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Expanding the niche of a specialized seed predator

Please join us on Friday, November 19th for our November meeting! The meeting will be held on Zoom, with a pre-meeting social starting at 6:30, followed by the usual business meeting at 7:30 and the talk by our speaker. The talk will be screen shared. Afterward we will have a Q&A and members are free to hang around or leave at their leisure afterward. Please email to request the Zoom info.

October's speaker will be Dr. Mattheau Comerford, giving a talk titled Expanding the niche of a specialized seed predator: Populations of the red-shouldered soapberry bug (Jadera haematoloma) pollinate the seeds they consume.

Abstract: Plant-pollinating, seed-predators are partners in a specialized plant-insect mutualism where insects pollinate the seeds that they later consume. Such relationships have proven rare and provide unique windows into the mechanisms that drive (co-)evolution. We combine natural history and citizen/community science observations to identify the red-shouldered bug, Jadera haematoloma, as the first Hemipteran member of this exclusive guild. We then use lab- and field-based experiments to test the hypothesis that J. haematoloma are consuming nectar, collecting pollen and redistributing it to other flowers. We find that this interaction is antagonistic with its host plants and represents an early stage in the evolutionary continuum of pollinator seed predator interactions. Furthermore, this expands our understanding of the diet-breadth of J. haematoloma, which is a model system for rapid ecological adaptation, thought to be solely driven by host-plant-associated differences in access to their primary food source – seeds of their host plant.

Mattheau's Bio: Mattheau Comerford is an evolutionary biologist whose research is focused on the rapid ecological adaptations of insects to the swiftly changing world during the Anthropocene. He received his BA and MA at Wesleyan University working with Michael Singer and is a past member of the Connecticut Entomological Society. He recently received his PhD from Rice University where his work spanned a wide assortment of entomological study systems ranging from cynipid gall wasps to red shouldered soapberry bugs. He is currently a post-Doctoral fellow at UMass Boston where he is exploring the molecular underpinnings of insect diet-breadth evolution. His interests include multi-trophic interactions, plant-pollinator niches, spatial sorting, and rapid adaptation.


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