Entomology Projects

Below are past examples of projects that were planned for Summer Research Scholars. For details on 2022 projects, please check back in the future. 

1. Chemical Ecology of Plant-Insect-Microbe Interactions

Insect pests rely on chemical communication to find food, reproduce, and avoid predation.  Our research focuses on how to use that communication to reduce pest pressure by stopping pests from finding food, reproducing, and avoiding predation.  A primary goal of this research is understanding chemical communication in the context of plant-insect-microbe interactions above and below ground.  Students will learn how to conduct experiments in multi-trophic settings and the skills needed to study chemical communication from a systems perspective.  Students will also learn about the importance of translating basic research into applied solutions to current agricultural challenges.  

  • Field: 25%, Lab 75%
  • Faculty: Willett 

2. 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: 70%, Lab 30%
  • Faculty: Nault 

3. What impacts the susceptibility of insects to the biopesticide Bt and transgenic Bt-crops?

The soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is the most widely used environmentally friendly bioinsecticide in agriculture and public health. The current genetically modified insect-resistant crops are all engineered with the insecticidal protein genes from Bt to confer insect-resistance. However, the molecular modes of action of various insecticidal Bt toxins in insects have yet to be understood fully, and evolution of resistance of insect populations to Bt toxins threatens the long-term future of Bt-biotechnology for environmentally benign pest management. We use biological, genetic and molecular approaches to study the mode of action of Bt toxins and mechanisms of insect resistance to Bt toxins. The scholar will participate in our research projects to conduct an independent study under guidance of and in collaboration with lab members.

  • Lab: 100%.
  • Faculty: Wang

4. Loeb Lab – 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 repellents and attractants. As another example, there is a new approach to producing strawberries involving growing them under plastic tunnels, which has a number of advantages, but also several challenges with arthropod pests, especially spider mites and Lygus bugs. We are investigating the use of natural enemies (predators, insect diseases) for these pests as alternatives to insecticides.  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

5. If you plant it, will they come?

For the last three summers, we have been growing perennial wildflowers and grasses next to a small research field of Christmas trees. These native perennials should be perfect habitat for pollinators and natural enemies (arthropods that eat pests). So, who is visiting these wildflower plots? Does the way in which the perennials were established (e.g., from seeds or transplants) influence the diversity or abundance of arthropods that visit? Through this project you will develop your arthropod collection and identification skills and analyze the results to help us answer these questions. You will also get to spend time in our picturesque research plots. Creative applicants may have the opportunity to make short videos or printed outreach materials to help communicate to growers and gardeners how and why to conserve pollinators and natural enemies by providing them with habitat.

  • Field: 40%, Lab: 60%. 
  • Faculty:  Dunn

6. Weed Management from the Ground Up

Agricultural soils contain diverse weed seed banks that are impacted by the surrounding soil environment. Soil animals affect multiple processes in soil environments through multiple pathways, however, their impacts on weed community dynamics are not well understood.  This project will explore the potential mechanisms by which soil microarthropods alter weed communities. The complementary lab and greenhouse experiments will provide experience in bridging basic and applied science.

  • Field: 50%, Lab: 50%. 
  • 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