Adaptations and Constraints in a Group of Keystone Pollinators: Implications for a Changing World.

EPA Grant Number: F6F21398
Title: Adaptations and Constraints in a Group of Keystone Pollinators: Implications for a Changing World.
Investigators: Eaton-Mordas, Alexander
Institution: University of Arizona
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: September 1, 2006 through September 1, 2009
Project Amount: $108,674
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Fellowship - Terrestrial Systems Ecology


Recent advances in our understanding of how animals perceive and respond to their environment have significantly enhanced our understanding of the adaptive nature of plant-pollinator mutualisms. Additionally, growing interest in understanding the stability of mutualistic interactions on both ecological and evolutionary time scales offers to provide an effective basis for assessing targets for conservation. Through the study of a trait that may influence range-size and floral visitation patterns in a group of keystone Neotropical pollinators, this project aims to link these two fields and provide a cognitive approach to our understanding of the stability of mutualistic interactions. The ultimate goal is to produce testable predictions of the long-term stability of mutualisms in light of the current trends of climate change, deforestation and habitat alteration.


In the Neotropics, euglossine bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) are arguably the most important biotic agents of pollination. Male euglossine bees exhibit the unique behavior of visiting flowering plants for the purpose of collecting volatile floral chemicals. These chemicals are collected and stored in enlarged and highly modified hind tibiae. It is now known that these odors play a role in the mating behavior of male bees. However, whether this odor signal contains information in a male-male context, male-female context, or both, remains to be seen. By using a combination of behavioral study, sensory physiology, population genetics and analytical chemistry, I aim to assess the ultimate addressee of this signal, the role that it plays in the mating biology of these bees, and how this signal and the preferences for it vary through space and time.

Expected Results:

By examining the spatial and temporal patterns of odor recognition, collection and preference, and by comparing them to population genetic structure and assessing levels of gene flow, I expect to distinguish between the roles of behavioral plasticity, rapid adaptive evolution, drift and genetic constraints on this novel behavior that influences floral visitation rates and preferences of this important pollinator group. Ultimately, this work will enable the development of targeted conservation efforts for this important group of Neotropical pollinators, and may provide a more realistic theoretical basis for the study of the evolutionary and ecological stability of mutualistic plant-pollinator interactions.

Supplemental Keywords:

Orchid Bees, Adaptive Evolution, Cognitive Ecology, Sensory Physiology, Population Genetics, Evolutionary Conservation Biology, Plant-Animal Interactions, Neotropics,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, climate change, Air Pollution Effects, Monitoring/Modeling, Habitat, Environmental Monitoring, Biology, Atmosphere, habitat dynamics, adaptive genetic variation, biodiversity, plant insect interactions, pollination, habitat fragmentation, conservation biology, deforestation, population genetics

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2007
  • 2008
  • Final