Dr. Laurence Packer
"An inordinate fondness for bees"
Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies
I am a melittologist. A melittologist is someone whose main academic passion is the study of wild bees. This means someone who studies bees other than the domesticated western honey bee. It's not that I do not like Apis mellifera, it's just that it is only one out of more than 19,500 described bee species. Few people pay attention to the ~19,500 other bee species, whereas there are whole societies dedicated to the study and culturing of this one. When people find out that I study bees, invariably the next thing they say concerns the honey bee. I will then point out that asking me a question about Apis mellifera is like asking an ornithologist a question about chickens.
Research in my laboratory is diverse, but all aimed at increasing humanity's understanding of bee biology.
The main areas of research that are going on in my laboratory at present, along with the names of lab. personnel whose work primarily fits in that area, is enumerated below. Elsewhere on this website you will find them explaining what they do in their own words.
Bee systematics and taxonomy (including barcoding): Lincoln Best, Sheila Dumesh, Jason Gibbs, Nicholai de Silva. For examples of our morphological systematic/taxonomic work see A95, for an example of barcoding results see A99, for a critique of attacks against barcoding see A100. For comparative morphology (which is a lot of fun to do) see A68 and A69. For examples of our illustrated. User-friendly keys see Keys.
No significance should be attached to the relative numbers of personnel in these different areas: I would happily increase the numbers of people working in any of them (funds permitting). In particular, areas 3 and 4 need some infusion of personnel. And, indeed, there is one whole area which I would very much like to see reintroduced to this mix - bee conservation genetics, an area of research that was very well developed by my PhD student Amro Zayed, who has since become a honey bee geneticist. See A72 and A76 for examples.
My own research primarily involves the systematics of the bee subfamily Xeromelissinae - an obscure, but fascinating group of bees, restricted to the New World south of central Mexico. I have also expended considerable energy leading the global campaign to barcode the bees of the world. I also consider that promulgating the importance of bees is an essential part of my work. For genetic reasons, it seems that bees are more extinction prone than are almost all other organisms (see paper A76) and they are important. This has resulted in my having written a, hopefully, popular book on bees (being released by HarperCollins in spring 2010).
A major goal of my work is to increase the taxonomic breadth of the bee collection at York University. This is now probably the largest bee collection in Canada; it has specimens from over 90 different countries and over 60% of the world's bee genera are represented. This goal encourages me to consider taking on students who have interests in performing fieldwork in parts of the world that are inadequately represented. At present, this particularly refers to Africa.
I have done lots, at departmental, university, national and international levels.
Currently, the main activity that takes up my time in an administrative capacity is that I am co-chair of the Arthropods Specialist Subcommittee(with Paul Catling) of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) www.cosewic.gc.ca/. I also run the bee barcoding campaign of the barcode of life enterprise: www.bee-bol.org (with Fernando Silveira as co-chair and numerous collaborators worldwide).
- A103. Packer, L., J.C. Grixti, R.E. Roughley and R. Hanner. 2009. The status of taxonomy in Canada and the impact of DNA barcoding. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 87(12):1097-1110.
- A102. Gibbs, J., Ascher, J.S. and Packer, L. 2009. Dialictus Robertson, 1902 and Evylaeus Robertson, 1902 (Insecta, Hymenoptera): proposed precedence over Hemihalictus Cockerell, 1897, Sudila Cameron, 1898 and Sphecodogastra Ashmead, 1899. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 66(2): 147-158.
- A101. Colla, S.R., E.Willis, and L.Packer. 2009. Can green roofs provide habitat for bees? Cities and the Environment 2:1.
- A100. Sheffield, C.S., P.D.N. Hebert, P. Kevan and L. Packer. 2009. DNA barcoding a regional bee (Hymenoptera: Apoidea) fauna and its potential for ecological studies. Molecular Ecology Resources. 9:196-207.
- A99. Packer, L., J.Gibbs, C.S. Sheffield and R. Hanner. 2009. DNA barcoding and the mediocrity of morphology. Molecular Ecology Resources. 9:42-50.
- A98. Packer, L. 2009. A remarkable new species of Geodiscelis from Argentina (Hymenoptera: Colletidae). Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Sciences. 112:22-30.
- A97. Danforth, B.N. C. Eardley, L. Packer, K. Walker and F.J. Randrianambinintsoa. 2008. Phylogeny of Halictidae with an emphasis on endemic African Halictinae. Apidologie 39:86-101.
- A96. Almeida, E.A.B., B.N. Danforth and L. Packer. 2008. Phylogeny of the Xeromelissinae (Hymenoptera: Colletidae) based upon morphology and molecules. Apidologie 39:75-85.
- A95. Packer, L. 2008. Phylogeny and classification of the Xeromelissinae (Hymenoptera: Apoidea, Colletidae) with special emphasis upon the genus Chilicola. Systematic Entomology. 33:72-96.
- A94. Colla, S. and L. Packer. 2008. Evidence for the decline of eastern North American bumble bees, with special focus on Bombus affinis Cresson, 1863. Biodiversity and Conservation. 17: 1379-1391.
View Dr Laurence Packer's CV [pdf]
Current Research Funding
NSERC Research Networks Grant
The microgenomics network: advancing knowledge of biodiversity through DNA barcodes (P. Hebert PI with 37 additional applicants including L. Packer) Packer component of above
NSERC discovery grant
CFI, Canadian University Biodiversity Consortium
(York University component)
ORF, Canadian University Biodiversity Consortium
(L. Packer at York as PI)
CFH, Bee Biodiversity in Coffee Plantations in Vietnam
NSERC Research Networks Grant
The Canadian Pollinator Initiative,
PI Dr. P. Kevan, Guelph. York component.
FAO Preparation of a key for the identification of the bee families of the world
Pastel de Choclo
- 2 eggs
- 1 onion
- 1 block hard pressed tofu
- 1 large can of corn
Hard boil some eggs. Dice an onion and fry with chilies, cumin, oregano and salt (all to taste). Crumble a block of hard pressed tofu into the mixture once the onions have become transparent. Cook for 15 minutes. Blend a large can of corn with two eggs, some basil (to taste) and salt. Put the onion-tofu mixture into the bottom of a greased baking pan
Funniest Research Story:
"If all birds dropped dead tomorrow, only chicken farmers and academic ornithologists would be inconvenienced. If all bees died out, there would be worldwide food shortages and perhaps one-quarter of the human population would starve."
That's what I said to an ornithologist, in public, at an international biodiversity meeting sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (I'm very good at making myself popular with people.)