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WN@tL: “Insects and Ecosystem Services on a Changing Planet: Insights From the Humble Bumble Bee”

April 13 @ 7:00 pm - 8:15 pm

Speaker: James Crall, Entomology

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 (Oeganismic 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.

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April 13
7:00 pm - 8:15 pm
Event Category:


Tom Zinnen


UW Biotechnology Center
425 Henry Mall
Madison, WI 53706 United States
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