Joshua Botti-Anderson - July 2018

While our project is still far from being completed, I am confident that the obstacles and accomplishments I have experienced since its beginning have thoroughly satisfied your interest. I, too, have become enlightened as I’ve passed through the various stages required to complete this study. In April, while looking over a month into the future, we found locations for the trap-nests, about half of which needed special permission from urban landowners. Juggling email responses and location suitability proved somewhat challenging, but the enthusiasm and generosity of the respondents greatly facilitated this process. Construction of the trap-nests went smoothly, and allowed me to familiarize myself with the components of these valuable tools prior to their placement in the field. Placing the trap-nests at their designated locations not only gave me a taste of what sampling would look like, but also enabled us to talk with many of the landowners hosting the urban sites. When I completed my first round of trap-nest checks, all the trap-nests except one – cattle at Ft. Ellis forced me to move the trap-nest to a secluded hedgerow – were functioning properly and some even produced completed nests at such an early time in the season. Since June, the routine checks of the trap-nests have become an uplifting weekly experience; every completed nest returned to the lab is a capsule of information, ready to reveal its secrets when the adult bees and wasps emerge. I process these cardboard tubes with care, recording their information and placing them in appropriately labeled glass tubes. Despite the ending of this blog series, the project will continue, its different stages developing just as the offspring residing in their carefully provisioned cells.  

The sampling phase of our project will continue from now until the end of September, overlapping with the time of year in which cavity-nesters are provisioning their nests. Since my last report, I have continued my sampling excursions, routinely pulling and replacing completed nests, and returning them to the lab to be processed and catalogued. Depending on the time and day, I may be seen wandering the city sidewalks or farms adjacent to Bozeman, carrying a bucket filled with cardboard tubes and plastic bags, with a hemostat and sharpie nestled in my front pocket. During my most recent visitations to the trap-nests I have observed a sharp increase in the number of completed nests, as well as more consistent returns from most of the sites. Increasingly, I have seen bees and wasps visiting the trap-nests, going in and out of tubes and bringing back loads of pollen or paralyzed insects. To date, only two sites, one semi-natural and one urban, haven’t yielded any completed nests. It seems that, under the sweltering serotinal sun, cavity-nesting bees and wasps are approaching their peak nest-provisioning activity, whilst my skin is approaching a whole new level of burnt. Insect prey abound and flowers bursting with pollen and nectar, the cavity-nesters must follow suit in this highly productive time of the year.

Top: Completed nests labeled in glass tubes, quickly taking up lab space. Bottom: Floral resources in the Pollinator Garden in Langhor Park, a site for one of the trap-nests; photos courtesy of Joshua Botti-Anderson)

I mentioned in my second blog post the possibility of ‘second generation’ emergences, adults that are the product of a complete development during the summer who, instead of overwintering, emerge and begin producing another generation of offspring. With this uncertain expectation, I began checking the returned nests daily. Several weeks ago, I was excited to find a handful of second generation emergences, the tubes from which were checked the next day, yielding several more. Thus, to my routine the removal of second generation emergences has been added. The most common nest diameter for these has been three and four millimeters, and I have been told that the emergences are likely keyhole wasps in the genus Trypoxylon, who capture and paralyze spiders for their developing larvae.

Left: Second generation wasp emergences from a 3 mm cardboard tube. Right: Captured wasps, destined for the freezer and later mountaing; photos courtesy of Joshua Botti-Anderson.

Although the developing offspring of the cavity-nesters are harvested from the trap-nests with relative ease, the final leg of this project must cater to their overwintering diapause stage, which we will replicate in the lab by placing the completed nests in cold storage. While it is now clear that second generation adults will emerge throughout the summer, most will enter diapause this winter and emerge in the spring. After a return to room temperature, the cavity-nesters will finish development and emerge as adults, buzzing with the motivation to perpetuate their genetic legacy by mating and provisioning nests of their own. Unbeknownst to them, they will instead be pinned or mounted, to be identified using the reference collection in Dr. O’Neill’s lab. Such collecting and mounting procedures are needed to identify these highly beneficial insects, and to gain knowledge essential to directed conservation efforts. I am very excited to learn of the diversity of cavity-nesters present at the urban sites in Bozeman, and how that compares to the selected agricultural and semi-natural sites. As such, our project will be completed next year, following temperature-induced spring emergences (April) and the subsequent identification of cavity-nesters for each site.

This project has greatly enhanced my interest in entomology, and by the experience I’ve gained I now feel more confident in my ability to conduct research. While still an undergraduate, I plan to continue my involvement in further research activities, with questions investigated relating to wild insect populations, as well as those used in agricultural systems. In addition, this project has increased my desire to pursue an advanced degree in a graduate program in entomology. I’d like to thank Dr. Casey Delphia and Dr. Kevin O’Neill for guiding me along the research process with this project, providing key input and direction where otherwise I would have been completely lost. Their generosity and knowledge knows no bounds, and that which they have plentifully bestowed upon me has significantly molded my passion for the natural sciences.

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