ABS 2022
The Nature of Natural History and the Evolution of Behavior
William T Wcislo. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Balboa, Ancon, Panama

Claude Bernard and August Krogh famously argued there is a “felicitious choice” in selecting a species for research, because of its natural history traits. Their highly successful approach assumes extensive natural history knowledge. It is central to animal behavior research at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, due in large part to the legacies of Bill Eberhard and Mary Jane West-Eberhard.
    I will review insights gained from a “non-traditional model,” centered on Megalopta sweet bees, and other related taxa. These bees show the value of the Bernard-Krogh approach, as they are unusual sweat bees in certain aspects. Being nocturnal they solved extreme visual challenges to enable foraging in dim light using an apposition eye. The neuroethology of their vision-controlled flight and navigational capabilities is better understood than for any other nocturnal insect. Females also teeter on the brink of solitary and eusocial behavior, enabling questions about the origins of sociality, at multiple levels of biological organization.  Leveraging characteristics of novel models leads to breakthroughs in understanding of visual and social systems.