ESA Names AFRI Student Travel Grant Winners

Annapolis, MD; September 12, 2013 -- The Entomological Society of America (ESA) is pleased to announce the winners of the USDA-AFRI Student Travel Grants. This travel grant award for Entomology 2013 is funded by USDA-NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program on Plant-Associated Insects and Nematodes. It was created to provide financial support to graduate students for new networking, presentation, and research opportunities at Entomology 2013.

The following entomology students are winners of the 2013 USDA-AFRI Student Travel Grants:

LAURA L. INGWELL is an entomology PhD candidate at the University of Idaho. Her doctoral research examines host plant-virus-vector interactions in the barley yellow dwarf virus-Rhopalosiphum padi pathosystem. Working under the mentorship of Nilsa A. Bosque-Pérez, she recently reported for the first time that acquisition of a plant virus by a vector directly influences the behavior of an insect vector, as highlighted in their recent paper in Scientific Reports. Laura graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a BS in biology and a minor in chemistry in 2006. Prior to graduate school, she studied liana dynamics in tropical forests in Costa Rica and Panama with Stefan A. Schnitzer. She received her MS from the University of Rhode Island under the guidance of Evan L. Preisser in 2009, conducting research on resistance in eastern hemlock to the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. Her doctoral research is examining the behavioral responses of virus vectors to virus infection of host plants. She has also examined the prevalence of barley yellow dwarf virus in nonmanaged ecosystems, including the endangered Palouse Prairie in Idaho and Washington, and the susceptibility of native and introduced grasses to the virus. More broadly, her research interests are rooted in community dynamics and trophic interactions, plant-insect interactions, insect vectors of plant pathogens, and the impacts of invasive species on community structure and function. Laura considers herself to be an entomologist and community ecologist with research focused on plant-insect interactions in an applied context. She is the recipient of the ESA Pacific Branch’s 2013 Student Leadership Award. Upon the completion of her PhD at the University of Idaho, she will be working as a postdoctoral research associate with Ian Kaplan at Purdue University, focusing on biological control of insects in high tunnel agricultural production of vegetable crops.

DAVID LOWENSTEIN is a graduate student at the University of Illinois under the guidance of Dr. Emily Minor. David’s research interests include the roles of insects in agroecosystems and the interactions between hymenopterans and plants. He has collaborated with a diverse group of stakeholders, from ginseng growers in Wisconsin to urban gardeners in Illinois. His interests in entomology began after participating in an independent research project studying biological control of the Colorado potato beetle. David received a master’s in entomology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the direction of Dr. Russell Groves. During that time, he sampled wild bees in pickling cucumber and studied the impact of land cover on wild bee populations. Currently, he is investigating pollination services in urban neighborhoods and the interaction between land cover, yard management decisions, and pollinators. David promotes the importance of insects and their ecosystem services in urban areas. The high rate of vacant lots in the urban core brings opportunities to repurpose some of this land for agricultural enterprise, and he aims to study how changes in land use will impact the pollinator and parasitoid communities. Ultimately, David’s goal is to broaden the public’s knowledge of plant-pollinator interactions and the conservation of beneficial insects in agriculture through a combination of research and extension.

CHRIS PHILIPS grew up in north Texas and completed his BS in entomology from the University of Delaware in 2007. He graduated with his master's degree in entomology from the University of Delaware in 2010, where he worked with Dr. Douglas Tallamy investigating the impact of nonnative plants on native insect communities. In 2010, he began his PhD in the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech, where he was co-advised by Drs. Thomas Kuhar (vegetable entomologist) and Ames Herbert (field crops entomologist). Working with these two diverse programs enabled him to gain a wide variety of experience in pest management decision-making and control strategies. In August, 2013 Chris successfully defended his dissertation, which focused on investigating the efficacy of ecologically-based pest management in different agroecosystems. He recently accepted a postdoctoral research associate position at Washington State University working with Dr. Bill Snyder to investigate the ecological basis of natural pest control in organic farming systems. His research interests focus on agricultural land management practices and their impact on insect ecology. He is particularly interested in how plant-provided resources and habitat heterogeneity influence predator communities and the impact of predator-predator interactions on pest suppression in agroecosystems. Ultimately, he hopes to work in academia and interface with industry to conduct applied and theoretical research that addresses agricultural and land management issues to improve our ability to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

ERICA KISTNER is a fifth year PhD candidate at the University of Notre Dame (Department of Biological Sciences). As part of her broad interests in population and disease ecology, her dissertation research investigates the conditions in which pathogens may limit host populations. She uses a grasshopper fungal pathogen model system to examine host-pathogen dynamics at the environmental, host, and pathogen levels. She has been conducting field experiments that examine how the entomopathogen Entomophthora macleodii limits the clear-winged grasshopper (Camnula pellucida), an agriculture/rangeland pest in western Montana since 2010. Her past research indicates that host dynamics, mechanical carriers (ants), and abiotic conditions affect host limitation in this grasshopper/fungal pathogen system. In addition, she has found evidence suggesting climatic warming could reduce fungal pathogen reduction of host numbers. She is currently writing the remainder of her dissertation and building a mechanistic model that predicts E. macleodii outbreaks under future climate change. She will receive her PhD in May, 2014, and she is currently seeking postdoctoral positions.

LOREN RIVERA VEGA is a PhD candidate in entomology with a dual degree in international agriculture and development at Penn State University. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in agriculture at the Escuela Agricola Panamericana (Zamorano) in Honduras in 2007. In 2011, she completed her master’s program at Ohio State University, working on the comparative transcriptomics of North American and Asian ash (Fraxinus spp.) trees for identification of potential resistance to emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis). During this time she published three first-author journal articles and collaborated on four others. She is currently studying the effect of host plants on the composition of saliva in the cabbage looper (Trichoplusia ni) and its impact on plant defenses. Her research interests focus on understanding the factors that affect plant defenses against insect herbivores and the social impact of scientific advancement in developing countries.

SUHAS VYAVHARE received his bachelor's in agriculture from the College of Agriculture in Pune, India and his master's in plant, soil, and environmental science from West Texas A&M University. For his master’s, he worked on screening of sorghum genotypes for resistance to maize weevil under the guidance of Dr. Bonnie Pendleton. Currently he is a PhD candidate (entomology) at Texas A&M University, where he is being co-advised by Drs. R. F. Medina and M. O. Way. Suhas' research focuses on the development of an integrated pest management program for redbanded stink bug (RBSB), an invasive insect pest of soybeans in the southern U.S. For this project, he is conducting field-cage experiments to study insect-plant interactions for the last three years. Also, he is working on the insecticide resistance monitoring program for RBSB in Texas soybeans and investigating resistance mechanisms of this pest to pyrethroid and organophosphate insecticides. Recently, Suhas received the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Award for Graduate Research at TAMU. Suhas has over three years of experience in designing and conducting field research evaluating insecticide efficacy, promising seed treatments, and germplasm screenings for insect resistance in soybean. He is interested in agricultural entomology, especially insect toxicological aspects such as development of novel insect control strategies and insecticide resistance management. He has written research grants and has published research in scientific journals, extension bulletins, newsletters, and insect management guides. He has also organized research symposia and delivered oral presentations at professional conferences, extension meetings, and field days. He is also a part of TAMU’s Linnaean Games and Student Debate teams. Besides academia, Suhas enjoys playing cricket and photography. In 2012, he represented TAMU in the American College Cricket National Championship in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

STEPHANIE R. WELDON is a PhD candidate in the University of Georgia’s Department of Entomology, working under the auspices of Dr. Kerry Oliver. A native of New Orleans, Stephanie has been enjoying Georgia’s hospitality for eight years at this point, as she earned her BS in biology at Emory University in Atlanta with the aid of a Robert W. Woodruff merit scholarship. Stephanie’s primary area of research is on mobile genetic elements in facultative defensive bacteria in aphids, with a side line in the biology of host-sharing by multiple mutualist species. Apart from her research, Stephanie is the current UGA representative to the Southeastern Branch of the ESA’s Student Affairs Committee, and she chairs the subcommittee on student symposia. In 2011, she acted as team captain for the ESA Student Debates’ Overall Best Debate Team. In 2012, she was a member of UGA’s Linnaean Games team when they won the national championship—she will never live down the fact that she forgot Jeff Goldblum’s name when ringing in to answer a question about The Fly. Stephanie has previously won competitive funding for research and travel from the UGA graduate school, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and the NextBio Corporation. She was also recently named the UGA Entomology Department’s PhD student of the year, and has presented her graduate work at eight professional conferences. When not at either the computer or the lab bench, Stephanie enjoys collecting books and performing dangerous cooking experiments.

MIA PARK, a PhD candidate at Cornell University’s Department of Entomology, is following through on a career that began as a child exploring a fascination with nature. Completing her degree next summer is the icing on the cake of previous layers of study: a BS in environmental studies from University of California, Davis, and an MS in natural resources from Cornell University. Mia’s research work is motivated by a passion for insect conservation and a commitment to promote wise management of our natural resources with sound science. Her dissertation, which investigates the importance of wild bees for apple pollination, has unearthed important facts about the effects of pesticides, as well as grower knowledge and attitudes. Actively advocating for the importance of wild agricultural pollinators, Mia has been outspoken through talks around New York state and through a well-received handbook that she produced entitled Wild Pollinators of Eastern Apple Orchards and How to Conserve Them. Mia has received several research awards and fellowships, including a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Land Grant Extension Fellowship. For the Entomological Society of America, she has served as a national meeting volunteer, moderator, program symposium co-organizer, and journal reviewer. Service in her community includes supporting events that encourage women in science and that engender appreciation of insects. At the bottom of all this study and activity, Mia simply loves insects because of the boundless sense of discovery that comes from studying them.

MAGGIE DOUGLAS started her academic career at Oberlin College, where she studied biology. Following several years advocating for sustainable agriculture in the non-profit sector, she was introduced to the world of insect ecology through the labs of Drs. Bob Denno (University of Maryland), John Lill (George Washington University), and Gina Wimp (Georgetown University). Seeing an opportunity to meld her interests in insects and agriculture, she pursued a master’s degree at Penn State University under Dr. John Tooker, where she was part of an interdisciplinary cropping systems project where she studied the ecology of slugs and their natural enemies in no-till agroecosystems. Toward the end of her master’s degree, she became interested in the potential non-target effects of neonicotinoid seed treatments on natural enemies, particularly through trophic transfer of toxins via tolerant herbivores. This topic forms the basis of her current dissertation work at Penn State, where she is pursuing a dual degree in entomology and international agriculture and development.

ERIN MORRIS received her MS in entomology from the Ohio State University in 2005. Her MS project was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Parwinder Grewal and focused on the use of entomopathogenic nematodes and fungi to control invasive Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica). Currently, Erin is a PhD candidate in entomology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, working under Dr. Ann Hajek. For her dissertation research, she has continued to focus on nematodes as biological control agents, concentrating on Sirex noctilio, an invasive pest of pine trees. The parasitic nematode Deladenus siricidicola is under consideration for release in the United States, and Erin is investigating the potential for non-target effects, better ways to mass-produce the nematode, and potential hurdles to successful control. To do this, she is investigating the numerous interactions between invasive S. noctilio woodwasps, their nematode parasites, and the symbiotic fungi with which the woodwasps kill pine trees. Methods she has used to answer these questions include the development of molecular identification techniques for parasitic nematodes, nematode reproduction assays, fungal culture, and phylogenetic analysis, as well as fluorescence and cryogenic scanning electron microscopy. She expects to graduate with her PhD this fall, and is currently looking for postdoctoral opportunities in invertebrate pathology, biological control, or nematology.

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