Our November speaker will be Dr. Carla Essenberg. Dr. Essenberg is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at Bates College. She completed a BA in Music and Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, did her PhD in Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at the University of California-Riverside, and recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Arizona. Her research explores ways in which pollinator foraging behavior influence plant ecology and evolution and includes ecological field studies, theoretical modeling, and behavioral experiments with bumblebees. She teaches statistics and ecology and enjoys discussing science and bees with people of all ages and walks of life.
Dr. Essenberg’s presentation will give a plant’s perspective on pollinators and explore, in plants, characteristics that we may be used to thinking of as uniquely human: cheating and cooperation, deception and honesty. Usually, plants and their pollinators cooperate with each other: the plants give their pollinators food, such as nectar and pollen, and the pollinators carry the plants’ pollen from one individual to another, allowing them to mate with each other. However, some plant species (possibly including some of your favorite orchids) are deceptive cheats that lure pollinators to themselves with showy flowers but provide no rewards. Many other species seem to have taken a more subtle approach to cheating: they make some flowers that are rewarding and others that are not. However, things get really interesting when you look closely at the flowers of these species, because in many cases, they provide pollinators with information about how rewarding (or unrewarding) they are.