Overarching themes the lab addresses are:
Where are insects when not on our crops? – monitoring insect movements in agricultural environments
Why do some insects become major pests while others do not? – mechanisms underlying insect adaptation to management practices
How are insect populations responding to rapid environmental change (land use, climate, etc.)
Current research focuses on:
Conservation biological control of slugs in reduced-till corn and soybean systems
Slugs are a frequent early season pest of no-till corn and soybean in the Mid-Atlantic. We are currently identifying natural enemies of slugs, focusing on ground beetles and mollusk-parasitic nematodes. With this knowledge, we hope to find ways that farms can promote natural suppression of slugs.
Management of lesser mealworm (Alphitobius diaperinus) in poultry systems
The lesser mealworm, Alphitobius diaperinus, is a common pest of the poultry industry that impacts broiler and layer houses. We are interested in understanding how A. diaperinus moves on both an individual scale within houses and on a population scale between houses and farms. Using this information, we hope to improve management techniques used to control populations of A. diaperinus and limit their movement to protect the biosecurity of poultry production.
Recycling animal wastes with lesser mealworm
Insects hold the potential to bridge the widening nutrient gap between food system waste and a growing human population. Alphitobius diaperinus (lesser mealworm/darkling beetle), a common pest of poultry and stored grains, is increasingly being recognized as a potential waste upcycler. Lesser mealworms thrive in huge numbers on little food, water, and space, but optimal rearing conditions have yet to be determined. We are interested in the ability of A. diaperinus to upcycle poultry manure into biomass that could then be consumed by other animals. Larva are being reared on poultry feed and poultry litter to compare mass, length, survival, and feed conversion. Our results will determine whether A. diaperinus can efficiently reduce poultry litter while converting it to nutritious biomass of animal feed.
Computer vision-based monitoring of specialty crop pests
Effective management often depends on early detection and continuous monitoring of pests. We seek to develop computer vision-based tools to improve monitoring of pests in specialty crop (lima bean, mushroom, watermelon) systems.
Biological control of phorid flies in mushrooms
Undergraduate research project led by Luke Reynolds (now a MS student at Penn State):
The mushroom phorid fly Megaselia halterata is a major pest of cultivated Agaricus mushrooms. Just north of campus is Chester County, Pennsylvania, which produces more than 60% of the nation’s mushrooms and has been dubbed the “Mushroom Capital of the World”. M. halterata populations have grown exponentially in the county as pesticide regulations have recently changed. Our lab assesses predatory mites as possible biological control agents for M. halterata. Our lab is also interested in studying mold mites that are included as a food source in the medium the predatory mites are packaged in. We are especially interested in the direct effect the mold mites may have on mushroom yield. The predatory mite Stratiolaelaps scimitus has been identified as a possible control agent in bioassays, but more repetitions need to be carried out. Data is still being gathered on the population dynamics of the mites in the medium. Experiments should be carried out to assess the direct effect the mites have on mushroom yield.