Ecology research

I am an agro-ecologist using ecological theory to inform integrated pest management strategies in specialty crops. My projects in organic and specialty cropping systems response to growers’ needs for alternative, integrated, and innovative tactics for pest management and sustainable practices. My recent work has been in field-testing new technologies in insect behavioral manipulation, chemigation, and combinations of agricultural practices to provide growers with multiple options for management as their needs and environmental conditions change. I look forward to continuing to use innovative techniques to meet growers’ needs in the future (CV).

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Asparagus crops in Michigan face a pest complex poorly controlled by conventional methods

Integrated pest management in asparagus (Szendrei and Grieshop labs, Michigan State University) Specialty crops like asparagus often have limited means to control pests through conventional methods. I am currently exploring alternative, sustainable, and integrated methodologies to manage generalist and specialist pests of asparagus, focusing on Japanese beetles, asparagus beetles, and asparagus miners. Projects include using floral resources to encourage natural enemies, an innovative attract-and-kill device to alter Japanese beetle behavior in the field, and how the threat of predation influences oviposition behavior of asparagus miners.

Sustainable techniques in organic agro-ecosystems (Hooks lab, University of Maryland)

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Winter cover crops can help manage pests in organic crops

Agricultural crops face a complex seasonal environment of weedy competitors, insect herbivores, and diseases. Sustainable techniques like cover crops and tillage can be used to manage plant and insect pests. In this project, I investigated how the presence and diversity of cover crops influences plant productivity, soil quality, and plant-insect interactions in organic cropping systems. This research, along with others in the lab group, aims to combine ecological research, applied techniques, and economic assessments to provide organic growers with relevant information for using sustainable ecological techniques to help manage plant and insect pest communities.

Joint effects of pollinators and herbivores on plant growth and reproduction in natural systems (Underwood and Inouye labs, Florida State University) 

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Flowering plants face the challenge of attracting pollinators while avoiding herbivores

Insect communities have simultaneous antagonistic and mutualistic effects on their shared host plants. In work  conducted at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, I used the perennial flowering herb Chamerion angustifolium (fireweed) and its insect pollinators and herbivores to quantify within- and among-year herbivore and pollinator responses to changes in plant phenotype, and plant responses to damage and pollination. This research revealed a complex network of within- and among-year feedback between foragers and plant traits.

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Checking damaged water hyacinth for clonal growth

Effects of damage on plant growth and asexual reproduction in an invasive plant (Underwood and Inouye labs, Florida State University) For the many plant species that reproduce both sexually and asexually, herbivory or pollination may influence mode of reproduction. The aquatic plant Eichhornia crassipes (water hyacinth) is capable of rapid asexual reproduction. I mimicked adult and larval specialist weevil (Neochetina eichhorniae and N. bruchi) damage and hand pollinated water hyacinth to investigate plant growth, sexual reproduction, asexual reproduction, and resistance to herbivores in response to damage type and pollination success, finding that herbivores can have important effects on asexual plant reproduction.

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Wildflower communities in the mountain west experience variability in pollination and herbivory

Modeling effects of pollination and herbivory on plant allocation (Underwood and Inouye labs, Florida State University) To explore the influence of environmental variability on allocation pattern in annual and perennial plants, I developed a simulation model addressing the evolution of the timing and pattern of resource allocation in annual and perennial plants under stochastic variability in herbivory and pollination. Results of this model indicate that populations of annuals and perennials should evolve different types of allocation schedules under variable herbivory and pollination.

photos: Tania Kim, Justin Chavez, David McNutt, Amanda Buchanan

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