Current research


> James D. Thomson  > Jane E. Ogilvie  > Alison Parker >   

James D. Thomson

Along with many smaller projects, much of my recent work falls into three streams:

Glacier lily reproductive ecology. In long-term field plots and transplant gardens in Colorado, I have been examining the controls over fruit set in Erythronium grandiflorum. This work has yielded massive data sets, as yet unpublished. I am working with the RMBL to archive these data and post them on the Internet. Previously, I had exploited a pollen-colour dimorphism in this plant for some early studies of pollen dispersal that in turn led to "pollen presentation theory."

Pollination syndromes and floral evolution in penstemons. I organized this project in the late 1990's and recruited colleagues Paul Wilson, Scott Armbruster, and Andrea Wolfe into an NSF-funded collaboration. My active role was limited because I soon fell into administrative responsibilities, but a great deal was accomplished, especially by Wilson and my student Maria Clara Castellanos. Publication of this work is essentially done; an overview is provided in an address to the ASN.

Also, for the first time in my career, I had sufficient lab space to do bee trapline foraging by bumble bees. Ever since hearing Dan Janzen talk about traplining in my undergraduate classes at Chicago, I have been interested in how and why animals harvest depletable but renewing resources at fixed locations, specifically nectar in flowers. I have worked on this as a series of side projects that ramped up strongly when I arrived at Toronto in 2000. My lab's activities quickly tilted strongly to the animal side, for several reasons. I was chairing the Zoology Department, and my students were therefore drawn to animal studies.


Jane E. Ogilvie

Thesis title: Linking spatial and temporal patterns of pollinator foraging to pollination in communities

My dissertation research focusses on how some characteristic pollinator foraging responses to plant communities can affect plant pollination in novel but predictable ways. I am particularly interested in how pollinator behaviour can affect plant pollination over broader spatial and temporal scales than are typically examined. Specifically, I am looking at the distances over which individual bumble bees typically forage on plants and may influence their reproductive success, and some idiosyncratic bumble bee behaviours that may lead to positive interactions between plant species for pollination. To approach these questions, I am using a combination of experimental and observational field studies on Delphinium barbeyi (Ranunculaceae) and three late blooming gentians (Gentianaceae), and their shared long-tongued bumble bee pollinators, in subalpine meadows near the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab. I often uniquely mark individual bumble bees and see where they forage over time.

I am also interested in the role of male bumble bees in the pollination of late season flowering plants, as they are typically not considered important pollinators but can be common on flowers in late summer and autumn. In addition, I am collaborating with former Thomson lab member, Jessica Forrest (now at the University of Ottawa), investigating potential adaptive explanations for the variation in style length of a spring flowering herb, Mertensia fusiformis (Boraginaceae). I also share a rare interest in what individual pollinators do with Takashi Makino (at Yamagata University) and we are collaborating on this topic.


Alison Parker

My research focuses on the effectiveness of bee pollinators, as compared to other visitors in generalist pollination systems. Among all floral visitors, bees are the most abundant and proficient animal pollinators of plants worldwide. However, in bee pollinated plants, pollen is both a reward and a vector for the transfer of genetic material, and bees are highly adept at pollen collection – therefore, bee activities may conflict, rather than coincide, with pollen transfer success. My research addresses this potential conflict in a couple of different systems. In the Eastern US, Andrena erigeniae specializes on the pollen of the spring ephemeral Claytonia virginica. Due to A. erigeniae's pollen collecting efficiency, bee foraging may have more of a parasitic than a mutualistic effect on pollen transfer, depending on the pollination effectiveness of the other floral visitors. In a number of sites in the mid-Atlantic, I am looking at how the pollinator community shapes the dynamics of pollen flow. Back in Ontario, I am working on a project comparing the pollen transfer abilities of solitary bees and syrphid flies at the University of Toronto field station, the Koffler Scientific Reserve at Joker's Hill. In addition to these studies, I am broadly interested in solitary bee biology, foraging behavior, and diversity, and the influence of these topics on the pollination of plant communities.


Paul Simpson

My research objectives are still maturing; broadly I am interested in how forager behaviour is influenced by the spatial and temporal distribution of resources, especially when these resources are patchily distributed - as is the case with the distribution of nectar in populations of flowering plants. Among entomophilous plants, many species produce nectar to motivate pollinator visitation, which facilitates pollen transport. Unfortunately, attracting pollinators with nectar is a precarious endeavour for plants; pollinators that visit too many flowers on an individual, discount the amount of pollen available for export. My research will address how this conflict between plants and their pollinators arises, and (hopefully) how it plays out. To investigate this, I intend to use observational field studies of racemose plant species to assess how the structure of variance in nectar rewards changes throughout the day, and how the development of attractive and reproductive traits covary with nectar abundance in individuals. The location and species in question remain to be determined.



Past research & publications

      Click here to visit our Publications page for a full list of previously published work.