Research

Buzz Pollination and Bumblebee Behaviour

Buzz pollination involves bees vibrating flowers in order to collect pollen. There are many fascinating aspects to this behaviour, from the biomechanics of buzzes to coevolution of buzzes with flower structure (check out our quick guide, Pritchard & Vallejo-Marin, in press). For this project (funded by the Leverhulme Trust) I am looking at how bees apply buzzes to flowers and how this is affected by experience.

My first set of experiments (Pritchard & Vallejo-Marin, 2020) looked at the biomechanical properties of the buzzes bees make during buzz pollination. During flower-buzzing bumblebees use the same muscles as during defense and flight, but are the vibrations the same?

Looking in detail at the vibrations produced during flower-buzzing, defence-buzzing, and flight, we found clear differences between these vibrations. Flower buzzes had higher frequencies, velocities, and accelerations than the other buzzes. High acceleration buzzes result in more pollen being released from anthers, suggesting that flower buzzes might have adapted to best obtain pollen from flowers.

Spatial Cognition in Wild Hummingbirds

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Until recently I studied small-scale navigation in Rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus). To forage effectively, these little birds remember individual flowers within the territory. The hummingbirds do not remember flowers in terms of their physical appearance, but instead remember the spatial location of a flower within the territory. Very little is known about how the hummingbirds remember the spatial location of a flower, the cues they use, and how this relates to navigation in other animals.

Continuing work I started during my PhD, I then then examined how hummingbirds use environmental information, particularly visual cues, to return to the location of a flower. Working in the Canadian Rockies over the summer, I used field experiments to tease apart what the hummingbirds remembered about flower locations. During my postdoc, I also started to use visual tracking software to extract and analyse flight paths, as well as modelling the potential visual information available to the birds using cutting-edge photogrammetry tools. These methods allowed me to analyse the behaviour and visual cues used by hummingbirds in unprecedented detail.

Previous Research

Visual Categorisation in Wild Magpies 

During my Masters at the University of Exeter, I carried out a short project on the visual cognition of wild Eurasian Magpies (Pica pica) under the supervision of Prof. Stephen Lea. I used field experiments to compare how well the wild birds acquired different types of categorisations.

Mate-directed Behaviour in Northern Fulmars

With Pamela Barlow and Alexandra Torok, and supervised by Matthew Collett, I have studied mate-directed behaviour in Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) at a colony on Lundy Island.