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James D. Thomson



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James D. Thomson

Position: Professor
Education: A.B., University of Chicago 1972; M.S. and Ph.D., University of Wisconsin 1975, 1978; Fellow, AAAS; Fellow, Royal Society of Canada
Favourite Colour: Penstemon purple
Favourite Bee: Xylocopa caerulea

Most of my work involves the evolutionary ecology of plant-animal interactions, with particular emphasis on plants and pollinators. As I am interested in the overall interaction rather than any particular component, my work ranges broadly, from studies of pollinator behaviour and cognition to the biology of pollen-pistil interactions. I try to emphasize plants and animals equally, and I am most intrigued by how animals' behavioural responses to plant characters become translated into selective forces on the plants. I seek to quantify the value of different pollinators through detailed studies of the efficiency with which they transmit pollen grains. My most recent coherent research program involved the role of animal pollination in the diversification of the large herbaceous genus Penstemon. With collaborators in the U.S. and Norway, I sought to understand the selective forces behind evolutionary shifts from insect pollination to bird pollination-shifts that have occurred independently in several lineages within Penstemon. I have also brought this perspective to applied questions of agricultural pollination. I maintain a continuing study of the life history, demography, and pollination success of glacier lilies, Erythronium grandiflorum. On the conservation side, I am intrigued by claims of widespread pollinator declines, but frustrated by the dearth of relevant evidence. My work on glacier lilies, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (2010), appears to be the first documentation of a progressive deterioration of pollination service, manifested over many years.

Although I spend my summers doing fieldwork in the vicinity of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (rmbl.org), I have a separate winter program of lab studies with captive bumble bees, mostly examining how bees respond to variation in flowers, including new designs of artificial flowers that donate and receive powdered food dyes as pollen surrogates. By dissolving stigma loads and measuring dye transfer by spectroscopy, one can estimate the consequences of various experimental manipulations on both "male" and "female" success.



Graduate Students

Jane E. Ogilvie    

Jane Ogilvie

Position: Ph.D. Candidate
Education: B.Sc. Hons.
Favourite Colour: Many shades of green
Favourite Bee: Bombus balteatus

Jane joined the Thomson lab in September 2008 as a Ph.D. student. She completed a B.Sc. in Ecology and Conservation Biology with first class Honours at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. Her undergraduate years were spent in the arthropod biodiversity lab of Prof. Roger Kitching, sorting arthropod samples and doing various forms of plant and arthropod field sampling in subtropical rainforest and dry sclerophyll forest. While there, she investigated the pollination biology of two fabaceous shrubs in dry sclerophyll forest, and completed an honours thesis looking at the effects of local flower density on the reproductive success of a wildflower with Dr. Jacinta Zulucki and Prof. Roger Kitching. Jane moved to the University of Toronto in search of other pollination-oriented individuals, diverse subalpine wildflower meadows, and bumble bees (and apparently, comparatively frigid winters). She is broadly interested in how pollinator foraging behaviour can affect plant reproduction and the natural history of pollination.

Alison Parker    

Alison Parker

Position: Ph.D. Candidate
Favourite Colour: Blue
Favourite Bee: Agapostemon spp. and Andrena erigeniae

Alison is a Ph.D. student in the EEB department. Prior to starting graduate school, Alison did her undergrad degree in Biology at George Washington University, where she worked with John Lill on the evolutionary ecology of plant-herbivore interactions. Also, she worked as an intern the USGS at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, as well as on various pollination-related field and lab research projects with Dr. Neal Williams (UC Davis), Dr. Rachael Winfree (Rutgers), Dr. Claire Kremen (Berkeley), and Dr. Maile Neel (University of Maryland). Since coming to the University of Toronto, she has been continuing with her work in pollination biology, working in various systems in the northeastern US and Hawaii. Alison is interested in the evolutionary ecology of plant-insect interactions, specifically the influence of bee behavioral ecology on aspects of plant pollination.


Paul Simpson

Position: Ph.D. Student
Education: B.Sc.x2, University of Calgary 2011; M.Sc. University of Calgary 2013.
Favourite Colour: Paisley
Favourite Bee: Bombus perplexus

Paul started his Ph.D. in the Thomson lab in January of 2014. Prior to this, he completed a B.Sc. in Applied Mathematics and a B.Sc. in Biology, then an M.Sc. in Ecology at the University of Calgary. As an undergraduate, Paul's time was fruitlessly spent on an investigation of the effects of incomplete sampling in phylogenetic studies - this resulted in an affinity for staying indoors and away form natural light. An opportunity to develop as an empiricist (and also a pollination biologist) arose in the lab of Dr. Lawrence Harder; under Dr. Harder's supervision, Paul investigated how bumble bee behaviour is influenced by the distribution of nectar rewards presented by plants. Paul hopes to use his time at the University of Toronto to develop a better understanding of how nectar variation arises in plant populations, and how this variation influences reproductive success - especially for dichogamous plants.