We are excited to welcome Felipe Vieira de Freitas as a new postdoctoral researcher in the lab!
Felipe Freitas has joined the lab, settled into his office, and is starting in on new projects centered around bee phylogenomics. Felipe is supported from the collaborative NSF grant "Bees of the World -- Phylogenomics, Biogeography, and Evolution of Host-Plant Associations". He'll lead up his own work, contribute to larger project goals, and help to mentor graduate students at WSU, Cornell, and Utah State University. If you're at ESA this year in Vancouver, make sure to find him to say hello. He and NSF co-PI Michael Branstetter are organizing a symposium titled: "Advances in bee systematics and evolution".
Silas Bossert received recognition for his efforts to make his data publicly accessible and his protocols repeatable.
In June 2022, Silas was the winner of the Open Science Promotion Award for an early career researcher. This honor was awarded by the Society for Open Reliable Transparent Ecology and Evolutionary biology (SORTEE).
Silas showcased his recent publication on the bee family Andrenidae, and all of the associated data and supplementary information (with specific commands) and vouchering of specimens. He makes efforts to follow the FAIR principle (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) for each phase of his work.
Nate Green applied for and received a fellowship to work at JTNP for a week in April. He had a great time looking for pollen wasps and has written a blog post to share. Read on!
In North America, pollen wasps are only found on the western half of the continent, with most of the diversity being found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. After doing some preliminary research, I found that there were zero public records of Pseudomasaris inside the boundaries of Joshua Tree (map below), despite many records of the group around (and on the very border) of the park. I knew this would be a great opportunity for me to make new records in the park, collect specimens for future DNA work, observe new species in the wild, and to have fun exploring an absolutely breathtaking part of the world!
I submitted my application in January and was thrilled to find out in February that I was awarded the grant! I spent the next few months preparing. I did lots of research on the park’s fauna and it’sits distribution. Pseudomasaris are always associated with their host plant, which varies from species to species, but Pseudomasaris are generally found on: Phacelia, Penstemon, or Eriodictyon. I used the Consortium of California Herbaria data portal (cch2.org) to find records of the plants in the park and worked with the park botanist to find potential sites for Pseudomasaris.
Finally, on April 13th (My birthday!) I arrived in Palm Springs, where I stayed the night before traveling to Twentynine Palms. While working in the park, I stayed at the Luckie Center, housing owned by the NPS which is free for researchers at the park to use. It’s located on the north edge of the park and is a beautiful spot to watch the sunset. While there I met Bill, an NPS employee working on bighorn sheep in the park.
I spent nine days exploring the park and the surrounding area. I saw a lot of the Joshua Tree highlights: Skull Rock, Cracked Rock, Jumbo Rocks, Arch Rock (there are a lot of named rocks…), the Cactus Gardens, Ryan’s Mountain, Barker Dam, Cow Camp, Cottonwood Springs, Pinto Dunes, Lost Horse Mountain, Covington Flats, and, my favorite, Eureka Peak. Most of my time was spent in the northwest corner of the park, which has gotten the most rain. Other sections of the park saw less rain this winter and not nearly as much was blooming.
On my second day in the park, the first successful Pseudomasaris day, I got back to the Luckie Center and started chatting with Bill. We talked about my wasps and how I had been working with the wonderful Tasha LaDoux to pick collecting sites. He suggested that I check out Cow Camp, an old cattle watering hole with a dam and standing water. ‘Everyone loves finding water in the desert’, Bill told me. It’s a place most people that go to Joshua Tree never get to see, but since I had a research permit, I was allowed to go anywhere I needed. Since plants need water, and wasps need plants, why not find water?
The next morning I continued to my planned site near Black Rocks Campground and had a successful morning where I found two species of Pseudomasaris. In the afternoon, I decided to try out Cow Camp. It was a quick third of a mile hike from the parking lot over to the base of the dam (I suspect I saw a Pseudomasaris at some Phacelia on the way, but I scared it off and didn’t get a good look). I quickly realized that if I wanted to actually find water in the desert, I was going to have to scramble up giant boulders. So I did, and it was worth being sore for the next few days. I wasn’t able to get down to the water (there didn’t seem to be much flowering near it anyways) but the views were incredible. To the west I could see for miles across the valley, to the mountains where I had spent the morning. To the north, and below me, was the small reservoir created by the dam. I sat on that rock formation for a while just taking in the world.
While in the park, I collected approximately 100 specimens. Less than I hoped for, but with many years in a row of major droughts, it’s to be expected. Of those, nine were Pseudomasaris! I had the opportunity to collect a lot more than nine, but with the dry spring I didn’t want to risk hurting the population. I found three species in the park, P. edwardsii, P. coquilletti, and the less common P. macswaini. I suspect that at least two more species can be found in the park. P. wheeleri is likely present in the far western portion of the park, but emerges in mid-March, earlier than the other species. P. bifarius is likely in some of the southern canyons, but those areas were hit heavily by the drought this year and did not see many flowers blooming.
I’m considering going back next year to continue looking for Pseudomasaris and to document other Hymenoptera in the park. A few years ago, Dr. Michael Orr visited the park to document bees, but bees and other Hymenopterans are understudied within the bounds of the park. If you study Hymenoptera, consider doing work in Joshua Tree!
Play a role in shaping one of the largest insect collections in the Pacific Northwest US.
There is a new insect collections manager job at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. If you are interested and able to help guide the MT James Entomological Collection into a new era, please apply:
Applications will be reviewed starting April 15, and we’d like to get someone in place as soon as possible. Contact Elizabeth Murray (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have questions.
Our insect museum hosted a demonstration on the basics of shipping delicate dried and pinned insect specimens. The visiting class was the 'Museum Research and Curation' graduate course, taught by Dr. Eric Roalson, and it integrates all the natural history museums on the WSU campus. After a tour of the museum and our imaging system, Silas Bossert led the students in how to properly brace and pack pinned specimens to be ready to be shipped around the world -- hopefully without breaking. Loan shipments are an important component of insect collection management. Silas purposely packed his incorrectly, and was the only one with a broken-off insect head and a few broken legs.
PhD student wanted for an NSF-funded project on bee phylogenomics
You may be a good fit for this position if:
PhD student in bee phylogenomics, fall 2022
Department of Entomology, Washington State University
Position description: We seek an incoming graduate student with an interest in bee systematics and phylogenetic comparative analyses. The successful candidate will collaborate on a multi-institutional project and use the latest molecular and analytical methods to conduct research on bee phylogeny and evolution. This position is partially funded by a US NSF grant. Broad project aims are to: (1) resolve uncertainties in higher-level bee phylogeny and classification, (2) incorporate fossils to reconstruct the global biogeographic history of bees, and (3) analyze patterns of host plant use, revealing how host plant specialization impacts rates of diversification in bees. The project will generate genomic level data across the bee tree of life. The NSF grant is a collaboration with Elizabeth Murray and Silas Bossert at WSU, Bryan Danforth at Cornell University, Michael Branstetter at the USDA Pollinating Insects Research Unit & Utah State University, and Paulmichael Maxfield at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The PhD student will contribute to a comprehensive phylogenomic dataset of bees and will develop their own research project on a group of bees, including analyses on host plant evolution.
Qualifications: MS in entomology, biology, or a related field. Preference given to candidates who have skills in insect systematics, bee identification, bioinformatics, and/or molecular lab work.
Professional expectations: The PhD student will work at Washington State University, Pullman, in the lab of Elizabeth Murray and Silas Bossert. There will be several opportunities for travel during the appointment, including at least one scientific meeting a year. PIs will encourage professional development and creative and independent approaches to problem solving. We expect the graduate student will help foster a collaborative and inclusive environment in our team of scientists.
About the lab: We reconstruct the phylogenetic relationships of Hymenoptera to study patterns of evolution (https://murraylabwsu.weebly.com). Our expertise includes phylogenomics, taxonomy, museum curation, molecular dating, diversification, historical biogeography, and comparative analyses. The lab is in the exciting stage of being newly established and building personnel and resources, and we welcome candidates who will contribute to a diverse laboratory environment.
About the location: Washington State University is a land-grant institution located in Pullman, Washington. The Department of Entomology (https://entomology.wsu.edu) hosts facilities such as the MT James Entomological Collection (https://museum.entomology.wsu.edu), the Honey Bee and Pollinator Research, Extension, and Education Facility, and state of the art laboratory equipment. Faculty in Entomology are located on campuses and research & extension centers across the state. Additionally, the University of Idaho is nine miles away and has a community of systematists, which increases opportunities for scientific exchange in on-campus and inter-campus seminars and events.
To apply: Contact Elizabeth Murray (email@example.com) prior to applying; please include your CV along with a description of your background and your fit for the position. The priority deadline for applications to the WSU grad school is January 10, 2022. See https://gradschool.wsu.edu/apply/.
Washington State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action educator and employer. Members of ethnic minorities, women, special disabled veterans, veterans of the Vietnam-era, recently separated veterans, and other protected veterans, persons of disability and/or persons age 40 and over are encouraged to apply.
Thanks to startup funds from the Washington State Potato Commission, funding from the Telford Family Professorship, and to an NSF-DEB grant -- we've been able to purchase critical equipment for the lab. These things will help make our research possible.
pictured above from top left: