Rebecca Irwin: Role of Floral Traits in Pollination and Bee Disease Transmission

You've seen honey bees buzzing past you to reach a good nectar or pollen source.

But there's much more to it than that. What's in that floral nectar and pollen?

Think plant-pollinator-pathogen webs.

Rebecca Irwin, professor of applied ecology at North California State University, Raleigh, is traveling to UC Davis to present a seminar on "The Role of Floral Traits in Pollination and Bee Disease Transmission."

Her seminar, hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is set for 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 16 in 122 Briggs Hall. Community ecologist Rachel Vannette, assistant professor and coordinator of the weekly seminars, will introduce her.

"Secondary compounds play a critical role in plant defense against herbivores," says Irwin in her abstract. "Although these compounds can increase plant resistance to herbivore feeding, they can also benefit herbivores by reducing parasitism. There is now widespread evidence that these same secondary compounds are also found in floral nectar and pollen."

"I will share multiple lines of evidence from a variety of collaborative projects in the lab and field suggesting that floral secondary compounds can reduce parasitism in bees, and that bees may be able to selectively forage on flowers with these compounds when they are parasitized," Irwin says. "Because floral secondary compounds alter pollinator behavior, they also have the potential to affect patterns of pollen movement and plant fitness. However, evidence suggests different effects across plant species. Finally, I will share with you results exploring the degree to which secondary compounds and other floral traits affect pollinator disease transmission in the field. Taken together, this seminar will provide empirical evidence into the diversity of roles that secondary compounds, and floral traits more generally, can play in plant-pollinator-pathogen webs."

Irwin, who received her doctorate from the University of Vermont, says on her website that the Irwin lab combines  "concepts and techniques from studies of plant-pollinator and plant-herbivore interactions to understand the ecological and evolutionary consequences of pollination mutualisms and how they will respond to environmental change. We also study the disease ecology and transmission biology of bees and their pathogens."

Irwin also shares her expertise on bee condos or bee hotels. "From humble coffee cans to fancier hotels with a roof, there are many ways to get creative with the design. Here, we provide a brief introduction into building a simple first time bee hotel."

And, she says, "hotels work better when facing southeast."

if you want to build your own bee housing units, check out the information on her website.