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  • Cornell AgriTech
  • Entomology

Lidia Komondy is a Ph.D. candidate working in the lab of Brian Nault, professor of entomology at Cornell AgriTech. Komondy has so excelled in vegetable entomology research, she was one of only five graduate students in the U.S. selected for the 2024 USDA Future Leaders in Agriculture Program. The program is aimed at undergraduates and graduate students majoring in agriculture-related subjects, including business, economics, communications, nutrition, food science and pre-veterinary studies. As a program winner, Komondy traveled to Washington, D.C., in February to tour the nation’s capital and attend USDA’s premier annual event, the Agricultural Outlook Forum. She also participated in several briefings, gaining numerous opportunities for career development with leaders at USDA. We recently sat down with Komondy to ask about her path to this exciting achievement.

Explain your research in a few sentences in layman’s terms. What crops do you research? What questions are you trying to answer?

My research focuses on the pest and disease management of onions in western New York. Specifically, I am looking to answer questions about onion thrips, a feeding pest of onion and transmitter of iris yellow spot virus (IYSV), which is an economically devastating tospovirus that is decimating the region. I am particularly passionate about using precision agricultural tools where possible to improve efficiency and sustainability in agricultural systems.

What’s one fascinating thing that most people wouldn’t know about the crop you research and/or the tools you use to research?

Interestingly enough, onion thrips reproduce parthenogenetically (asexually), with thelytoky being the most common reproductive mode, which produces females from unfertilized eggs. Depending on the location, landscape factors and population dynamics, nearly all thrips are female. This poses pest management challenges, because thrips are able to reproduce much quicker with this reproductive mode. Additionally, they are typically less genetically diverse and may even have higher rates of resistance to pesticides compared with their close sexual relatives.

What challenges affecting this crop does your research address? What approaches are you using?

My research addresses challenges of management and surveillance in onion production. One chapter of my dissertation seeks to minimize the amount of thrips sampling by scouts required to make insecticide spray decisions. This involved developing a sequential sampling plan that uses probabilities of distribution to predict thrips densities within each field sampled, providing statistically sound predictions based on the degree of thrips aggregation. Another challenge that my research has sought to address is the basic epidemiology of IYSV. More information about IYSV transmission, biology and ecology is essential to formulating effective disease management programs. A few of my research chapters have involved tracking the movement of IYSV between onion field types both spatially and temporally throughout the onion production season in multiple years to see if we could identify factors that lead to severe IYSV epidemics. These projects would not have been successful without a lot of thrips sampling and testing for IYSV using DAS-ELISA, as well as spatial statistics and modeling approaches.

How has Cornell AgriTech supported your achievements, including your nomination as a 2024 Future Leader in Agriculture?

Cornell AgriTech has supported my progress and growth in my research program by providing an incredible amount of resources that were essential to carrying out quality research. From the research farm, greenhouse facilities and support staff to the molecular labs, AgriTech provides infrastructure and expertise from individuals deeply committed to agricultural research, which is invaluable to graduate students.

What have you enjoyed most about working on the AgriTech campus?

I have really enjoyed getting to know all the brilliant and interesting people at AgriTech. I have really grown to appreciate the culture and comradery, because I started my program in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions when there were no opportunities to socialize or interact. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to see collaboration and coffee breaks come back to life from an almost two-year hiatus!

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