From Plant Press, Vol. 19, No. 3, July 2016.
By Gary A. Krupnick
Pollination biology was the focus of the 14th Smithsonian Botanical Symposium, held 20 May 2016 at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and the United States Botanic Garden (USBG) in Washington, DC. Titled, “Bats, Bees, Birds, Butterflies and Bouquets: New Research in Pollination Biology,” the meeting featured seven invited speakers, a poster session, and an evening reception. The conference brought together over 340 biologists, ecologists, government officials, horticulturalists, and master gardeners to celebrate the progress of pollination biology and to address issues of pollinator loss and conservation.
The Symposium began with opening remarks by Maureen Kearney (Associate Director for Science, NMNH) and Laurence Dorr (Chair of Botany, NMNH). Kearney praised the partnership between NMNH and USBG, and mentioned how the symposium adds to the intellectual environment of the museum which often exercises an interdisciplinary research approach with a deep organismal focus in systematics, ecology, evolutionary biology, and behavior.
After the opening remarks, Kenneth Wurdack (Curator and Cuatrecasas Committee Chair, NMNH) presented the 14th José Cuatrecasas Medal in Tropical Botany to Kamaljit S. Bawa. This prestigious award is presented annually to a scholar who has contributed significantly to advancing the field of tropical botany. Bawa, a Professor of Biology from the University of Massachusetts, was commended for his extensive contributions to tropical biology, international conservation, and pollination biology. In his acceptance speech Bawa expressed his appreciation and gratitude to the Smithsonian Institution and the selection committee. He was delighted to see so many friends and colleagues and gave thanks to all who have inspired him.
Both Laurence Dorr and Seán Brady (Curator of Bees, NMNH) served as conveners.
The first speaker was Sam Droege (USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center) who spoke about “Patterns in pollen and plant specialization among native bees in eastern North America.” Droege’s macro photographs of bee portraits from his online reference catalog provided the backdrop for his talk about pollination from the bee’s point of view. First he spoke about the high diversity of bee species in the United States – about 4,000 species. He pointed out that there are nearly as many bee species in Prince George’s County, Maryland (249 species) as there are in the United Kingdom (250 species). He explained that 250 million years of evolution has led to complex and varied floral bee designs, nutritious pollen, complex secondary compounds, and complex bee communities that reflect plant diversity.