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  • Cornell AgriTech
  • Department of Entomology
  • Agriculture
  • Entomology
  • Food
Sara Emery, assistant professor, Department of Entomology,
Cornell AgriTech

Academic focus: Applied systems ecology

Research summary: I seek to understand how arthropod communities are affected by the interacting drivers of climate and land-use change. I’m an applied ecologist, with interests in agricultural entomology, biological control, integrated pest management and community ecology. I use a broad array of research methods, including large-scale field surveys, cage and lab experimentation, statistical ecology methods applied to large datasets, and molecular methods to quantify shifts in population patterns over time and assess trophic links in agricultural insect communities. My goals are to mitigate negative effects of pests in agriculture and enhance the resilience of agricultural food production systems.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Cycling, wandering in the woods, plunging in very cold water, baking bread, listening to records lying on the floor.

What are your current outreach/extension projects?

My extension projects are currently focused on pest problems in New York specialty crops. I am collaborating with the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets to develop a risk model for invasive pest species spreading across the state and posing risks to vineyards, and a model to estimate the emergence timing for pests in apple orchards. I am using historic monitoring data to quantify shifting pest emergence patterns, due to climate change, that are causing failures of predictive models. I am also involved with an extension effort to share regional information on how slug and snail pest pressures are shifting in horticultural crops across the United States.

What are three adjectives people might use to describe you?

Animated, resourceful, optimistic.

What (specifically) brought you to Cornell CALS?

I care deeply about the land-grant mission and believe institutions of higher education have a responsibility to engage with the problems facing nearby communities. I love science that sits at the intersection of basic and applied work, and CALS has a reputation for both engaging with the community outside of academia and fostering collaboration. 

What do you think is important for people to understand about your field?

As an ecologist I see insects in agriculture as an ideal organism-system pairing to test ecological theory. Some people think only areas untouched by humans are natural, but I see humans as integral to nature. Research at the interface of human and non-human ecosystems is fundamental to understanding how we can have a role in mitigating our negative impact on the environment while also providing for our own basic needs.

Why did you feel inspired to pursue a career in this field?

I was inspired to work in this field for three reasons. The first is because I really do care about bolstering farmer livelihoods while decreasing the negative externalities of intensive agriculture. The second reason is because I really love working in research and trying to understand complexity. Lastly, I just really love insects; I love their ecology, I love the way they look and I love watching them interact and navigate the world, for which they must have such a different perspective than our own.

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