Conservation biocontrol on urban farms in NYC

The goal of this 3-year project is to help urban NYC growers improve their management of arthropod pests by attracting and conserving natural enemies, arthropods that prey on pest arthropods. In this first year of the overall project, we will monitor three cooperating urban farms to assess the diversity and abundance of natural enemies and pests of interest to these growers, as well as the amount of damage the pests are doing to crops. This will provide baseline information on the arthropods already present at these growing operations and the damage caused by pests in the absence of special efforts to attract and conserve natural enemies. In 2022, we will plant habitat to support natural enemies and compare arthropods sampled after planting. We will share results and new techniques with a larger audience beyond the three cooperating growers through workshops presented in NYC each spring and through the creation of outreach materials to be distributed digitally. Ultimately, this project will increase urban growers’ knowledge of attracting and identifying natural enemies. Urban growers will also add habitat for natural enemies to their growing operations and will achieve improved pest management through these plantings.

Roles and responsibilities 

The student intern will accompany field mentors or a technician on urban farm visits and will assist with pest scouting, assessment of crop damage, arthropod sampling, and documenting work with photo and video recording. The intern will then sort and count arthropods collected from these urban farms and summarize these data to establish baseline natural enemy and pest diversity and abundance. Initial training will be provided by the project's faculty sponsor on arthropod sampling and identification. This training can either be scheduled during the Spring 2021 semester or via Zoom after the intern arrives in NYC. During the internship, the faculty sponsor will schedule at least bi-weekly Zoom check-ins to answer intern questions and discuss the project. If time allows and depending on interest, the intern could use pictures and videos they have taken to develop outreach materials (e.g., short videos demonstrating how to scout for pests, how to sample arthropods, how to distinguish different arthropods).

Due to COVID-19, it is possible that this internship could be modified to allow the student to complete insect sorting and counting remotely.

Qualifications and previous coursework

This opportunity is available to students in Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The student needs to demonstrate attention to detail and be willing to learn and follow protocols. Previous coursework related to agriculture (especially entomology) is helpful but not required. The student will be trained to identify arthropods to the taxonomic level required for this project.

Learning outcomes 

The student will learn about urban agriculture, vegetable production on small urban growing operations, arthropod pests of vegetable crops, and the natural enemies that feed on these pests. They will gain skills in scouting, arthropod sampling and identification, and data summary. Depending on interest and available time, they will also have the opportunity to develop skills in simple video editing (e.g., with Adobe Spark) and design of outreach materials.