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Biodiversity Blog

 

Meet Outreach Program Coordinator: Laurel Treviño

2019 Laurel setting up lab
 Laurel setting up the lab for the Native Bees of Texas course.

Laurel Treviño is Outreach Program Coordinator in Dr. Shalene Jha’s lab in the Department of Integrative Biology. Members of the Jha Lab examine ecological and evolutionary processes across biological scales, from genes to landscapes, to quantify global change impacts on plant-animal interactions, movement ecology, and the provisioning of ecosystem services. Laurel also spends much time photographing native bees as seen in a blog on nesting leaf cutter bees.

Laurel tells us about the impactful work she does with native bees and plants.

  • Tell us a bit about what you do as an Outreach Program Coordinator.

I develop educational material and curriculum on native bees and plants, organize public engagement events, and give presentations and courses to inform the public about the importance of conserving these native pollinators in Texas ecosystems.

  • How did you get this program started?

I began to develop a public engagement program in 2015 with Dr. Shalene Jha here at UT Austin. It started when Shalene, a lab manager, two graduate students and I made information posters to thank farmers and nature preserve staff for allowing the Jha lab to do research and collect insect pollinators on their land.

At the time, we also collaborated with biologists in Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPWD) and other organizations to develop outreach material such as simplified identification guides and habitat management and monitoring guidelines. For this, I consulted with various bee experts and did research on ways to present scientific information to a broad audience effectively. While designing educational posters and leaflets, I learned to take photos of native bees and secured permission to use photographers’ and scientists’ photos.

Between 2015 and 2016, we developed more material on native bees in response to an increased demand from school teachers, nature center staff, and TPWD biologists. By 2017, the lab was getting calls from land owners and community members, and we realized that answering questions one-on-one would not meet the public demand for information on native bee conservation.   

Apidae web
 Materials for the Native Bees of Texas course.

In 2017, at the invitation of TPWD biologists, I gave a presentation on surveying and monitoring native pollinators at a native pollinator workshop. The feedback I received from biologists and Texas Master Naturalists made me realize that the public needed to learn how to identify native bees before learning to survey them. So we began to design a basic course on native bee ecology, taxonomy, and conservation. During this process, the programs coordinator of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center asked us if we could give a talk on native bees, and instead of a talk, we offered them a half-day course in 2018.

By 2018, our public engagement program included guidelines for native bee monitoring and habitat management, a simplified bee ID guide, illustrated species lists for 50+ sites, and a basic course on native bees in Texas. Since then, I’ve developed more material to complement the course topics: taxonomy and identification, biology and ecology, and conservation through best management practices of native bee habitat.

Members of the Jha lab have helped develop and currently use our outreach material for campus events, such as CNS Family Day, ESI Hot Science Cool Talks, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center pollinator Nature Nights, and fundraising festivals, as well as state events, such as the San Antonio Rodeo, the West Texas Pumpkin Patch festival, and the Texas Pollinator Bioblitz.

  • How did you become interested in pollinator research?

My background is in biology (B.S. UNAM, Mexico), botany and wildland resource sciences (M.A. and M.S. UC Berkeley, CA). Before joining the Jha Lab, I worked in environmental education at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I’ve taught biology and ecology at the secondary, community college, and university levels, as well as developing biology curricula and doing research in herbaria and modeling plant species distribution (e.g., Opuntia and Nopalea species in Mexico).     

I crossed over to entomology from botany by way of native bees. Venturing into the world of these superb pollinators led me to refresh my knowledge in various fields, such as entomology, pollination biology, and population and community ecology. The challenge of developing a public engagement program in the Jha Lab, necessitated learning more about native bees and the native plants they use, as well as developing a pedagogically effective curriculum to communicate the lab's scientific research results to a general public while producing educational material and activities for various media.          

American bumblebee top folded wings
 American bumblebee.

While studying these charismatic insects I integrated my seemingly disparate fields of interest in ethnobotany, economic botany, native plants, restoration and conservation. I also started incorporating native bees into botanical illustrations.

I work to communicate these dimensions of science to a broad and diverse audience in both of my native languages, English and Spanish.

  • Do you sense that Austin has become more aware of issues surrounding pollinators and that current concerns are being addressed in some way?

Yes, we started sensing an interest in native bees in 2015 and the awareness has been increasing steadily along with people’s general knowledge of native bees and the native plants they depend on.

  • You also teach some classes, yes? Tell us a bit about what your classes cover, and if there are any upcoming classes people can enroll in?

The next Native Bees of Texas course will be held the first Saturday in October 2022. It’s a half-day course with lectures and activities including labs to observe insects with scopes and outdoor observations of live bees foraging in the native plant gardens of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which has hosted this course since 2018.

  • Where can readers who are interested in learning about and helping our pollinators look for more information?

For more information on native bees, visit the Jha Lab webpage and the Biodiversity Center's updated UT Bee Campus webpage!

 

 

A Northern Cardinal in North Austin
March of the Central Texas Butterflies

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