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Research

Research in the lab largely is focused on plant-insect interactions with bees being the most common organisms we study. Themes include endangered species conservation, forest ecology, fire ecology, and urban ecology (and more!). Some of these themes overlap and criss cross, but this provides a broad look at what the lab focuses on, including ongoing work yet to be published. We use tools from genetics, landscape ecology, and good ol’ fashioned field work to get the job done. Increasingly, we’re working more on incorporating social values and policy into our studies.This is not intentended as an exhaustive list.

Please check out our Publications page to see a complete list of published work.


Endangered Species Conservation and Biology

In 2017 the first bumble bee species was listed under the US Endangered Species Act: The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis). Conservation of this species, and other bumble bee species, requires carefully directed research to inform ongoing management actions. John has worked with collaborators at USGS, USFWS, non-profit, and University partners over the past few years on population genetics, habitat quality, and causes of decline, among other areas. The Mola Lab will continue this work and also begin focusing more on The Western Bumble Bee (Bombus occidentalis). Ongoing projects include population genetics, overwintering habitat, pathogen and pesticide impacts, and continued long-term monitoring.  

Relevant Publications

  • Mola, J. M., I. S. Pearse, M. L. Boone, E. Evans, M. J. Hepner, R. P. Jean, J. M. Kochanski, C. Nordmeyer, E. Runquist, T. A. Smith, J. P. Strange, J. Watson, and J. B. U. Koch. 2024. Range-wide genetic analysis of an endangered bumble bee (Bombus affinis, Hymenoptera: Apidae) reveals population structure, isolation by distance, and low colony abundance. Journal of Insect Science 24:19.
  • J.M. Mola, L. L. Richardson, G. Spyreas, D. N. Zaya, and I. S. Pearse. 2021. Long‐term surveys support declines in early season forest plants used by bumblebees. Journal of Applied Ecology:1365-2664.13886.
  • J.M. Mola, J. Hemberger, J. Kochanski, L. L. Richardson, and I. S. Pearse. 2021. Importance of forests in bumble bee biology and conservation. BioScience.
  • Smith, T.A., J.P. Strange, E.C. Evans, B.M. Sadd, J.C. Steiner, J.M. Mola and K. Traylor-Holzer.(Eds.). 2020. Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, Bombus affinis, Ex Situ Assessment and Planning Workshop: Final Report. IUCN SSC Conservation Planning Specialist Group, Apple Valley, MN, USA

The Role of Forests in Bumble Bee Biology and Conservation

For many bumble bee species, multiple types of habitat are used throughout the life cycle. Despite this, forests are often overlooked as important components in bumble bee life history. Especially within temperate areas, forests can offer critical early-season floral resources and be preferred locations for nesting and overwintering. Recent work by John and collaborators has sought to understand the trends of resource availability for bumble bees within varied habitats, document the importance of forests in bumble bee biology and conservation, and to understand how bumble bee behavior changes in response to forest cover. 

Relevant Publications

  • Janousek, W. M., M. R. Douglas, S. Cannings, M. A. Clément, C. M. Delphia, J. G. Everett, R. G. Hatfield, D. A. Keinath, J. B. U. Koch, L. M. McCabe, J. M. Mola, J. E. Ogilvie, I. Rangwala, L. L. Richardson, A. T. Rohde, J. P. Strange, L. M. Tronstad, and T. A. Graves. 2023. Recent and future declines of a historically widespread pollinator linked to climate, land cover, and pesticides. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 120:e2211223120.
  • J.M. Mola, L. L. Richardson, G. Spyreas, D. N. Zaya, and I. S. Pearse. 2021. Long‐term surveys support declines in early season forest plants used by bumblebees. Journal of Applied Ecology:1365-2664.13886.
  • J.M. Mola, J. Hemberger, J. Kochanski, L. L. Richardson, and I. S. Pearse. 2021. Importance of forests in bumble bee biology and conservation. BioScience.
  • Mola J.M., M.R. Miller, S. O’Rourke & N.M. Williams. 2020. Forests do not limit bumble bee foraging movements in a montane meadow complex. Ecological Entomology
  • Williams, N.M., J.M. Mola, Stuligross, C., Harrison, T., Page, M., Brennan, R., Rosenberger, N., & Rundlöf, M. 2019. Fantastic bees and where to find them: locating the cryptic overwintering queens of a western bumble bee. Ecosphere 9(1):e02056.

Urban ecology, competitive interactions with honeybees, and social science and policy

Urban landscapes have complex relationships with bees and other pollinators. As largely constructed environments, with strange mixes of native, non-native, and highly cultivated plants and artificial surfaces, the bees that assemble in urban environments are far from one might consider “expected”. Our lab has been working in collaboration with Denver Parks and Recreation, the Salazar Center for North American Conservation, the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas, and more to understand bee and butterfly communities in human dominated landscapes.

Ongoing projects include a biodiversity survey across Denver Parks, improving recommendations for pollinator-friendly plantings, and understanding the interactions between non-native honeybees and native bee species. Stay tuned for output from this work.

For now, you can view a related report we conducted in collaboration with the Animal-Human Policy Center at CSU on the perspectives of Coloradoans on pollinators.


Impacts of Fire on Plants, Insects, and Plant-Insect Interactions

Fire is a dominant disturbance force in landscapes and regions throughout the world. Changing fire regimes, fire behavior, and changes in extent, intensity, and severity make it a fascinating subject area to study. John has studied the impacts of fire from a variety of perspectives and future research in the lab will continue to address this topic area. Please see select publications below, as well as the Publications page, for some work on this subject area. 

Relevant Publications

  • Mola J.M., M.R. Miller, S. O’Rourke and N.M. Williams. 2020. Wildfire reveals transient change to individual traits and population responses of a native bumble bee Bombus vosnesenskii. Journal of Animal Ecology
  • LoPresti, E. F., J. I. V. Wyk, J. M. Mola, K. Toll, T. J. Miller, and N. M. Williams. 2018. Effects of wildfire on floral display size and pollinator community reduce outcrossing rate in a plant with a mixed mating system. American Journal of Botany 105:1154–1164.
  • Mola, J. M., and N. M. Williams. 2018. Fire-induced change in floral abundance, density, and phenology benefits bumble bee foragers. Ecosphere 9. 
  • Mola, J. M., J. M. Varner, E. S. Jules, and T. Spector. 2014. Altered Community Flammability in Florida’s Apalachicola Ravines and Implications for the Persistence of the Endangered Conifer Torreya taxifolia. PLoS ONE 9:e103933.