Department of Biology and Biotechnology

The Gegear Laboratory

Pollinator Neuroecology and Conservation

 

Welcome to the Gegear lab at WPI! Our laboratory studies animal sensory and cognitive systems within the contexts of evolutionary ecology and conservation biology. We are particularly interested in 1) how cognitive traits such as working memory capacity and perceptual bias influence the foraging ecology of flower-visiting animals, 2) how floral signal complexity in plants is adaptively linked to sensory and cognitive traits in animal pollinators, and 3) how human-induced changes to brain-behavior relationships in animals at the individual level ‘scales up’ to influence the structure, dynamics, and diversity of ecological communities and natural networks. To effectively address these questions, our research approach spans multiple organizational and disciplinary boundaries, combining concepts and experimental techniques from behavioral ecology, neurobiology, experimental psychology, molecular biology, population and community ecology, evolutionary biology, and computer science.

As a model system, we primarily use the bumblebee (Bombus spp.); however, we have made several transformative scientific discoveries using other animal models, including the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Bumblebees are an ideal model to address the above research questions because they have evolved the behavioral capacity to flexibly track resources (floral nectar and pollen) in complex and constantly changing multi-sensory environments; they are highly amenable to experimental study of behavior under laboratory and field conditions; they are the main pollinator of numerous native plant species and therefore play critical role in maintaining the function and diversity of natural ecosystems; they have tremendous social and economic value as crop pollinators; and they are easily identified to species while visiting flowers in the wild, thereby enabling ‘citizen scientists’ with different academic backgrounds, perspectives, and life experiences to participate in our field-based research.

To conduct high quality interdisciplinary research using the bumblebee system, we have developed a comprehensive experimental framework that integrates field, laboratory and in silico components. Please see the RESEARCH section for more details on each component.