Miriam H. Richards

Professor, Biological Sciences

Miriam Richards

Office: Mackenzie Chown F 240
905 688 5550 x4406

Social bee-haviour
Sociobiology is the study of the proximate and ultimate causes of sociality in animals. One of the most interesting aspects of animal sociality is the evolution of cooperative behaviour, which is observed in many different kinds of animals, from bees to humans. In extreme cases such as colonial social insects, individuals known as workers or soldiers display a remarkable degree of self-sacrifice in aiding other individuals, foregoing reproduction or even dying to defend the colony. The existence of altruism in insects and other animals, including humans, poses a fascinating evolutionary conundrum: how does reproductive altruism evolve when altruists contribute fewer genes to succeeding generations than do the selfish individuals that they help? Finding answers to this question is the main focus of research in my lab. For several years, we have been carrying out detailed field studies of social bees with widely differing levels of altruistic behaviour. In these studies, we first quantify exactly how helpful supposed altruists are, and then look for clues as to how and why observed levels of altruism and cooperation are maintained in different bee populations and species. Recently, most of our studies have focussed on carpenter bees, especially the large Eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica, and several small carpenter bees in the genus Ceratina.

Bees in (former) landfills
Until 2001, there was an enormous landfill site next to the Brock University campus. The landfill was closed and turned into a park that opened in 2003. In 2011, two more landfills were turned into parks, one in Pt. Colborne and one in Wainfleet. From the earliest stages of revegetation of these sites from which bees (and practically everything else) had been eradicated, we have been monitoring bee populations in these former landfills. Remarkably, until we began these studies, nobody had ever made a comprehensive list of bee species in Niagara, and nobody really knew how long it would take for populations to recover. We have discovered that there are at least 150 bee species at our sites. Amazingly, bee populations and communities recover extremely rapidly, moving into newly revegetated sites more or less immediately. It seems to take about 3-5 years for bee communities in these new sites to become indistinguishable from those in relatively undisturbed, surround areas.
A complete list of recent papers on these topics can be found at brockbeelab.wordpress.com.

I am always happy to hear from prospective students with an interest in bees.  I am looking for students with demonstrated research skills, particularly students who have completed 4th year or MSc theses.  If you think you would be a good addition to our lab, first check brockbeelab.wordpress.com, then contact me with an outline of your research interests and a summary of your relevant accomplishments (e.g. courses, projects, work experience. etc.).