Entomology Projects

2023 projects

1. Insect behavior 

Understanding insect behavior can be foundational for the development of sustainable pest control techniques. If we understand more about how insects choose between scents or plants, 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. ‘How can you eat that?’: Study of plant toxins detoxification by insect pests to advance RNAi pest control strategy.

Herbivorous insects are constantly exposed to plant chemical defenses, and they have adapted to these toxins using a variety of different mechanisms such as detoxification, excretion, tolerance, and sequestration. To identify the mechanisms used by insect pests to coopt plant toxins, it is necessary to study how each chemical defense is metabolized by insects. This strategy sheds light on enzymes and their corresponding genes that are good candidates in RNAi pest control applications. In this project, we study the detoxification of steroidal alkaloids in Solanaceae (potato, eggplant, tomato) by Colorado potato beetle and we aim to teach summer scholars how to set up plant-herbivore experiments, measure herbivore fitness, prepare plant and insect extracts, and use mass spectrometry to analyze the fate of toxins in insects.

Lab: 80%; Field: 20%

Faculty: Duplais

3. Who eats whom? Biological control of the invasive fruit pests spotted wing drosophila

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 blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cherries.  While insecticides are currently the most common method of control, they have many drawbacks.  So, there is a tremendous need to develop alternative management tactics such as biological control (use of predators, parasitoids, and pathogens to suppress pest populations below economically damaging numbers).  Our lab is studying parasitoid wasps that lay their eggs into the larvae of SWD, like the Aliens movies, thereby killing the larvae and producing more adult wasps.  The summer scholar will have the opportunity to study the behavior of these wasps, including the use of a video tracking system, and olfactometer assays, to help us better understand their biology and potential use in managing this major pest of berries

Lab: 75%; Field: 25%

Faculty: Loeb

4. 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.

Lab: 20%; Field: 80%

Faculty: Nault

5. Functional understanding of insect genes using a reverse genetic approach

This project aims to understand the physiological functions of genes of interest in insects. With the genome sequenced and CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique established in the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni, our lab uses a reverse genetic approach to investigate the functions of selected genes of interest in T. ni. In this project, we will analyze and characterize phenotypic changes of T. ni strains with mutations introduced in the genes of interest. The scholar will participate in our research project to conduct an independent biological and physiological study under guidance of and in collaboration with lab members.

Lab: 100%; Field: 0%

Faculty: Wang

6. Sound Underground

Have you ever wondered how important sound is in soil?  Are you interested in learning how to use sensors to explore the ecology of soil?  If you answered yes then keep reading!  The monitoring of soil dwelling animals is challenging but is a critical step in the sustainable management of crop and soil health.  This project will explore the potential use of bioacoustics sensors for the detection and characterization of soil animals.  The project will involve testing the utility of a commercial acoustic sensor in laboratory settings and evaluating the sensitivity of sensors for detecting a variety of soil animals under field conditions in managed grass systems.  This project will offer training opportunities in soil animal ecology, bio-acoustics, sensor technology, and data science.

Lab: 50%, Field: 50%

Faculty:  Wickings