A case study for teaching – Unintended Consequences of Plant Domestication on Plant-Insect Interactions


Glenna Malcolm at Penn State University and I have just published a case study for ecological thinking from my previous work on sunflower domestication and tritrophic interaction.

The study can be found at NSF’s National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. 


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Field season is on!

With the beginning of summer last week came the onset of our season of field trials. Graduate student Elisabeth Hodgdon is spending the summer at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario working with our Canadian collaborator Rebecca Hallett testing a new organic management strategy for swede midge, pheromone mating disruption.

Female insects secrete sex pheromones to attract males for mating. Pheromone mating disruption involves the application of large quantities of a pest’s sex pheromone within a field using slow release dispensers. When this chemical signal is ubiquitous in the field, the males become confused and cannot locate their mates (insert witty comment about confused males here!). Crop damage is reduced when the insects cannot mate and females do not lay eggs on the plants.


Pheromone dispenser in the field. Each semipermeable bag contains a small vial that slowly releases the midge pheromone throughout the season at a quantity 100x the amount produced by a single female in her lifetime.


University of Guelph Elora Research Station in southwestern Ontario

The main challenge associated with mating disruption of swede midge is that the pheromone is extremely expensive to synthesize for field application. This summer Elisabeth is testing whether a cheaper, racemic blend of the pheromone compounds will effectively confuse males and reduce damage in a broccoli test crop compared with the more expensive, chiral blend of pheromones naturally produced by the females and an untreated control. The treatments were set up on a commercial farm in New Hamburg, ON and at the Guelph Elora Research Station last week. She will collect trap data within the plots and harvest the broccoli at the end of the season to measure the treatments’ ability to improve marketable broccoli yields.

Swede midge is causing dire economic losses on organic vegetable farms in Ontario, Québec, New York and Vermont, and is spreading to nearby states and provinces each year. The midge was first documented in North America in southwestern Ontario in 2000 and populations have since become well established there, making the area ideal for researching new management strategies. We hope to further our collaborations with Canadian researchers in the future so that we may find solutions for growers in both countries.

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Congratulations to Dr. Victor Izzo!

Vic is joining Plant and Soil Science at UVM as a Full-time Lecturer! The department is very lucky to have some who is has such a passion for teaching and student mentoring.

I am very pleased that we have been able to retain Vic at UVM!




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The swede midge problem intensifies – and we need your help!

Swede midge is an insect pest that has recently caused up to 100% losses of organic broccoli in New York and Vermont. The midge is an invasive pest that also attacks a wide range of other crops in the Brassicaceae family (kale, collards, cabbage, kohlrabi, Brussel sprouts, bok choi, napa cabbage, turnips, and canola). So far, severe damage is only restricted to New York and Vermont.

The Insect Agroecology and Evolution Lab is the currently the only lab in the United States that is working on the developing alternative pest control strategies suitable for organic production for the midge. If you donate to our fund, the money will go directly towards funding student research on swede midge pest control.

Help support swede midge research!

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Crop domestication, global human-mediated migration, and the unresolved role of geography in pest control

One of the major assumptions of sustainable agriculture is that studying the ecology of insect pests in agroecosystems should lead to improved ecologically-based pest management. In the majority of studies, the geographic origin of the plants and insects are rarely considered. As a result, there has been little discussion as to whether species origins influence the success of pest control.

In this new commentary, I discuss how geography structures the evolution of insect as pests, and how this may influence the success of ecologically-based pest control approaches. I propose that further advances in developing ecologically-based management may come by developing a line of questioning that acknowledges both agricultural history and geography.

The article is freely available from Elementa: Science of the AnthropoceneFig. 1 final-RGB_small

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