In social insects, changes in behavior are accompanied by changes in the brain. This neuroplasticity may be associated with experience and/or age. The ability to adjust neural investment with experience and in anticipation of age-related shifts in behavior is important for facilitating colony life. Did the evolution of experience- and age-based neuroplasticity precede or follow evolutionary origins of sociality? To address this question, we are using confocal microscopy to characterize neuroanatomical changes associated with age and experience (both foraging and social interactions) in solitary alkali bees. We are also interested in relationships between neuroplasticity and brood care. Among social insects, queens dominate reproduction while workers forego their own reproduction to care for siblings. How does the brain influence this process? What does a ‘brood care’ brain look like and are workers born this way? We are using structure-specific volumetric changes and the localization and quantification of octopaminergic and dopaminergic neurons to assess the effects of brood care experience on the brains of bumble bee queens and workers.
I enjoy spending time chasing insects, hiking in the woods, doing anything on the water, and playing video games to destress. My wife and I also enjoy watching women's soccer. We have season tickets to the Utah Royals FC and follow the U.S. Women's National Team. Our three cats—Darwin, Tonks, and Katydid—are adorable demons that keep our lazy days interesting.