Management of agricultural pests is increasingly based around the techniques of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Practitioners of IPM strive to use all available methods and tools to control pests in a manner that is economically viable but also environmentally friendly. Two important elements of this approach are knowledge of a pest’s distribution and density, and an understanding of the natural enemies that may limit the size of a pest’s population. These factors are both directly associated with the insect pest’s ecology. As insect ecologists, we are particularly intersected in developing a better understanding of ecological factors that contribute to the IPM of various agricultural pests. We are also interested in methods of pest management that promote pollinator health and reduce insecticide use.
We have ongoing projects in red clover, are conducting surveys of lygus bugs in fava beans and wireworms in cereal crops. In addition, we have a large project in collaboration with Ducks Unlimited to examine the effects of wetlands on beneficial and pest insects in various crop and field types.
Every plant exists in an ecological area called a biome. These biomes consist of soil, water and atmosphere. In addition to these abiotic factors, plants also are hosts to living organisms such as microbial organisms and insects which use them as food, habitat, or both. Combined, the biotic and abiotic elements of a plant’s environment are called the phytobiome, and form the basis of a tremendous number of potential relationships and interactions. A major research theme in our group is aimed at describing and understanding the many ways that organisms within the phytobiome interact. In particular, we work to determine how the various organisms, especially vectors and pollinators, influence each other.
Current projects in this theme focus on the system of Aster Yellows Phytoplasma, The Aster Leafhopper (Macrosteles quadrilineatus), and its multiple host crops.
Managing insect pests is an important aspect of crop production and IPM. However, many crops also require insect pollination. These aspects of management can come into conflict, particularly when managing disease vectors or when using certain insecticidal materials and application methods. We are interested in both crop pollination in general, but have an interest in how to balance pollination and pest management.
Current projects are focused on pollination of fava beans and canola.
One important component of IPM is plant varieties and cultivars that can withstand pest pressure. In fact, the "gold standard" is to develop and grown varieties of crops that are resistance to an insect or plant pathogen.Â Pest pressure can come in the form of both insects and pathogens and crops may be bred with one or both in mind. One component of our research is examine new plant cultivars for resistance and/or tolerance to insects and pathogens. However, as ecologists and entomologists interested in plant-insect interactions this work also allows us to examine the specific traits and genes responsible for resistance in more controlled contexts. In the past, much of this work to date has focussed on potatoes, potato psyllids, and zerbra chip disease. Currently, we are working in wheat and pulses.