Entomology Projects

2022 projects

1. Insect behavior 

Understanding insect behavior can unlock the key to more sustainable pest management. If we understand more about how insects choose between scents, what motivates insects to initiate flight or how their feeding behavior changes with the presence of a predator, it can provide insight to potential new techniques or approaches to limiting the negative effects of pests on target agricultural crops. In this project, the summer scholar will work alongside Rivera lab members to explore different techniques of measuring and assessing insect behavior.

Lab: 90%, Field: 10% 

Faculty: Rivera

2. Insect Ecology and Sustainable Management of Arthropod Pests of Grapes and Berries

The Loeb lab studies the ecology of arthropods that impact fruit crops, especially grapes and berries. We then use this knowledge to develop sustainable pest management solutions. One example is our work on spotted wing drosophila (SWD), one of the most significant invasive arthropods affecting berries in the United States. While insecticides are the most commonly used method of pest management for SWD, alternative approaches are needed. We are studying the chemical ecology of SWD to gain insights into how we can manipulate their behavior through deterrents and attractants (see diagram above illustrating the push – pull concept). We are also evaluating biological control of SWD as an alternative or supplement to chemical control. The summer scholar will have the opportunity to conduct research on arthropod pests of grapes and berries that will contribute to their sustainable management. The amount of time spent inside or in the field will depend on the specific project, but around 50:50 is typical.

Field: 50%; Lab: 50%

Faculty: Loeb

3. Integrated Pest Management for Vegetable Crops

In 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

4. Analysis of genetic variations associated with Bt resistance in insects from the field

The soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is the most widely used environmentally friendly bioinsecticide in agriculture and public health. Current genetically modified insect-resistant crops widely adopted in the US are engineered with the insecticidal protein genes from Bt to confer insect-resistance. Our lab studies molecular modes of action of the Bt toxins in insects and the molecular genetics of insect resistance to Bt toxins. In this project, we will analyze the genetic variations associated with Bt resistance in insects collected from the field. The scholar will participate in our research project to conduct an independent molecular study of DNA sequence variations under guidance of and in collaboration with lab members.

Field: 0%; Lab: 100%

Faculty: Wang

5. Microscopic monsters: Investigating soil-dwelling fungal insect pathogens in managed grass systems

Entomopathogenic fungi (EPF) are fungi that are capable of infecting and killing insects. In New York State, there are a variety of belowground insect pests that eat the roots of grass and can severely damage lawns and other turf areas, including many species of white grubs and crane fly larvae. Instead of using conventional pesticides to battle below-ground pests, which can be costly and are not environmentally friendly, EPF are a potential environmentally friendly alternative due to their natural populations in the soil and their ability to infect these target pests. We are studying how we can utilize EPF for control of white grubs in turfgrasses, and how we can improve EPF efficacy as a seed treatment. Additionally, we are interested in understanding more about the potential for multifunctional lifestyles of EPF, since some species of EPF are also known to persist as saprobes and within plant tissues as endophytes. The summer scholar will have the opportunity to conduct independent or collaborative research on fungal insect pathogens of belowground insects and will contribute to the evaluation of EPF as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional insecticides.

Lab: 60%, Field/greenhouse: 40%

Faculty:  Wickings

6. Uncovering the role of soil animals in urban ecosystem function

Description: Soil animals, such as earthworms, mites, and collembola, play a central role in soils and the ecosystem services they provide. They restructure organic materials in the soil, consume and augment microorganisms, and even impact rates of carbon storage or carbon loss through their activity. The ecosystem services which are enhanced by soil animals benefit all soil environments, but especially those in urbanized areas like city parks and forest fragments which are charged with providing ecosystem services to people in places where robust ecosystems are absent. This project aims to explore the intersections of humans, soil animals, and ecosystem services to decipher how human activity may impact soil foodwebs and the ecosystem services that they provide. Applicants should have interests in some of the following topics: trophic interactions, biogeochemistry, spatial ecology, disturbance ecology, applied ecology, and soil science. 

Fieldwork: 40%, Lab: 60%

Faculty:  Wickings

7. Sounds of Soil

The monitoring of soil dwelling animals is challenging, but is a critical step in the sustainable management of root-feeding pests.  This project will explore the potential use of bioacoustics for the detection and characterization of soil animals.  The project will involve testing the utility of different acoustic sensors in laboratory settings and evaluating the sensitivity of sensors for detecting soil animals under field conditions in managed grass systems.

Field 50%, Lab 50%

Faculty: Wickings

8. Weed Management from the Ground Up

Agricultural soils contain diverse weed seed banks that are impacted by the surrounding soil environment. The soil environment can therefore play a role in determining the aboveground weed community we manage. Soil microarthropods affect multiple processes in soil environments with their behaviors, especially their feeding habits. This project will focus on exploring the potential mechanisms by which soil microarthropods could affect weed communities. The complementary lab and greenhouse experiments will provide experience in bridging basic and applied science.

Lab: 50%, Greenhouse: 50%

Faculty: Wickings

9. How does an herbivorous insect detoxify plant chemical defense? New insights from the cabbage looper.

In herbivorous insects, the midgut is known to play important roles in defense against insecticidal plant chemicals, but it is less known how midgut genes are involved in detoxification of the plant chemicals. We will use selected midgut gene mutations in the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni, to study the roles of the midgut genes in detoxification of plant chemical defense. In this project, we will analyze the detoxification of steroidal alkaloids from tomato plants in T. ni. The undergraduate student will learn how to set up plant-herbivore experiments, measure herbivore fitness, prepare plant and insect extracts, and use state-of-the-art mass spectrometry to analyze phytochemicals and specialized metabolites.

Lab: 80%; Greenhouse: 20%

Faculty: Duplais and Wang