RESEARCH

The (elusive) grape cane gallmaker, Photo: E. Y. Long


Research Activities & Interests

I am broadly interested in community-level interactions among species and have been motivated since my first experiences in ecological research to understand the consequences of these interactions for the health and persistence of ecosystems. I am also interested in the role that human-mediated change plays in shaping the outcome of interactions between organisms and the environment. While my research experiences have allowed me to work with a variety of different organisms, I have found my niche working with insects and exploring the diverse interactions that allow this group to be both successful and essential members of all kinds of ecological communities. My lab’s current research activities are aimed towards exploring the diversity of plant-insect interactions between both pest and beneficial insects, so as to inform the success of integrated pest management strategies in agroecosystems, particularly specialty crop vegetable and small fruit systems.

 

Current Projects

 

Evaluating carrot weevil ecology in muck vegetable systems to promote sustainable IPM

 

Parsley severely damaged by root tunneling of larval carrot weevil.

The carrot weevil is a devastating pest of cultivated crops in the Apiaceae, namely carrots, parsley, and celery. Adults lay eggs in the petioles of young plants and upon hatching the larvae begin feeding and tunneling their way down to the roots, causing severe damage and often plant death. We are working to better understand the biology of this insect in Ohio, and we are also working together with growers to develop tools to improve adult detection and management strategies that target the larval stage of this insect.


Characterizing beneficial insect communities in Ohio specialty cropping systems

 

Damselbug on a grapevine at bud swell.

Insect communities can vary greatly in any system, depending on a number of factors including focal crop, non-crop flowering species, management practices, and characteristics of the surrounding landscape. Ohio vineyards are distributed across the northeast, north central, and southern regions of the state, and this may have implications for the diversity and abundance of both pest and beneficial insects observed. I am interested in characterizing these communities so that we might better understand the factors that promote predator diversity and natural pest suppression in these intensively-managed systems.

 

Establishing wildflower habitat for pollinators in specialty cropping systems

 

Global bee declines are likely due to a number of interacting factors, including loss of habitat and low diversity of floral resources throughout the season. Vegetable production benefits greatly from the efforts of pollinating insects and thus promoting safe foraging habitat for wild and managed bees in these systems may enhance yields and promote local bee populations. We are establishing native wildflower habitat for bees and will track the abundance and diversity of species over time as this habitat establishes and matures!

 

Integrating new spray technologies to improve pest management in ag systems

 

On-going Projects

 

Protecting pollinators and their resources in specialty cropping systems

 

Bombus spp. with full pollen baskets!

Evidence continues to grow that bees, and likely other pollinating insects, are consistently exposed to a suite of pesticides as they move across the landscape collecting pollen and nectar. As knowledge of how pesticide exposure impacts bees and their responses to environmental stressors grows, I remain interested in evaluating and understanding when and where unexpected pesticide exposure routes occur in agroecosystems so that we might develop strategies to mitigate risks and help safeguard bees, as well as other beneficial insects, residing in these systems.

 

 

 

Connections between predator diversity and the transmission of insect-vectored plant pathogens

While predator diversity effects on natural pest suppression are well known, the implications of predator diversity for plant disease may be harder to predict given that predators indirectly influence pathogen prevalence via their direct impacts on vector abundance, distribution and/or feeding behavior. For example, if there are fewer vectors present in the presence of species-rich predator communities, or if vectors engage in predator avoidance behaviors rather than feeding on host plants, then predator diversity may contribute to reductions in the prevalence of plant pathogens. However this is just one example, and the consequences of diversity for insect-vectored plant pathogens may vary dramatically depending on the details of the pathogen system.

My doctoral research addressed the question of whether promoting greater predator species richness influences the ability of predatory insect communities to provide effective biological control of bird cherry-oat aphids in wheat systems and furthermore, whether suppressing populations of these aphids had implications for the prevalence of the aphid-vectored Cereal yellow dwarf virus (CYDV) in wheat. Overall, I found that increasing predator diversity had no impact on the prevalence of CYDV in wheat habitats; however, the presence of a predator assemblage, regardless of species richness, did significantly reduce the proportion of plants infected. The results of my research suggest that declines in predator species richness may not have immediate consequences for vector-borne pathogen outbreak; however, promoting predator communities may have benefits for the management of insect-vectored pathogens.

I remain interested in community-level, multi-trophic interactions and I hope to continue to pursue an understanding of how human-mediated changes, like reductions in biodiversity and habitat simplification, shape the outcome of ecological processes like disease dynamics and what the consequences will be for the stability and health of ecosystems in the future.