Research

I do applied and foundational ecological and entomological research. Scroll down for more on my projects, or click here for my CV.

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Post-harvest asparagus field in “fern”

Integrated pest management in asparagus. Growers of specialty crops like asparagus have limited options for effective pest management. As part of the Vegetable Entomology and Organic Pest Management labs at Michigan State University, my asparagus IPM projects included testing flowering plants for their effectiveness in attracting natural enemies to asparagus fields, using attract-and-kill technology to manage Japanese beetles, and understanding how insect damage and insecticides change the volatile profile of plants.

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Asparagus miners lay eggs in asparagus stems, where their offspring feed on the inside of the plant
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Common asparagus beetle adults and larvae feed on asparagus tissue

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1) Conservation biological control of asparagus miner and common asparagus beetle. I explored the use of flowering borders to augment populations of parasitoids and predators that attack key asparagus specialists. The asparagus miner is a fly that lays eggs inside asparagus stems; when the eggs hatch the larvae tunnel through the stem and feed on the plant tissue. The common asparagus beetle chews on asparagus plants. My projects have focused on identifying flowering plant species that attract natural enemies (predators and parasitoids) but not pests to asparagus fields, and increase parasitism and predation rates of key pests. This information will help growers make informed decisions about how to implement habitat manipulation in their region.

2) Targeted chemical control of Japanese beetle using attract-and-kill devices. Japanese beetles are cosmopolitan generalist pests that migrate into asparagus fields as adults. I explored tactics to manage Japanese beetles using attract-and-kill devices, which use chemicals to attract the beetles to a kill device, which then delivers small amounts of contact insecticide to the beetles. Growers and homeowners can use this technology to manage Japanese beetle adults without high-input chemical sprays.

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Connor checking Japanese beetle traps, which help us monitor effectiveness of attract-and-kill technology

3) Insecticide-induced changes in volatile profiles in asparagus. Over two years, a spray trial using a neonicotinoid insecticide found that some species of insects are attracted to the chemically treated plants. This project measured changes in plant volatile profiles in asparagus in response to insecticide and insect damage.

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Jenna and Dalanei establishing field cages to grow asparagus for volatile sampling
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Amanda checking headspace collection equipment after a rainy day

 

Plant-herbivore-pollinator interactions. For my doctoral research, I looked at plant-insect interactions in natural or semi-natural populations of flowering plants. I was interested in how plant traits interacted with herbivore and pollinator behavior, and the consequences for plant populations.

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Many flowering plants, like this fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) must attract pollinators but also avoid herbivores.

1) Joint effects of pollinators and herbivores on plant growth and reproduction in natural systems. Insects can have positive or negative effects on their host plants. During my PhD work with Nora Underwood and Brian Inouye at Florida State University, I used the perennial flowering herb Chamerion angustifolium (fireweed) and its insect pollinators and herbivores to look at how herbivores and pollinators responded to changes in the host plant phenotype, and how plants responded 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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Bumble bee visiting fireweed flowers

2) Effects of damage on plant growth and asexual reproduction in an invasive plant. For the many plant species that reproduce both sexually and asexually, herbivory or pollination might 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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Checking damaged water hyacinth for clonal growth

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