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Ryan E Brock

Ryan E Brock

Email: Ryan.Brock@uea.ac.uk

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I graduated from UEA in 2015 with a BSc (Hons) in Biological Sciences, mainly focusing on evolutionary biology, genetics and ecology during my time there. My research interests mainly involve the evolution of sociality in the bees, wasps and ants. I spent my undergraduate dissertation investigating the epigenetic mechanisms underlying sociality in the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, under the supervision of Professor Andrew Bourke. This, in combination, with my taking of the social evolution module, kick-started my enthusiasm for the social insects and prompted me to study them further.

Following my undergraduate degree, I began a Master’s by Research in the lab of Dr. Seirian Sumner at the University of Bristol. My research involved the analysis of caste differentiation in the Neotropical swarm-founding wasp, Polybia quadricincta, followed by the sequencing, construction and subsequent analysis of the transcriptomes of both P. quadricincta and Angiopolybia pallens (another swarm-founding wasp). Alongside this, I was also involved in a large review which dealt with the economic and ecological value of wasps. I am currently in the process of writing up and defending my Master’s thesis and am looking forward to returning to UEA in January.

 

Current Research

Social organisation of the tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)

Given their importance as pollinators, the decline of bumblebees – thought to be a result of agricultural intensification – is highly concerning. Interestingly, Bombus hypnorum represents a particularly novel case when compared to other species of bumblebee, having spread rapidly throughout the UK since its natural colonisation from continental Europe in 2001 to become one of the most common bumblebee species. Previous research has hinted at the ecological reasons for B. hypnorum’s success in the UK but, to date, little is known of its social organisation and how this may contribute to its success.

Co-operation among nest-mates and the dynamics of colony cycles are two highly variable traits across bumblebee species. Often, as a result of relatedness differences between nest members, there is conflict between the queen and her workers over male production and ratios of sexual brood. However, unlike other bumblebee species, B. hypnorum queens may mate with multiple males which, according to inclusive fitness predictions, should increase colony co-operation. However, previous tests of this have been inconclusive. Furthermore, there is anecdotal evidence that B. hypnorum undergoes two colony cycles per year (which would make it the first species of bumblebee in the UK to do so) but this hasn’t yet been completely proven.

Therefore, this project will make use of colony censuses, behavioural observations and microsatellites to elucidate the colony cycle dynamics and levels of co-operation and conflict within nests of B. hypnorum and whether such characteristics are helpful in explaining its success in the UK.

 

Publications

Sumner, S. & Brock, R.E. (2016) In defence of wasps: why squashing them comes with a sting in the tail. The Conversation.

Brock, R.E. & Sumner, S. (2016) Social wasps: No ASBO required. Professional Pest Controller, 84, pp. 16-19.

 

Conferences

International Union for the Study of Social Insects NW European Section Meeting, 17-18th December 2015, University of Bristol.

 

Supervisory Team

Professor Andrew Bourke, University of East Anglia 

Dr. Seirian Sumner, University College London (previously University of Bristol)