Margaret Couvillon

Assistant Professor

  • Pollinator Biology and Ecology
  • Behavioral Ecology

The ongoing pollinator crisis exemplifies how public interest in scientific issues can be a mixed blessing, simultaneously raising awareness of important issues while also generating rallying cries for untested solutions. For example, lack of forage is considered a factor contributing to bee declines. This stressor can act directly, where hungry bees are unable to meet their nutritional needs, or indirectly, where the resulting nutritional stress reduces the bees’ ability to cope with other stressors, such as diseases and pesticides. Media coverage has been wide, and as a consequence, everyone wants to feed hungry bees by planting bee-friendly flowers indiscriminately. Such help is offered with best intentions, but efficacy is undermined because we do not fully understand how bees are foraging in the existing landscape.

The Couvillon Lab investigates the dynamics of how pollinators collect their food, with a specific focus on honey bee foraging, recruitment, and health. More broadly, we are interested in the behavioral ecology of social insects, in particular the adaptations that have contributed to their success as organisms. 

For more details about my research and the Couvillon lab, please visit www.freelyflyingbees.com

Postdoctoral Fellow in Research, Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, University of Sussex, Brighton, England, 2009-2014

Postdoctoral Fellow in Research and Teaching, University of Arizona, Tucson, 2007-2009

Ph.D. in Behavioral Ecology of Honey bees and Stingless bees, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England, 2007

M.S. in Neurobiology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, 2004

B.S. in Biology, Loyola University New Orleans, Louisiana, 2000

Selected Professional Experience:

2015-2016: Scientific Advisor, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Parma, Italy

2011 – Present: Columnist, The Beekeepers Quarterly

2014 – Present: Associate Editor, Insectes Sociaux, journal of International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI)

Applied and basic questions in honey bee foraging ecology and pollinator health. For more information, see www.freelyflyingbees.com

1.     R Schürch, FLW Ratnieks, EEW Samuelson, MJ Couvillon (2016). Dancing to her own beat: honey bee foragers communicate via individually calibrated waggle dances. J Experimental Biology.

2.     R Schürch, MJ Couvillon, FLW Ratnieks (2016). Determining the foraging potential of oilseed rape to honey bees using aerial surveys and simulations. Journal of Apiculture Research.

3.     MJ Couvillon, H Al Toufailia, TM Butterfield, F Schrell, FLW Ratnieks, R Schürch (2015). Buzzing bees: caffeinated forage tricks honey bees into increasing foraging and recruitment behaviors. Current Biology, 25 (21), 2815-2818.

4.     MJ Couvillon & FLW Ratnieks (2015). Environmental consultancy: dancing bee bioindicators to evaluate landscape “health”. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 3, 44.

5.     MJ Couvillon, CM Walter, EM Blows, TJ Czaczkes, K Alton, & FLW Ratnieks (2015). Busy bees and laid-back butterflies: Variation in insect flower-visiting rate across multiple plant species. Psyche 2015.

6.     R Schürch, MJ Couvillon, & M Beekman. Ballroom Biology: Recent Insights into Honey Bee Waggle Dance Communications. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 3, 147.

7.     MJ Couvillon, TJ Boniface, AM Evripidou, CJ Owen, FLW Ratnieks (2015). Unnatural contexts cause honey bee guards to adopt non-guarding behaviours. Ethology.

8.     F Wario, B Wild, MJ Couvillon, Raul Rojas, T Landgraf. Automatic methods for long-term tracking and the detection and decoding of communication dances in honeybees (2015). Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

9.     M Beekman, JC Makinson, MJ Couvillon, K Preece, TM Schaerf (2015). Honeybee linguistics – a comparative analysis of the waggle dance among species of Apis. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 3, 11.

10.  M Garbuzov, MJ Couvillon, R Schürch, FLW Ratnieks (2015). Honey bee dance decoding and pollen-load analysis show limited foraging on spring-flowering oilseed rape, a potential source of neonicotinoid contamination. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 203, 62-68.

11.  MJ Couvillon, R Schürch & FLW Ratnieks (2014). Dancing bees communicate a foraging preference for rural lands in High Level Agri-Environment Schemes. Current Biology 24(11), 1212-1215.

12.  MJ Couvillon, FC Riddell Pearce, C Accleton, KA Fensome, SLK Quah, Esme Taylor, and FLW Ratnieks (2014). Honey bee foraging distance depends on month and forage type. Apidologie 46: 61-70.

13.  MJ Couvillon, KA Fensome, SLK Quah, & R Schürch (2014) Summertime blues: August foraging leaves honey bees empty-handed. Communicative and Integrative Biology, 7 (1) e28821:1-2.

14.  MJ Couvillon, R Schürch & FWL Ratnieks (2014) Waggle dance distances as integrative indicators of seasonal foraging challenges. PLOS One, 9 (4), e93495.

15.  MJ Couvillon, FHID Segers, R Cooper-Bowman, G Truslove, D Lima, FS Nascimento, & FLW Ratnieks (2013). Context affects nestmate recognition errors in honey bees and stingless bees. Journal of Experimental Biology 216 (16), 3055-3061.

16.  R Schürch, MJ Couvillon, D Burns, K Tasman, D Waxman, & FLW Ratnieks (2013). Incorporating variability in honey bee waggle dance decoding improves the mapping of communicated resource locations. Journal of Comparative Physiology A 199, 1143-1152.

17.  FC Riddell Pearce, MJ Couvillon, FLW Ratnieks (2013) Hive relocation does not adversely affect honey bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) foraging. Psyche 2013, 1-8.

18.  R Schürch & MJ Couvillon (2013). Too much noise on the dance floor: intra- and inter-dance angular error in honey bee waggle dances. Communicative and Integrative Biology 6 (1).

19.  T Wenseleers, JP Bacon, MJ Couvillon, M Kärcher, FS Nascimento, P Nogueira-Neto, EJH Robinson, A Tofilski, FLW Ratnieks (2013) Bourgeois behavior and freeloading in the colonial orb-web spider Parawixia bistriata (Araneae, Araneidae). American Naturalist 182 (1).

20.  H Al Toufailia, MJ Couvillon, FLW Ratnieks, C Grüter (2013) Honey bee waggle dance communication:signal meaning and signal noise affect dance follower behavior. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 67, 549-556.

21.  FAL Contrera, MJ Couvillon, J Nieh (2012) Hymenopteran collective foraging and information transfer about resources. Psyche 2012, 1-2.

22.  MJ Couvillon, HLF Phillipps, R Schürch, & FWL Ratnieks (2012) Working against gravity: horizontal honeybee waggle runs have greater angular scatter than vertical waggle runs. Biology Letters 8 (4), 540-543.

23.  MJ Couvillon, FC Riddell Pearce, EL Harris-Jones, AM Kuepfer, SJ Mackenzie-Smith, LA Rozario, R Schürch, & FWL Ratnieks (2012). Intra-dance variation among waggle runs and the design of efficient protocols for honey bee dance decoding. Biology Open 1, 467-472.

24.  MJ Couvillon (2012). The dance legacy of Karl von Frisch. Insectes Sociaux 59 (3), 297-306.

25.  MJ Couvillon, JS vZweden, FLW Ratnieks (2012) Model of collective decision-making in nestmate recognition fails to account for individual discriminator responses and non-independent discriminator errors. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 66, 339-341.

26.  FAL Contrera, MJ Couvillon, J Nieh (2011) Hymenopteran group foraging and information transfer about resources. Psyche 2011, 1-2.

27.  MJ Couvillon, J Jandt, J Bonds, B Helm & A Dornhaus (2011) Percent fat is associated with body size but not task in the bumble bee Bombus impatiensJournal of Comparative Physiology A.197, 1097-1104.

28.  MJ Couvillon, SN Barton, JA Cohen, OK Fabricius, MH Kärcher, LS Cooper, MJ Silk, H Helanterä, & FLW Ratnieks (2010) Alarm pheromones do not mediate rapid shifts in honey bee guard acceptance threshold. Journal of Chemical Ecology 36, 1306-1308.

29.  MJ Couvillon, WOH Hughes, JA Perez-Sato, SJ Martin, & FLW Ratnieks (2010) Sexual selection in honeybees: colony variation and the importance of size in male mating success. Behavioral Ecology 21 (3), 520-525.

30.  MJ Couvillon, J Jandt, N Duong, & A Dornhaus (2010) Ontogeny of worker body size distribution in bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) colonies. Ecological Entomology 35 (4), 424-435.

31.  MJ Couvillon, G Fitzpatrick, & A Dornhaus (2010) Ambient air temperature does not predict body size of foragers in bumble bees (Bombus impatiens). Psyche 2010.

32.  MJ Couvillon & A Dornhaus (2010) Small worker bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) are hardier against starvation than their larger sisters. Insectes Sociaux 57, 193-197.

33.  W Gronenberg & MJ Couvillon. Brain Composition and Olfactory Learning in Honey Bees (2010) Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 93 (3), 435-443.

34.  MJ Couvillon, G DeGrandi-Hoffman, W Gronenberg (2010) Africanized honeybees are slower learners than their European counterparts. Naturwissenschaften 97 (2), 153-160.

35.  MJ Couvillon, GGF Roy, FLW Ratnieks (2009) Recognition errors by honey bee (Apis mellifera) guards demonstrate overlapping cues in conspecific recognition. Journal of Apiculture Research 48, 225-232.

36.  MJ Couvillon & A Dornhaus (2009) Location, location, location: larvae position inside the nest is correlated with adult body size in worker bumble bees (Bombus impatiens). Proceedings of the Royal Society B 276, 2411-2418.

37.  MJ Couvillon, EJH Robinson, B Atkinson, L Child, KR Dent, and FLW Ratnieks (2008) En Guarde: Rapid changes in honey bee guarding to intense robbing demonstrates individual and colony level responses. Animal Behavior 76, 1653-1658.

38.  MJ Couvillon & FLW Ratnieks (2008) Odour transfer between colonies of the stingless bee Frieseomelitta varia demonstrates that entrance guards use an “undesirable-absent” cue recognition system. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 62, 1099-1105.

39.  MJ Couvillon, T Wenseleers, VL Imperatriz-Fonseca, P Nogueira-Neto, FLW Ratnieks (2008) Comparative Study in Stingless Bees (Meliponini) Demonstrates that Nest Entrance Size Predicts Traffic and Defensivity. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 21 (1), 194-201.

40.  MJ Couvillon, JP Caple, SL Endsor, M Kärcher, TE Russell, DE Storey, FLW Ratnieks (2007) Nest-mate recognition template of guard honeybees (Apis mellifera) is modified by wax comb transfer. Biology Letters 3 (3), 228-230.

41.  A Tofilski, MJ Couvillon, SE Evison, EJH Robinson, and FLW Ratnieks (2008) Pre-emptive defensive self-sacrifice by ant workers. The American Naturalist 172 (2).

42.  JA Perez-Sato, MJ Couvillon, WOH Hughes, FLW Ratnieks. (2008) Effects of hive spacing, entrance orientation, and worker activity on nest relocation by honey bee queens. Apidologie 39, 708-713.

43.  JA Perez-Sato, WOH Hughes, MJ Couvillon, FLW Ratnieks (2007) Improved technique for introducing four-day old virgin queens to mating hives that uses artificial and natural queen cells for introduction. Journal of Apiculture Research, 46 (1), 28-33.

Couvillon

302 Price Hall

540-231-5707

mjc@vt.edu