In unpredictable environments, organisms can avoid the risk of reproductive failure by hedging their bets: producing offspring that emerge over multiple years, instead of just one. This strategy is always costly in constant environments, but when the environment is sufficiently unpredictable, it can increase the long-term growth rate. Many plants and animals produce offspring with mixed emergence times, yet few empirical studies have tested whether these life cycles are beneficial—and, thus, truly bet-hedging—or costly. My research focuses on understanding whether the wild bee Colletes validus hedges its bets by producing offspring that emerge over two years. To do so, I first measure demographic rates in the field, then use population models to test whether observed rates of emergence meet the criteria for bet-hedging. My work explores how pollinators will fare in rapidly changing landscapes and seeks to understand the extent that theoretical bet-hedging models reflect the real world.
Nick is a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the Biology department. He expects to complete his studies in May 2023. Nick received a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Studies from Tufts. As an undergraduate, he studied bumble bee ecology and served as president of the university's student garden. These activities fostered a deep interest in plants and pollinators that spurred his Ph.D. work. During that time, he also committed to science communication, delivering workshops about pollinators to local gardening groups, beekeeping clubs, and school students. He is a founding member of the Tufts Pollinator Initiative, which is an ecological and educational effort to conserve and raise awareness about urban pollinators. The group plants gardens, teaches classes undergraduates about pollinators, and holds regular events that are open to the entire Tufts community. He is also co-president of the Tufts Biology Union of Graduate Students and captain of the Biology Department’s summer softball team.
Current Studies and Future Goals
When asked what he found most meaningful about his field of study, Nick responded with the following: “Although bees are important pollinators, we know very little about the lives of wild bees when they’re not foraging on flowers. My work involves digging into (quite literally) the life cycle of ground-nesting cellophane bees. My TIE-funded project stems from an intriguing observation that I made during my first year in graduate school: some individual bees become adults after one years, whereas others after two. Are two-year bees advantageous to produce or is it a developmental constraint? How does the environment shape this phenomenon? No one knows the answers to these questions, and filling those gaps is precisely what drives me.”
When asked what interested him in becoming a TIE Fellow, Nick responded with the following: “I applied to be a TIE fellow in order to purse my questions about wild bee life cycle variation and to meet other graduate students at Tufts interested in the environment. It is easy to get tunnel vision in graduate school when working on a very specific project, so the TIE fellowship program will be a great way for me to think and learn about techniques outside of my field.”
After Tufts, Nick plans on working at an undergraduate-focused institution to generate the biological knowledge needed for effective bee conservation, mentor the next-generation of environmental scientists, and teach community members how to conserve pollinators.
When not doing school work, Nick enjoys exploring wild places, going for long runs, tending his gardens, and experimenting to create the perfect tortilla.