Public Release: 

ESA names winners of AFRI student travel grants

Entomological Society of America

The Entomological Society of America (ESA) is pleased to announce that ten entomology students are recipients of travel grants awarded by the USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The grants will provide financial support to graduate students for new networking, presentation, and research opportunities at Entomology 2014, ESA's 62nd Annual Meeting this November in Portland, Oregon.

The 2014 Winners of AFRI Student Travel Grants are listed below, along with their research accomplishments:

Heather Connelly is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. Her research approach integrates large-scale field studies with new molecular techniques in order to develop integrated management strategies that promote synergy between the conservation of ecosystem services and improve agricultural productivity. Her dissertation project investigates the influences of landscape simplification due to agriculture on pollination and biological control services provided by wild insects to strawberry production in NY. Specifically, her work focuses on understanding how farm-level diversification and incorporation of wildflower strips may potentially buffer the negative impact of simplified landscape contexts. Prior to graduate school, she studied how land management practices impact white-footed mice populations and the prevalence of Lyme's disease while working on her BS at Ursinus College. Heather has been particularly active in advocating for native pollinators and other ecosystem service providers by giving talks based on her dissertation research at more than 35 venues, including both grower extension services and public science outreach. In her free time, Heather runs a small organic farm with her husband producing vegetables and raising chickens, ducks, and dairy goats.

Adam Dale grew up just outside of Greensboro, NC. He attended NC State University, where he got his bachelor's degree in biological sciences. He always had an interest in science, but never considered entomology as a career. While an undergrad, Adam worked as an assistant in an entomology lab for three years. This sparked a genuine interest in entomology and ecology. After graduation, he began graduate school at NC State, where he is currently working on his PhD with Dr. Steve Frank. His research focuses on urban ecology and the effects of urban habitats on street trees and arthropod herbivores. Primarily, he studies red maple (Acer rubrum) street trees and their most important insect pest in the southeastern U.S., the gloomy scale (Melanaspis tenebricosa). Cities create unique habitats that many herbivorous pests thrive in, but the reasons behind this are not well understood. He hopes to uncover mechanisms behind increased pest abundance in cities so that management strategies can be developed. As urbanization and climate change progress, we must adapt management practices to sustain urban forests and maximize their contribution of services to humans and the environment.

Carrie Deans grew up in rural Minnesota in a small town called Jackson. For her undergraduate degree, she attended the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, where she worked with Adam Kay and Kyle Zimmer on several projects focused on the nutritional ecology of aquatic insects. In 2005, she graduated with a BA in biology and in environmental studies. Afterwards, she took some time away from academia and worked several jobs in the natural resources field, including a term of service with the Minnesota Conservation Corps and work at Willow River State Park in Wisconsin. She then went back to school to obtain an MS in ecology and natural resources at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, where she worked in Neal Voelz's stream ecology lab. Her master's project was largely an extension of her undergraduate work in the field of ecological stoichiometry, a sub-field of nutritional ecology that focuses on the balance of elements in consumer-resource interactions. For her doctorate, she wanted to focus more on organismal biology and physiology as a means to understand the mechanisms driving the phenomena that she had observed in her stoichiometric work, which led her to join the labs of Spencer Behmer and Gregory Sword at Texas A&M University. Their combined expertise in the fields of insect physiology and nutritional ecology has helped her to develop a highly interdisciplinary dissertation project that focuses on how nutrition impacts stress response in insects, a topic that fits in well within her more general interests in gene-by-environment interactions and plasticity.

Michael Garvey is originally from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, located at the southern part of the Pocono Mountains. He completed his BS in entomology, cum laude with distinction in research, in 2012 at Cornell University. During his undergraduate career at Cornell, he assisted with research pertaining to insect pathology, specifically focusing on how to apply insect pathogens to facilitate biological control of Asian longhorned beetles (Anoplophora glabripennis), gypsy moths, and Sirex noctilio in the laboratory of Dr. Ann Hajek for three years. He then conducted independent research on immune activity in fruit flies with and without their gut microbiota, and on the pea aphid under Dr. Angela Douglas, which culminated in an undergraduate thesis. Currently, he is pursuing a PhD at Purdue University as part of Dr. Ian Kaplan's laboratory group. His research interests include plant-insect and host-parasite interactions. His dissertation focuses on examining tritrophic interactions and biological control in solanaceous crops using the tobacco hornworm and its specialist parasitic wasp, Cotesia congregata. Specifically, he has a keen interest in plant-mediated effects on the immune response, and he aims to elucidate how food plant toxins influence susceptibility to parasites from an ecological and immunological perspective. He was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. After receiving his doctorate, he hopes to continue doing research in academia focusing on parasitoid biological control and how altered nutritional hosts' states affect the immune response to parasitoids.

April Hamblin received her BS in environmental sciences from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. In order to continue addressing issues involved with conserving pollinators, she enrolled at North Carolina State University (NCSU), where she works in Dr. Steven Frank's lab studying urban native bees. As climate change and urbanization continue to increase at unprecedented levels, it is important to understand how temperature and urban landscape changes influence native bees on an individual and community level. To broaden our knowledge on this topic, April studies native bee communities in urban areas, such as backyards and parks, that reside on a temperature gradient. April also experiments with bees to explore their thermal tolerances as individuals. Along with her research, April participates in NCSU's Entomological Graduate Student Association (EGSA) as treasurer and fundraising chair. She enjoys conducting educational outreach with EGSA to spread knowledge of native bees and insects in general to those who might otherwise never come in contact with entomology.

Freddy Ibanez is a second-year PhD student in entomology at Texas A&M University. Freddy received his BS in biochemistry at the University of Santiago in 2006, where he served as secretary of the Biochemist Undergraduate Student Organization. Freddy's interest in insect biology started years ago when he was working as a research assistant in the laboratory of Dr. Veronica Cambiazzo at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA, Chile) on genes associated with gastrulation during the development of Drosophila melanogaster. He joined Texas A&M University as a research assistant in the Department of Horticultural Sciences in 2010. During a seminar about plant-pathogen-vector interactions, Freddy met Dr. Cecilia Tamborindeguy and asked about joining her research group to learn and understand how the pathogen Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum and its vector Bactericera cockerelli colonize and induce serious diseases - particularly Zebra chip, which is associated with significant economic losses - in solanaceous crops. In August, 2013, Freddy started to pursue a PhD degree in entomology in Dr. Tamborindeguy's group, where he is dedicated to studying Bactericera cockerelli reproduction, determining the effects of Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum on insect fecundity, and identifying novel targets to control psyllid populations.

Erin McMahan is an MS candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working under the guidance of Dr. Christelle Guédot. Although she had a passion for insects from an early age, her path towards entomology was a circuitous one. Erin attended Whitman College for her undergraduate education, where she received a BA in environmental studies and politics and gained firsthand experience in the interaction between agriculture and conservation. After working a range of jobs in water management policy, political campaigning, and land restoration, her interests in conservation and sustainable agriculture led her to pursue a research project in integrated pest management. Erin's research examines host-plant resistance in cranberry by assessing the performance and field population densities of the three main insect pests in Wisconsin cranberry - blackheaded fireworm (Rhopobota naevana), sparganothis fruitworm (Sparganothis sulfureana), and cranberry fruitworm (Acrobasis vaccinii) - on different cranberry varieties. The study strives to identify more resistant varieties with the hopes of reducing the use of pesticides to combat these lepidopteran pests. Erin's other research interests include the conservation of beneficial insects and pollination biology. In the future, she hopes to continue working with IPM and to engage in more outreach promoting insect appreciation and understanding of conservation needs.

Patricia Pinheiro has worked as an entomologist for 12 years at the Brazilian Institute for Agricultural Research (EMBRAPA). In 2010, she was offered a position as a researcher at EMBRAPA's Rice and Beans Research Station. To better accomplish her goals as a researcher, she decided to pursue her PhD at Cornell University, where she is currently a third-year PhD candidate. She is interested in plant-virus-insect interactions, focusing on the basis and evolution of the vectoring ability of aphids, and her research involves the use of genetics and proteomics tools.

Ariel Rivers is currently a dual-title doctoral candidate at Pennsylvania State University, studying entomology and international agriculture and development. Ariel holds a BS in soil and water science (2004, University of California, Davis) and an MS in environmental studies (2009, San José State University), and has always been broadly interested in sustainable resource management in developing country agriculture. As she started to study different agricultural practices that could be implemented to conserve abiotic resources (e.g., soil and water), she became interested in conserving the biotic resources as well. It was her MS research, for which she studied pasture productivity and arthropod diversity below dispersed trees in cattle pastures of Nicaragua, that stimulated her interest in arthropods. Ariel now applies her interdisciplinary background to her research in central Pennsylvania and central Mexico, to study the ground-dwelling arthropod community in diverse, reduced-tillage cropping systems. She hopes that understanding the populations at the soil surface will help inform the impacts of different agricultural practices on biocontrol. In addition to her brief time as an entomologist, she has also served as a soil conservationist with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and worked with Clark County Public Health to develop a food garden education program to assist low-income families. Upon graduation, Ariel hopes to continue to work internationally, and to look at the nexus between low-input cropping systems, their environmental benefits, and impacts on local food security.

Anthony Vaudo's enthusiasm for naturalism and for using nature as inspiration for expression through music, poetry, and photography stimulated his original interest in exploring entomology as a career path. His experiences while living and conducting scientific research in Costa Rica and South Africa further allowed him to fully experience the complexity of nature and embrace the value of sustainable agricultural and conservation practices. Networking abroad with academics, farmers, workers, and nature enthusiasts sensitized him to conflicts at the intersection of nature conservation and agriculture. In his MS research, based in South Africa, he studied the effects of land use on the health and population density of wild honey bee colonies. He developed novel methodologies, using beelines to estimate colony density and using colony strength parameters as an indicator of ecosystem health. His PhD research focuses on nutritional ecology of pollinators, using bumble bees as a model system. Pollinator nutritional ecology may drive patterns of floral visitation, define what floral resources bees require in the landscape to maintain healthy populations, and shed insight into the evolution of plant-pollinator mutualisms. His career goal is to become a skilled university-based biologist who employs a multidisciplinary approach to develop ecologically relevant conservation initiatives that harmonize habitat preservation with human needs. This will include pursuing research opportunities internationally, driven by his incessant interest in tropical ecosystems and cultures. Furthermore, he plans to use his research as a springboard for nature films and artistic audio and visual expressions of scientific data, which will expose broad audiences to natural wonders and scientific findings.

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