[Seminar Blog] I declare a plant-insect war: The arms-race and profiteering of species interactions.
We may think of herbivores, or animals that feed on plants, as large lumbering creatures grazing on grass, but most of them are, in fact, insects (Forister et al., 2015). Herbivorous insects interact with the predators that seek to eat them and the plants they rely on for food. But from a plant’s perspective, the insect herbivores are the predators. Plants rely on various tools to reduce the onslaught of attack from these foliage feeders. For example, they can utilize sticky appendages called trichomes, and deploy stinky or toxic chemicals. These interactions that originate from the plant and have impacts on herbivores are known as ‘bottom-up effects’ (Figure 1). Due to the abundance of insect herbivores in nature, they are also important food sources for insect predators and parasitoids. These interactions, which involve herbivore predators, are an example of ‘top-down effects’ (Figure 1).
[Seminar Blog] Case Study Pedagogy as a Method for Improving Learning Outcomes and Fostering Inclusivity
written by: Lasair ni Chochlain
Case studies are one teaching tool that can be utilized to engage students, improve learning outcomes and inclusion in the classroom. Dr. Ally Hunter presented her work exploring the effectiveness of case study pedagogy at a Department of Entomology seminar earlier this semester. Dr. Hunter began this work in her doctoral dissertation, completed at University of Massachusetts – Amherst. Now a postdoctoral fellow at UMass Amherst, she utilizes case studies in her undergraduate science classrooms to promote inclusive pedagogy. The advantage in using case studies in scientific teaching is that the stories, with rich narratives, convey scientific content and concepts while also contributing to the maintenance of situational interest which facilitates undergraduate learning. Here, we dive deeper into the methodology of Dr. Hunter’s educational research, to illustrate how her findings can be applied in entomology classrooms and beyond.
Written by: Maria Cramer, Ebony Argaez and Graham Stewart
As research entomologists, it’s easy to focus on one tiny area of study. In fact, this is a normal way to do research. So when Dr. Jessica Ware, the speaker for the University of Maryland’s entomology colloquium, talks about her research interests which cover many areas including dragonfly evolution and global migration, termites, and cockroaches, she is often asked why she chooses to study so many different things. Her answer is simple; it’s ok to study more than one group at once. It’s ok to let curiosity about the incredible diversity of insects drive your interests.
Written by PhD students Arielle Arsenault-Benoit & Minh Le
Malaria is a mosquito-borne illness that has plagued human civilization for millennia (Cox 2010), and continues to infect many people, with over 200 million documented cases in 2019 (World Health Organization, 2020). Preventative interventions and treatments are available for those that can access them, yet according to the WHO, there are 400,000 annual deaths worldwide, and nearly 70% of those are children under 5 years old. Among those interventions are insecticide treated bed nets, residual insecticide spraying, preventative drugs, and treatment with combined drug therapy. Effective prevention and treatment efforts, plus advances in diagnostic testing, have greatly reduced both case numbers and mortality rates, but the development of resistance, including insecticide resistance in the mosquito vector population and drug resistance in the pathogen population present new challenges. A greater understanding of the underlying biology of the pathogen may allow for improved and more targeted interventions in the future.
written by Angela Saenz & Alireza Shokoohi
Dr. Miguel Altieri is a Chilean agronomist and entomologist that has dedicated his life and career to agroecology. He is currently an emeritus professor from the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches sustainable management practices to enhance biological control on farms. He is also a part-time farmer in the slopes of the Colombian Andes and the co-director of CELIA (Centro Latinoamericano de Investigaciones Agroecológicas), an organization focused on teaching, extension, and outreach for small farmers and research for food production through biodiverse systems.
by Taís Ribeiro and Max Ferlauto
Climate change is having a drastic effect on species across the globe, our own included (Pachauri et al 2014). We have not only witnessed increases in mean temperatures but also extreme weather events like heat waves (Pachauri et al 2014). Although there are many studies looking at the impacts of climate change on particular species, research on the effects of climate change on species interactions is still limited. An important type of species relationship is a host-parasitoid interaction such as what occurs between an insect and its parasitoid wasp. Parasitoid wasps are tiny insects that lay their eggs in other insects. The eggs then hatch and consume the host while it is still alive. There are thousands of parasitoid wasp species. In fact, their order, Hymenoptera, may be the most diverse animal order in the world because of their high degree of specialization with their hosts (Forbes et al., 2018). In order to parasitize eggs, larvae, or pupae, parasitoids must align their life cycle with that of their hosts. But what happens when climate change increases temperatures and extreme climatic events? Does this misalign the host and parasitoid life cycles?
written by: Huiyu Sheng and Arielle Arsenault-Benoit
Maggie Lewis, a PhD student in the Hamby Lab, aims to advance sustainable management of spotted-wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii, SWD). Spotted-wing drosophila is a pest of soft skinned fruits such as raspberries and blackberries that is specifically adapted to infest ripe fruit prior to harvest, unlike other fruit flies that often lay their eggs in overripe or rotting fruit. Spotted Wing Drosophila presents a considerable threat to the small fruits industry because the management options are limited and the consumer tolerance threshold to larvae in fruit is very low. Lewis’s dissertation work aims to inform and improve traditional Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approaches for SWD through a better understanding of the fly’s relationships with yeasts, synergism with fruit rot fungi, and optimization of traditional management practices.
Written by: Maria Cramer and Veronica Yurchak
In academia it’s fairly common to become an expert in a tiny slice of science. Researchers often become incredibly familiar with the particular system or organism they study and may not have too many reasons to branch out. That is not the pattern that Dr. Raul Villanueva, from the University of Kentucky, followed, however. Dr. Villanueva, the field crops entomologist for Kentucky, attributes his diversity of study areas to working in agricultural extension. In order to help support and educate Kentucky farmers he ends up working on whatever insect problems they are facing. And what’s more, Kentucky is a state of diverse agricultural production, ranging from grain crops like wheat, corn, and soybeans, to hemp for CBD production, sweet sorghum for molasses, and many horticultural crops like fruits and vegetables. Over the course of the seminar talk that he presented to the University of Maryland Entomology Department, Dr. Villanueva took the audience on a journey through his extension research program.
written by: Angela Saenz and Eva Perry
On February 12th (2021), Dr. Zoe Getman-Pickering, who obtained her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2020 and is currently a postdoctoral scientist working at George Washington University with John Lill, spoke in the Entomology Colloquium series about her research related to the tri-trophic interactions between plants, herbivorous insects, and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (referred to as mycorrhizal fungi, or mycorrhizae, hereafter). She described her work on the relationship between plants and mycorrhizal fungi, and the biotic and abiotic factors influencing this relationship.
Rethinking teaching biology to be gender neutral through careful wording of course-specific material concerning gender identity, disability, and Race
Written by: Mike Nan
Dr. Karen Hales is a Biology Professor at Davidson College who employs genetic tools with the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) model to understand the molecular mechanisms of mitochondria function in cells. While past colloquium speakers have presented on the latest research in their lab, Dr. Hales addressed an even more pressing, teaching topic: Enhancing inclusivity in undergraduate science courses through careful wording of course-specific material concerning gender identity, disability, and race.
Krisztina Christmon is the current president of ESO and is a third year PhD student in the vanEngelsdorp Bee Lab studying the honey bee parasite Varroa destructor. You can find her either at the lab or by the microscope. If not, then she’s probably gone surfing! Krisztina is passionate about the host-parasite pathogen interactions. Follow the link to get an in depth look at her collaboration with the USDA. https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4915/12/4/374/xml
written by: Demian Nunez and Madeline Potter
Neonicotinoids are most commonly known to the public as a class of chemicals responsible for widespread pollinator decline. To growers they are a cheap means of dealing with historically difficult soil pests and are heavily used throughout the United States as a preventative measure. Given their prevalence, are the benefits enough to justify their use? Recent University of Maryland (UMD) entomology graduate Dr. Aditi Dubey, Hamby Lab, addressed this question and more in her exit seminar, summarizing five and a half years of research.
Hunting the Flesh Eating Screwworms: Dr. John Welch and an entomological career of adventure and service
written by: Graham Stewart, Meghan McConnell, Tais Ribeiro
On the past November 20th, Dr. John Welch, Liaison for Action Programs of International Services (APHIS) and co-recipient of the 2020 Scientist of the Year Award, brought to the Entomology colloquium his example of a successful entomological career outside of academia, sharing some of his adventures and the many roles he has occupied. Although Dr. Welch’s work has involved a variety of issues, over the years his main focus has been on eradication of the screwworm (Fig 1), Cochliomyia hominivorax (Diptera: Calliphoridae). The screwworm is a deadly, parasitic fly that feeds on the living tissues of warm-blooded animals. It has many nicknames, one being “man-eater”. It has been a problem for livestock and humans for decades, leading to major economic losses for farmers. Two entomologists Edward F. Knipling and Raymond C. Bushland, are known for pioneering successful eradication efforts through the Agriculture Research Service (ARS). They developed the sterile insect technique (SIT), a low dose of radiation to make the screwworms sterile. The flies are then raised in a lab and released in infested areas. These sterile males mate with the females and the eggs laid do not mature.
written by: Eva Perry and Lindsay Barranco
At the beginning of his Entomology Department exit seminar presentation, graduate student Dylan Kutz asked his zoom-viewing audience “Who cares about spiders?” and “Why study drainage ditches?” – two questions that immediately grabbed everyone’s attention. Over the past three years Dylan has proven himself to be an adventurous and fearless researcher – sampling agricultural cropland drainage ditches for spiders in order to ascertain how they may facilitate natural pest management practices by supporting spider populations.
written by: Darsy Smith & Veronica Yurchak
Dr. Galen Dively, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland, has become a leading figure in the effort to monitor and mitigate resistance development to genetically modified Bt corn, primarily addressing the very destructive corn earworm. At this week’s colloquium, Dr. Dively presented on his work designing a new approach for monitoring insect resistance in Bt corn, as well as how this approach is changing the way genetically modified crop technologies are regulated by the EPA.
The Song of the Lacewings: A look into the unique mating call of the green lacewing and why their larvae fake their death.
Many people are fascinated about the diversity in nature, some are attracted by cichlids with various colors, others were allured by butterflies with different patterns. Katherine Taylor, a new Post-doc in the Fritz lab, was interested in the diversity of the lacewing mating songs.
For nearly the last two decades, STEM educators, particularly those in biology, have been moving toward a more active learning model for undergraduate courses. Dr. Marcia Shofner has been at the forefront of that effort at University of Maryland. Dr. Shofner is a Senior Lecturer in the Entomology Department, teaching several sections per year of Ecology and Evolution. Not only is this course often an early undergraduate’s first introduction to college biology, but it is often a Graduate Teaching Assistant’s first foray into teaching as well. At this week’s colloquium, Dr. Shofner shared a “peer through the lens” into designing and implementing an active learning course with the Entomology community.
In the spring of 2004, millions of 17-year cicadas emerged from the ground. They crawled over trees, houses, and cars. They molted leaving exoskeleton shells on every surface. Birds feasted. Squirrels gorged themselves. Newly planted trees suffered. Children tiptoed though carcasses on their way to school. Parents scraped goo off their car’s wheels. The air vibrated with the cacophonous sound of cicadas. Then they were gone. But next year they are coming back. Whether you anticipate it with dread or excitement, they are coming again.
In his colloquium presentation to the UMD Entomology Department, Dr. Mike Raupp, an emeritus entomology professor at the University of Maryland, brought us up to speed on the coming emergence of periodical cicadas. The last time Brood X, the 17-year cicadas local to this area, emerged from the ground, entomologists were in heaven. Dr. Raupp gave numerous talks around the country even ending up on Jay Leno’s late-night show to teach about the fascinating insect. He explained how 17-year cicadas are a great opportunity to get people interested in bugs. Next year, they may be even more numerous due to recent habitat restorations and improved tree cover.
Written by: Maria Cramer, PhD student, Hamby Lab
Seven months into the global COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Leslie Pick, department head of entomology, kicked off the department’s fall colloquium series in a way that’s become familiar; she muted the audience, thanked everyone for coming, and shared her screen.
Past colloquium speakers have talked about the latest research in entomology, but Dr. Pick talked about topics even more important: COVID-19 and racism. Addressing COVID, she took us back to March by reminding us that over a one-week period the department transitioned from normal research to working from home with severe research restrictions. When you’re working with live animals and cultures, however, this doesn’t mean hitting a pause button. The whole department mobilized to care for colonies of insects and live cultures on campus or bring them home. Bringing home wolf spiders, lady beetles, and mantises was a new adventure for many and even attracted the attention of Nature and NPR.
Does where you breed change how you live? Differences in host seeking and chemosensory gene expression between above- and below-ground mosquito populations
written by: Mike Nan, PhD student, St. Leger lab and Dylan Kutz, MS student, Lamp lab
Anna Noreuil, an M.S. student in the Fritz Lab in the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland, has been studying host-seeking behavior and differential chemosensory gene expression in above- and below-ground Culex pipiens for her master’s research. Cx. pipiens (Diptera: Culicidae) is a mosquito found in the northern regions of the U.S. and is also found in urban and suburban temperate areas around the world. Cx. pipiens is the primary vector of West Nile virus (WNV), a mosquito-borne disease that affects the nervous system, in the Northeastern US. Oddly, although there is only one species known as Cx. pipiens, two “bioforms” of the species exist which are morphologically indistinguishable but genetically, physiologically, and behaviorally different: “Cx. pipiens form pipiens” and “Cx. pipiens form molestus.” Cx. pipiens form pipiens differs from Cx. pipiens form molestus in three distinct ways: (1) it breeds in above-ground habitats, (2) it requires blood meals for egg production, and (3) it prefers avian hosts over humans (Figure 1). However, these two “bioforms” readily hybridize or crossbreed and as such they are both classified as the same species (Figure 2).
Catching bugs isn’t just for entomologists: Inside the University of Maryland’s plant diagnostic lab
written by: Dongxu Chen, PhD student, Hawthorne lab and Katie Reding, PhD student, Pick lab
Every gardener, farmer, or landscaper will at some point find some mysterious spots on their prized plants, or perhaps find that a random subset of their crop has wilted overnight. To anyone who’s not an expert, the pathogens causing these diseases can be hard to identify and seemingly impossible to control. Indeed, it can take much more than a trained eye to properly diagnose many plant diseases; often, axenic culture (growing only the organism of interest without contaminants) of the pathogen is required, and in some cases molecular tests are warranted. Dr. Karen Rane, the entomology department’s resident plant pathologist and this week’s colloquium speaker, uses all of these tools and more to handle the roughly 700-900 diseased plant samples her plant diagnostic lab receives each year (Fig. 1)*.
written by: Maria Cramer, PhD student, Hamby Lab and Lindsay Barranco, MS student, vanEngelsdorp Lab
When you conduct research on urban pollinators, it’s impossible to ignore the way your research impacts people and the way people impact your research. This was the overarching message from Dr. Mary Gardiner who studies the ecology of urban greenspaces in Cleveland, Ohio.
Over the past several decades, Cleveland has lost half its residents, resulting from protracted economic decline. Currently, population levels equal what existed in Cleveland in 1900, resulting at least in part from a steady rise in home foreclosures. The home foreclosures and resulting vacant lots from demolished homes have led to a major increase in greenspace. The city of Cleveland maintains these lots by mowing on a monthly basis which costs the city upwards of 3 million dollars per year. Dr. Gardiner wondered if the weedy and grassy spaces within Cleveland’s 30,000 vacant lots could provide valuable bee habitat. Would planting flowering plants, exotic or native, provide better habitat than what the vacant lots offered? Which species of bees might these green spaces attract? And importantly, could providing bee habitat help beautify demolished and vacant areas?
Written by: Mike Nan, PhD student, St. Leger lab
Dr. Jian Duan, a Research Entomologist at USDA, is working on sustainable ways to manage the invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) through introduction and establishment of natural enemies (stingless wasps) from the pest’s native range. This approach, also termed as classical biological control in the literature, can lead to permanent or sustainable reductions of pest populations. Dr. Duan explained that there are four stages in the invasion of new environment by a non-native species: (1) Transport (Introduction), (2) Establishment (or colonization), (3) Spread, and (4) Impact. There are two possible outcomes at each stage that can lead to either failure or success in progression.