Research

Research Interests (broadly defined)

Insect behavior, neurobiology, chemical & molecular ecology & integrated pest management (IPM)

My academic interests concern both the fundamental and applied aspects of insect behavior, chemical ecology, and integrated pest management (IPM). My basic research uses a broad based multidisciplinary approach (analytical, behavioral, electrophysiological, neurobiological and molecular techniques) to address fundamental questions in insect olfaction and plant-insect interactions. The goals of my applied research are to develop and evaluate ecologically based IPM programs for insect pests, and deliver these programs to growers. My research has been funded by various extramural funding sources including National Science Foundation (NSF), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Southern Region IPM Center, and Biopesticide/Biological Industry, as well as by intramural grants including Auburn University Competitive Research Grants and Biogrants, Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station (AAES) competitive grants, Alabama State Legislature grants for fire ant management, and Alabama Fruit and Nuts grants.


Basic Research:

My basic research focuses on mechanisms of olfaction (sense of smell) and semiochemical mediated plant-insect and tritrophic interactions. Insects rely on semiochemical (odor) cues to locate food, hosts, mates, and to avoid unsuitable habitats. The goal of this research is to advance our understanding of the behavioral, chemical and physiological mechanisms of olfaction in insects. Using a systems approach involving integration of cutting-edge analytical, behavioral, electrophysiological, neurobiological and molecular techniques, this research investigates how insects find and track odor sources and how odor is processed in the antennal and brain (antennal lobe) of insects. In addition, we have recently commenced studies on the molecular mechanisms of olfaction and rhizobacteria mediated plant-insect interactions. Detailed understanding of mechanisms of olfaction and plant-insect interactions can result in the development of environmentally sound pest management strategies. Relevant ongoing research projects in my laboratory include:

1) Comparative study of behavioral response of generalist versus specialist parasitoids to host related volatiles.

2) Antennal lobe morphology and neurobiology of olfaction in parasitic wasps.

3) Identification and development of attractants (allelochemicals and pheromones) for managing key pests of cruciferous vegetables.

4) Semiochemical mediated fire ant-parasitoid interactions.

5) Development of oviposition attractants for black flies (Simulium spp.).

6) Effects of rhizobacteria (PGPR) on induction of plant volatiles and consequences for herbivores and parasitoid.

7) Molecular mechanisms of PGPR mediated plant-insect interactions.


Applied Research:

The goal of this project area is to facilitate implementation of alternative IPM practices by Alabama fruit and vegetable growers through applied research and extension/outreach activities. I have several projects aimed at developing and evaluating economically viable management practices for key pests of several crops in Alabama including peaches, Satsuma mandarin, tomato, cruciferous crops, and organic vegetable production. This project area has been funded by several sources including EPA, USDA, IPM Center, Industry, and Intramural grants. Four of my graduate students are currently working in this project area. Implementation of cost-effective IPM strategies will reduce reliance of farmers on conventional pesticides, and ultimately decrease non-target effects and occurrence of toxic residues on fresh market fruits and vegetables. Examples of specific projects include:

1) Management of plum curculio and sucking insect pests in Alabama peaches. Plum curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar) is the most important economic pest of peaches in Alabama and many other parts of southern United States. This program focuses on the evaluation and implementation of alternative cultural and biorational pest management practices that will help mitigate the impact of FQPA on peach production in Alabama and reduce potential exposure to toxic pesticide residues in fresh market fruit. Several studies are ongoing including evaluation of reduced insecticide spray programs against plum curculio and evaluation of trap crops for managing stink bugs and leaffooted bugs.

2) Development and implementation of Satsuma citrus IPM in Alabama: Satsuma mandarin production is a growing industry in Alabama. This aim of this programl is development and implementation of Satsuma citrus IPM in Alabama. An ongoing project focuses on biological control of citrus red mite with predatory mites.

3) Vegetable IPM and development of organic vegetable production systems in Alabama: An ongoing project focuses on the evaluation of biopesticides and cultural practices for managing insect pests in organic vegetable production. Another project focuses on the development and implementation of attractants for managing yellowmargined leaf beetle in organic crucifer vegetable production.


Outreach and Extension:

I am involved in several extension/outreach-related activities in fruit and vegetable IPM including grower training and education, field demonstration and workshops. My outreach mission is to promote and facilitate the adoption of IPM in fruit and vegetable crops. As the Extension IPM Coordinator for Alabama, I work cooperatively with several agencies including the USDA-CSREES and the Southern Region IPM Center, and with local research and extension staff and other stakeholders to set IPM priorities for Alabama, and to coordinate and promote existing and new IPM programs in the state. For more information visit the Alabama IPM Program.