Entomology Projects

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These are the Entomology projects that our Summer Research Scholars will be tackling in 2018.  Faculty members associated with each project are also listed. You can read more about their programs by clicking on their names. 2019 project listings coming soon.

1. Integrated Pest Management for Vegetable Crops

VegetablesIn New York, insect pests attack many of our high-value vegetable crops including potato, onion, cabbage, sweet corn, pumpkin, squash, pepper, tomato and snap bean. A primary goal of my research program is to develop integrated pest management (IPM) strategies for these crops that are practical, economical and environmentally responsible.  Students will learn about conventional and novel IPM strategies for many of the primary insect pests of New York’s most important vegetable crops. Moreover, students will have an opportunity to evaluate a novel IPM tactic for a major vegetable insect pest that limits productivity of one of these important crops.
Field: 80%; Lab: 20%. Faculty: Nault

2. Zeroing in on an Ambrosia Beetle that Attacks Apple Trees

Ambrosia BeetleBlack stem borer is a tiny beetle that bores into the trunks of apple trees and creates a gallery that it fills with "ambrosia" fungus to feed its young, and infested trees can yellow, wither and die from the attack. We are trying to determine where and when this beetle is showing up, what attracts it to young apple trees, and how to prevent it from causing damage in orchards.  The Scholar will assist with trapping and monitoring for these beetles and their damage, and help assess the effectiveness of some management tactics to prevent them from damaging apple trees in western New York orchards. 
Field: 70%; Lab: 30%. Faculty: Agnello

3.  Transmission of Erwinia amylovora by Drosophila melanogaster

Erwinia amylovora Fire blight is a necrotic disease of rosaceous plants caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. Though outbreaks are sporadic, this pathogen has a significant economic impact on global apple and pear crops, decimating orchards and resulting in 100% crop loss in some cases. Insects have long been implicated in the disease cycle, but intimate details regarding their role in pathogen transmission are scarce. Dipterans feed on the sugary, bacteria-laden exudate on diseased shoots, trunks, and fruitlets, but whether or not this interaction translates to pathogen spread is unknown. This project will investigate whether or not a model fly organism, Drosophila melanogaster, can transmit E. amylovora from fire blight ooze. We will use laboratory bioassays to investigate all aspects of transmission, including how damage from non-vector insects affects infection rates.
Field: 0%; Lab: 100%. Faculty:  Loeb

4.  The biology and behavior of spotted wing drosophila

swdSpotted wing drosophila (SWD) is one of the most significant invasive arthropods affecting small fruit crops in the United States. Since its arrival in 2008, this small fruit fly has migrated across the North American continent and established itself in several crops including strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, cherry, and apple. Currently, insecticides are the most commonly used method of pest control against SWD.  As an alternative to insecticides, we are studying the volatile chemicals used by spotted wing drosophila to find or reject fruit hosts as part of a project to develop a method to manipulate fly behavior to reduce pest infestations. The student scholar will design and implement experiments addressing the biology and behavior of spotted wing drosophila, aiming to develop methods to reduce the impact of SWD in agricultural settings.
Field: 20%; Lab: 80%. Faculty:  Loeb

5. Small but mitey: biological control of spider mites and other key pests of strawberries grown under low-tunnels

low tunnel berrriesGrowing strawberries under plastic low-tunnels is a new trend occurring in the Northeastern United States.  This is largely due to the benefit of extending the growing season in colder climates; however, the pest pressure on low-tunnel strawberries may be exacerbated for some pests, including the two-spotted spider mite, slugs, and several insects which appear to achieve especially high densities under protected cultures. The primary goal of this project is to evaluate alternative approaches to chemicals, specifically biological control, that can 1) reduce the reliance on pesticides for pest control, 2) be used by a variety of strawberry growers, including those growing organically, and 3) promote more sustainable farming practices in the northeast. Students working on this project will learn the basics of strawberry production, the biology of key pests, and the elements of implementing a successful and sustainable pest control program.
Field: 80%; Lab: 20%. Faculty:  Loeb

6.  How do insects become resistant to the biological insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)?

caterpillarThe soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is the most successfully and widely used biological insecticide in agriculture and public health. Current genetically modified insect-resistant crops are all engineered with insecticidal genes from Bt to confer insect-resistance. However, the mechanisms of action of various insecticidal Bt proteins in insects are not fully understood, and evolution of resistance to Bt proteins in insect populations threatens the long-term future of Bt-biotechnology for environmentally benign pest management. We use biological, genetic and molecular approaches to study mechanisms of insect resistance to insecticidal Bt proteins. Students will have exposure to various research approaches and experiment techniques in the lab. The scholar will participate in our research projects to conduct an independent study under guidance of and in collaboration with lab members.
Field: 0%; Lab: 100%. Faculty:  Ping Wang

7.  Biocontrol Down Under: enhancing the use of insect-pathogenic organisms to control soil-dwelling pests


Soil houses one of the most biodiverse arthropod communities on earth.  These communities are comprised of multiple trophic groups including herbivores, decomposers, fungivores, and predators.  While we know that arthropods thrive in the soils under our feet, we have a poor understanding of their basic ecology, and thus, soil is often considered a black box by many scientists.  This presents major challenges in soil insect pest management, especially biological control, which relies on a thorough understanding of how pests interact with their biotic and abiotic environment. Research in the Wickings lab focuses on the ecology and management of soil arthropods, including both pests and beneficial organisms.  Our interests span basic and applied aspects of soil ecology and we are currently working in we anticipate mentoring a summer scholar in one of our many ongoing research areas including:

  • understanding the impact of pest management practices on soil biological health and belowground ecosystem services
  • developing methods to enhance the effectiveness of biological control against belowground pests
  • investigating the ecology of belowground plant-insect-microbe interactions

Field: 50%; Lab: 50%. Faculty:  Wickings