Santiago Ramirez, an assistant professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, has been awarded a Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. Ramirez is one of 18 scientists nationwide to receive the prestigious fellowship, worth $875,000 over five years, this year.
The fellowships are intended to give early-career scientists the freedom and flexibility to “think big” and explore new ideas and approaches.
Ramirez’ research focuses on how species adapt to each other as they evolve. Evolutionary biologists have long recognized that interactions between species play a central role in creating biological diversity. However, exactly how ecological pressures and genetics combine so that species co-evolve and adapt to each other is not well understood.
Ramirez’s research uses approaches from genetics, ecology and physiology to investigate bees and orchids have evolved together and adapted to each other. His research team is studying a group of bees called the orchid bees. This particular group of bees visits orchids — as well as other plant sources — to collect floral scents that the males present to females during courtship display. The orchids have evolved such degree of specialization to attract male bees that the plants exclusively depend on scent-seeking males for pollination.
Biologists have been puzzling over pollination for a long time: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace worked on the problem, proposing that flowers and pollinators engaged in a race that resulted in deeper flowers and pollinators with longer noses. In fact, more than 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants depend on insects for pollination.