowship, before joining the UW-Madison Department of Entomology in January 2021. In addition to the Entomology Department, I am also a faculty affiliate at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.


My research interests are in integrative ecology. I am especially fascinated by how insects interact with each other and their environments, and how these interactions drive broader ecological processes, as well as the delivery of ecosystem services in agriculture. My research focuses primarily on bees and plant-pollinator interactions, with an applied interest in supporting pollinators and pollination in agroecosystems. To study the dynamics of these complex biological systems (from collective behavior to ecological networks), my lab also develops low-cost, scalable techniques for experimental automation, data collection, and analysis.


Explore More:

On April 20 Keith Levin of Statistics and of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery speaks on “Networks: the Science of Interconnected Systems.”


Description: What do social media, food webs, brains and the highway system all have in common? They are described by networks– systems of interacting entities, pairs of whom form relations. For example, a social network like Facebook or Twitter can be described by a collection of users, and pairs of these users form friendship or following relationships. In ecology, pairs of species engage in predator-prey relationships. The structure of the brain can be described by which pairs of neurons form synapses with one another. The US highway system can be described by pairs of interchanges connected by roadway.


In the past fifty years, scientists in a wide range of disciplines have come to recognize the importance of networks in describing a wide range of systems in our world, and the field of network science has emerged to provide the tools necessary to investigate the properties of these systems. In this talk, I will give an overview of this exciting and still (comparatively) new field and discuss some of the exciting work in this area currently happening here at UW-Madison. We will begin with a whirlwind tour of some basic discoveries in network science to date, including the “six degrees of separation” phenomenon (made famous by the game “six degrees of Kevin Bacon”). Finally, we will discuss some of the work done by my group and by some of my colleagues here at UW-Madison developing statistical methods for rigorously describing and comparing the basic properties of networks.


Bio: Keith Levin grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts and attended Northeastern University, where he earned degrees in linguistics and psychology. He worked as a data analyst at BBN Technologies before returning to academia to obtain his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University. Prior to joining the faculty at UW-Madison, he was a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Statistics at University of Michigan. In his spare time, Keith enjoys cooking, hiking and playing jazz bass.


Explore More:

Wisconsin Institute for Discovery Complex Systems Group:

Six Degrees: the Science of a Connected Age

On April 27 Reba Luiken of the Department of Horticulture and of the Allen Centennial Garden will speak on “Making a Garden for YOU.”


Description: Creating a public garden that is welcoming for everyone is not as simple as doing things that everyone will like. In this talk, Dr. Luiken will discuss ways that Allen Centennial Garden has worked to be inclusive by making programs and gardens for specific audiences from first-year students at UW to Indigenous people living in Wisconsin.


Bio: Reba Luiken is the Executive Director of Allen Centennial Garden. She has a background in Plant Biology, Religious Studies, and Museum Studies and a Ph.D. in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. Her research and professional practice have focused on the ways in which museums, universities, and public gardens have shared their missions and messages with diverse audiences.


Explore More: This work builds on the work of OF/BY/FOR ALL, and the book The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon (available online here for free:

Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab


Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H



Please share this missive with your friends & neighbors. 


If you’ll be watching the Zoom for the first time, please register for the WN@TL Zoom at 

If you’ve already registered for a previous WN@TL zoom this year, you’re good—you don’t have to register again.

Continue to use the link found in the confirmation message Zoom sent you when you first registered.

WN@TL begins at 7:00pm Central

You can also watch the web stream at for one last time on October 20.  The web stream thereafter will redirect viewers to the WN@TL YouTube livestream.


UW-Madison:  5.9 million owners, one pretty good public land-grant teaching, research and extension university.


Visit UW-Madison’s science outreach portal at for information on the people, places & programs on campus that welcome you to come experience science as exploring the unknown, all year round.


Here are the components of the WN@TL User’s Guide:

  1. The live WN@TL seminar, every Wednesday night, 50 times a year, at 7pm CT in Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center and on Zoom at
  2. The WN@TL YouTubechannel
  3. WN@TL on the University Placebroadcast channel of PBS Wisconsin
  4. WN@TL on the University Place website



The WN@TL Lineup through May 11.


Park for a small fee in Lot 20, 1390 University Avenue, Madison, WI


Archive of Past Talks Upcoming Talks


In partnership with

Wisconsin Alumni Association | UW-Madison Biotechnology Center

Division of Extension | PBS Wisconsin | UW Science Alliance