Representing two years of research, the data set that Erik has assembled is truly colossal. Over 5,000 individial plants were surveyed nearly 54,000 times with 34,000 insects counted overall. While looking at host plant use is nothing new, Erik's study is the first of its kind to look at BMSB host use at the cultivar level, information which is significantly more useful to growers than broad generalizations about plant species or genera. Cultivars can be thought of as breeds or varieties of a plant species that differ from one another in a number of ways, such as appearance or hardiness. By learning which cultivars are more susceptible to stink bug attack, growers can plant the species or genus they desire and minimize BMSB damage.
Two hypotheses seek to explain this preference for Asian or non-Asian plant cultivars. The first, known as the enemy release hypothesis, posits that insects will eat plants that are familiar to them and exist in their native range. An alternative hypothesis (and one that Erik believes more likely in the case of BMSB) is known as defense free space, which suggests that insects will take advantage of plants that cannot defend themselves from attack.
Armed with the knowledge gained from this research, hopefully greater effort can be made to employ cultural control practices to design the brown marmorated stink bug out of our farms and out of our landscapes.
Thomas Pike is a second year masters student in Paula Shrewsbury's lab conducting research on ornamental IPM. His primary research focus is on the effects of entomopathogenic fungi on the brown marmorated stink bug and their potential as a biological control.