A majority of Angiosperm plant species depend on animal pollinators for pollination and reproductive success, including many of our crops. Numerous factors influence pollination success including plant pollination requirements, pollinator populations, and abiotic factors that affect both the plants and pollinators. Our research in pollination ecology focuses on better understanding the factors that mediate plant-pollinator interactions, structure pollinator communities, and determine plant pollination rates. Projects in our lab include, 1. Enhancing our understanding of pollinator ecology, behavior, and life history with a focus on native, wild bees, 2. Investigating the effects of disturbances and conservation efforts on pollinator communities, 3. Elucidating floral traits that drive pollinator attraction and pollination services, and 4. Determining pollination requirements, degrees of pollen limitation, and dependence on animal pollinators across different crop and wild plant species. Below are some of our ongoing research projects.
Flowering plant and bee community assembly
Bees are intimately linked to their food source, flowering plants. We are interested in exploring how floral resource availability measured at different spatial scales, from patches to landscapes, structures bee communities. Our work in this area also includes investigating the best plants for different generalist and specialist bees with the goal of informing bee conservation efforts. Current projects in this area include comparing resource value and attractiveness of native and non-native ornamental plants (funded by the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens), investigating how invasive flowering trees impact plant-pollinator networks, and evaluating competition for floral resources in native ecosystems.
Effects of disturbance on pollinator community composition
Research projects in this field explore pollinator community responses to disturbances at the behavioral, population, and community level. We also investigate how responses vary with pollinator life-history traits, disturbance intensity, or landscape context. A current project in this area is examining how the timing of prescribed burns (e.g. dormant, transition, and growing season burns) affects plant and pollinator phenology with consequences for plant pollination success.
Floral traits and plant-pollinator interactions
Pollinators make foraging decisions that are influenced by their resource requirements and by plant characteristics. Our work in this area focuses on elucidating the floral traits that mediate plant-pollinator interactions including the quantity and quality of floral rewards, and visual and olfactory cues. Currently, we are examining variation in floral traits across southern highbush blueberries and how this variation affects pollinator recruitment (funded by a UF IFAS Early Scientist Grant). We also ask these questions in wild plants, including rare and threatened species. PhD student Sam Pryer is examining floral trait variation across Rhododendron species, pollination syndromes in this genus, and resulting pollination success for both common and endangered species.
Crop pollination ecology
Many crops including fruits, nuts, and vegetables, depend on insect pollination for optimal yields. We are interested in quantifying plant pollination requirements, identifying effective pollinator species, and informing recommendations to enhance pollination. Currently, we are examining management decisions that can optimize pollination of blueberry crops in Florida (funded by a UF IFAS Early Scientist Grant), and are exploring pollination requirements for Florida's winter strawberries.