Taking Flight: Lisa Hannon Heads South for Research Trip to Costa Rica, Argentina

This past February and March, SEFS doctoral student Lisa Hannon took advantage of a rare opportunity to combine a research visit to Costa Rica with an intensive field course in Argentina studying hymenopterans, the third largest order of insects, including wasps, bees and ants.

Hannon, left, with with fellow HYM Course students from Alaska and Taiwan.

Hannon, left, with with fellow HYM Course students from Alaska and Taiwan.

An NSF Graduate Fellow, Hannon works with SEFS Professor Sharon Doty in the Plant Microbiology Lab, and some of her research involves studying agriculturally important microbes associated with sustainable Coffea arabica production. She also is researching how landscape and farmer practices in coffee plantations impact parasitoid wasp communities, which is important for integrated pest management.

Improving the sustainability of coffee production is a huge research area—whether through reducing the reliance on chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides or pesticides), or by maintaining natural areas to provide habitat for native pollinators or parasitoid wasps. Globally, more than 100 million people depend on coffee production for subsistence; in Mexico and Central America alone, the production and processing of coffee employs approximately 8.5 million people.

So for the first leg of her trip in Costa Rica, Hannon spent a week meeting with research collaborators and visiting her coffee plantation field sites. “Usually, I am in the Tarrazú Valley during the rainy season, when there is greater biodiversity of bees and wasps,” says Hannon. “My field sites are located in the cloud forests on Costa Rica’s Pacific slope, so we typically receive three meters of rain while I’m there sampling. So traveling this year during the dry season to see the coffee harvest was a nice change of pace for me.”

Argentine micro-hymenoptera (4 mm)

Argentine micro-hymenoptera (4 mm)

For the second leg, Hannon then continued south to the highlands of northwest Argentina to participate in a professional hymenopteran course, known as HYM Course, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution. She joined a group of 20 researchers selected to attend; most were from North, Central and South America, but some traveled from as far away as Australia and Angola. Course participants included other graduate students, university professors, laboratory technicians and even two curators from the American Natural History Museum in New York. They received highly specialized training in identifying parasitic and predatory wasps, sawflies, wood wasps, bees and ants—all in a novel and unfamiliar location—and they learned taxonomic identification, advanced field collection methods and specialized preservation techniques.

“This course was a wonderful opportunity not only to receive individualized instruction from expert researchers, but also to meet potential collaborators for future projects,” says Hannon. “I feel very fortunate for being selected to attend.”

Photos © Lisa Hannon.

Hannon sampling in the Sierra Velasco mountains at the former Argentine president’s private hunting lodge.

Hannon sampling in the Sierra Velasco mountains at the former Argentine president’s private hunting lodge.


Graduate Student Symposium Set for March 14!

Coming up on Friday, March 14, is the 11th annual Graduate Student Symposium at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)! (The original date was moved back two weeks from Feb. 14 due to a scheduling conflict.)

Organized by and for SEFS graduates students, the day-long symposium—held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Forest Club Room—highlights the research of our graduate students through presentations and a poster session. It’s an excellent opportunity for our students to present to their colleagues and professors, gain valuable experience and feedback, network with professional contacts and alumni, and also learn more about the work other students are doing at SEFS. Undergraduates are also encouraged to participate in the poster presentation.

Graduate Student SymposiumThe day’s schedule and full line-up of speakers haven’t been finalized yet, but the symposium usually kicks off with keynote presentations from leaders in the field, followed by graduate student talks and then poster presentations. The Forest Club Room will be a hive of activity and energy all day, and it’s a terrific showcase of the SEFS student community. So get involved and come out and join us on March 14!

If you’d like to submit an abstract for a presentation (graduate students) or a poster (undergraduates), email Brooke Cassell with your abstract by March 1 to ensure your space in the symposium. There will be awards recognizing the best presenters and posters.

For more information, check out the great poster (at left, created by Anna Simpson!) or visit the Graduate Student Symposium site. You can also contact two of the organizers, Luke Dow and Lisa Hannon, with any questions. They’ll be updating the schedule, speakers and other activities as we get closer to the event!

The Buzz is Back!

Not since the 1990s had the buzz of the white-bottomed Western Bumble Bee (Bombus occidentalis) been heard in Washington State. But last week at a park in Brier, just northeast of Seattle, a group of bee enthusiasts and biologists from the University of Washington documented the first official, confirmed B. occidentalis sighting in two decades!

Western Bumble Bee

Will Peterman snapped this unmistakable photo of a Western Bumble Bee with its telltake white rump.

Among the bee hunters that afternoon was Lisa Hannon, an NSF Graduate Fellow with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences who’s currently researching how landscape factors and farmer practices impact parasitoid wasp communities (important for integrated pest management). Hannon had received a call a couple weeks ago from Will Peterman, a writer, photographer and bee expert in Seattle, to join him in trying to spot a Western Bumble Bee.

Peterman was following up on a year-old possible sighting that a local homeowner had logged with the Xerces Society as part of a citizen science initiative. Hannon’s lab mate, Hillary Burgess, was working on her Master’s at the time, and she was involved in that initial sighting. As part of her thesis project, “Local and Landscape-Level Influences of Bee Abundance and Diversity in Residential Gardens,” Burgess worked with landowners across King and Snohomish counties to keep detailed visitation logs regarding the pollinators visiting their gardens. The homeowner who spotted the bees was collecting survey data for her.

Now it was time to see if the bees were still there.

“On the day I searched, we hit pay dirt after four hours of scouring blackberry brambles,” says Hannon. They took photos of two or three queen bees, and then a second group of UW students returned on Sunday and reconfirmed at least two queen bees. This discovery has stoked hopes among bee lovers and biologists that the species, which is a crucial pollinator for many plants, might be making a comeback in the area (the Seattle Times ran a story about the exciting finding on July 14, as did an NPR program in California on July 18).

Lisa Hannon

Lisa Hannon doing field work in Costa Rica.

B. occidentalis was once one of the most common bumble bees found on the West Coast, says Hannon, with a range extending from Alaska down to California, and east to the Rocky Mountains. The Xerces Society—a nonprofit that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat—considers this native species imperiled due to scattered populations and steep declines, among other factors. Currently, remnant populations can be found in the northern or eastern-most areas of their historical range, but colonies from southern British Columbia to central California are almost nonexistent.

Also along for the bee-spotting adventure was Evan Sugden, an adjunct professor with the UW Department of Biology, as well as several UW graduate students and a couple undergrads who were taking Sugden’s summer bee-keeping course.

“Normally, I chase bees and wasps in high mountain Costa Rican coffee farms and cloud forests,” says Hannon, “so it was a real treat to be able to work close to home!”

Photos: Western Bumble Bee © Will Peterman; Lisa Hannon in Costa Rica © Lisa Hannon.