UD’s Ernest receives USDA grant for research on lima beans

December 11, 2013 under CANR News

Emmalea Ernest Research Assistant for Vegetable crops. Plant and Soil Science, Cooperative ExtensionEmmalea Ernest, extension agent in the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), has received federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) Program for a project aimed at developing heat-tolerant lima bean varieties.

“Lima beans are Delaware’s largest acreage vegetable crop and anchor the state’s processing vegetable industry,” said Ernest. “The varieties that are currently available to growers suffer yield loss or delayed yield when they are exposed to high temperatures during flowering.”

In order to be eligible for funding from the program, grant money had to be used toward specialty crops as opposed to field crops, such as corn and soybeans, or animal agriculture. Specialty crops are a wide-ranging category that includes fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, tree nuts, horticulture, and nursery crops.

With her funding, Ernest aims to develop procedures for heat tolerance screening in the existing lima bean breeding program, examine the physiological mechanisms for heat stress tolerance or susceptibility in lima beans, and investigate the underlying genetic basis for heat stress tolerance in lima beans. Her findings could greatly impact Delaware vegetable farmers’ yields.

Ernest said she has collaborated on multiple USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants in the past six years and acknowledged that the program has been a vital source of funding to the Extension Vegetable and Fruit Research Program. The money has allowed Ernest to help address production problems many Delaware fruit and vegetable growers have experienced, as well as explore new crop prospects.

The SCBG program seeks out projects like Ernest’s in order to promote and enhance the local agricultural economy.

“My past and current grant projects through this program have included work on lima beans but also on a variety of other crops, including processing sweet corn, blueberries, snap beans, cucumbers and cantaloupes,” said Ernest.

Her research with lima beans will be over the course of the next three years and take place on UD’s research farm in Georgetown.

Ernest said that in the genetics portion of the project, which will be built off of work funded by the Building a Better Bean SCRI Grant awarded to UD researchers last year, she will be working closely with colleague Randy Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, and Gordon Johnson, extension vegetable and fruit specialist.

Article by Angela Carcione

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


CANR alum hikes “Long Trail” for a cause

November 19, 2013 under CANR News

Matt Grasso treks long trail for a causeMatthew Grasso, a 2013 wildlife conservation graduate from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), embarked on an 80-mile “Trek for Cancer” this fall in order to raise awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer research and the Lustgarten Foundation. Accompanying him on the excursion was Erin Cordiner, a fellow University of Delaware graduate and organizational and community leadership major.

“For me it originated as just a mental and physical challenge I wanted to experience. Then I become more passionate about raising money afterwards,” said Grasso. “For Erin it was more geared towards raising money. Her grandmother died of pancreatic cancer and so it was originally her idea to start collecting donations.”

The nine-day hike, which ran from September 29-October 7, began at Pine Cobble trail in Williamstown, Massachusetts and took Grasso and Cordiner up through Vermont, bypassing many towns along the way including Stamford, Bennington, Stratton, and Manchester Center.

Grasso described his journey with Cordiner as being truly incredible and the result of a shared love for the outdoors and a passion for helping others in need.

“Not only were the sites and fall foliage breathtaking, but we learned a ton about ourselves, each other and the mental and physical challenges of backpacking,” said Grasso. “We also had the pleasure of meeting a bunch of unforgettable fun and quirky people.”

Grasso said that a typical day on the hike began by waking at first light, quickly making breakfast consisting of oatmeal and tea, and then setting off with 34-38 pound packs through sunshine or rain. “Even though we had rainproof gear, the rain still finds a way into your backpack, jacket and shoes,” he said.

The hike had the pair traversing over and through boulders, beaver dams, bogs, streams, and rugged peaks, although they always took time to stop and enjoy lookout points over the mountains. Dinner involved macaroni and cheese, ramen, or stuffing. “We were lucky enough to have fun people hiking the same way as us with whom we could talk and joke around with during dinner,” said Grasso.

Grasso said he and Cordiner had planned to complete the entire trail, which encompasses 273 miles, but after Cordiner received a marketing and public relations position in Manhattan, they had to cut the trip short.

“I considered finishing the trail by myself, but realized this was something we started together and thus had to end together. It simply wouldn’t have felt right going on without her,” said Grasso. The pair plans to complete the full trail in the near future. For more information, contact Grasso at matthewPgrasso@gmail.com or Cordiner at cordinererin@gmail.com.

For now, Grasso is working with an arborist as well as aiding William Macaluso, a master’s level student in CANR, to reintroduce Northern Bobwhite quail to Long Island until he and Cordiner decide to re-embark and finish their journey.

Article by Angela Carcione


CANR pre-veterinary medicine major conducts equine research at UPenn

November 5, 2013 under CANR News

UD student Meredith Bonnell interns at UPENN's New Bolton CenterMeredith Bonnell, a junior pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) at the University of Delaware, spent her summer conducting a research-based internship at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center at the Havemeyer Barn.

Bonnell’s research project, which she designed with Sue McDonnell, focused on the genetic effects on the learning abilities of ponies. McDonnell received her doctorate in reproductive physiology and behavior from UD and now heads the Equine Behavior Program at UPenn.

The center, located in Kennett Square, Pa., includes 700 acres of pastureland and exposure to experts in equine-based medical and surgical techniques. “The ponies that occupy some of that land are a part of a semi-feral herd used for equine research,” Bonnell said. “They undergo annual vaccinations and de-worming, in addition to blood work and basic handling when they are foals.”

The New Bolton Center is a large facility that specializes in many different types of veterinary care practices for horses and other large animals. The facility serves to generate data for medical specialists including cardiologists and orthopedists as well as for trainers seeking performance evaluations.

Bonnell’s research at the Havemeyer Barn utilized target training on a 100-count semi-feral Shetland-type pony herd to test learning ability, using performance scores generated to examine correlations between them and genetics, or known family lineage.

“Target training is relatively new to the equine industry and is connected with clicker training,” Bonnell said. “We’re typically familiar with its use on marine animals, like those we might see at SeaWorld.”

Bonnell said in order to test how she would collect data and gather equipment lists, she did extensive research and conducted preliminary tests on ponies removed from the semi-feral herd to be used on rotation for studies by the veterinary students at UPenn.

All of her sessions, she said, were videotaped and used as a reference in order to collect sufficient and accurate data.

Bonnell said she was excited to find this internship with McDonnell through a friend working in the neonatal intensive care unit at the center. She is currently working toward publication of her work and will continue research as independent study.

Bonnell said she hopes to pursue a career in equine veterinary field and plans to apply to veterinary school after graduating from UD.

Article by Angela Carcione

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ organizations host HungerU

October 15, 2013 under CANR News

Volunteers gather for stop hunger now eventStudents from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) hosted HungerU on Monday, September 30 and Tuesday, October 1 as the organization made its first visit to the University of Delaware. The event was co-sponsored by Alpha Zeta (AZ), Sigma Alpha (SA) and Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR), as they share a common special interest in agriculture and food sustainability.

HungerU, a national awareness campaign that educates on the global food crisis, is currently on tour visiting college campuses along the east coast, engaging students in conversations about world hunger and food security via a mobile, interactive exhibit. The organization is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, DuPont, Famers Feeding the World, Stop Hunger Now and Universities Fighting World Hunger.

The tractor-trailer arrived on campus and stationed itself between Drake Hall and Colburn Lab. It included interactive, touch-monitor screens that displayed information from the Food Security Index for 107 different countries. Students also got the opportunity to spin a wheel for free merchandise if they stopped to engage in a conversation with the three crew members at the trailer. Merchandise ranged from mugs and phone chargers to iPads and t-shirts.

On the evening of October 1, Stop Hunger Now, a partnering program collaborating on events with HungerU, hosted a meal-packaging event in the Perkins Bacchus Theatre where about 100 volunteers–ranging from students and professors to young children–came out to package and box 21,600 meals in about an hour and a half. Stations included a box making and labeling station, a funnel station for scooping rice, soy meal, vitamin packets and vegetables into baggies, and a weighing and sealing station for the bags.

“HungerU works in conjunction with Stop Hunger Now, which is an optional event, ” said Sabrina Sterlacci, a junior in CANR and the chapter assessment program chair for AZ and primary student liaison for the event. “I decided to organize it because I figured it would be silly to have HungerU come to campus to educate students without providing those students an opportunity to do something with what they learned.”

The meals packaged during the event will be sent overseas to orphanages or schools in impoverished areas.

Before the meal packaging event began, a Stop Hunger Now representative gave a small speech on global hunger facts. Volunteers learned that 2.6 million children, about one child every 6 seconds, die each year from being under-nourished. They were also told that there is enough food on the planet to feed every human 4.3 lbs per day, just in crop-foods. Spreading awareness of those statistics is the hope Stop Hunger Now and HungerU have for enacting change.

Being personally inspired by HungerU’s mission, Sterlacci said “My expectation was that HungerU would educate students about the global hunger crisis and help students gain further perspective about how fortunate most of us are in the United States.”

Before Stop Hunger Now could come to campus, AZ, SA and AGR were charged with the task of raising $1,200 to bring them and the supplies to hold the packaging event. In just under one month, the groups were able to surpass that goal. The organizations thank the efforts of their own members for their hard work in fundraising, all those that donated, the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC) and Greek Council for their support.

AZ, SA and AGR plan to make the affair an annual and collaborative event, to ensure no child be stripped of their potential because they do not have enough to eat and to spread their common mission of increasing agriculture-related literacy in the United States.

Article by Angela Carcione


Doug Tallamy receives the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of Excellence

September 17, 2013 under CANR News

Doug Tallamy receives the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of ExcellenceDoug Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was presented the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of Excellence at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference held at Western Carolina University this summer.

Tallamy was also chosen to be a presenter at the conference for his ideas on promoting change in the landscape paradigm. “Right now, about 80% of our ornamental plants are from Asia,” said Tallamy. “Our local insects can’t eat them because they haven’t evolved to deal with the defensive chemicals within the plants. Now at the same time, 96% of birds are rearing their young on insects. In fact, about six to nine thousand caterpillars are used to rear one clutch of chickadees. So we end up creating these landscapes that are actually one of the biggest hits on biodiversity.”

Robert Wyatt, professor Emeritus of Botany and Ecology at the University of Georgia and current Director of the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, said Tallamy is likely to be the rare entomologist chosen for the award, as past award recipients are typically botanists.

Tallamy was chosen for the award in part due to the popularity surrounding his 2007 book, Bringing Nature Home. The book makes a strong scientific case for reintroducing native plants to landscapes and eliminating the “urban deserts” created by planting an abundance of nonnative ornamentals.

Tallamy said that there is a need for ecological literacy, and stresses the importance of increasing public awareness for why native plants are so important ecologically in terms of retaining biodiversity.  His attendance at this conference is a testament to his own goal of wanting to re-landscape the entire country.

In the past 30 years that the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference has been held, the number of native plant nurseries has increased substantially as more homeowners have come to value the beauty and understand the benefits of a natural landscape.

Invasive Species

Looking at invasive exotics such as Kudzu, Chinese privet, and Japanese honeysuckle, it is easy to understand the uncontrolled dispersal and harm invasive species can have on a landscape. Free from predators, these species have affectively displaced many surrounding native plants while offering little to no food for wildlife living in the area.

The reintroduction of native species could potentially thwart the damages caused by the introduction of some of these aggressive plants.

Other examples of the potential dangers nonnative species can cause includes unintentional introduction of pests and subsequent disease, like the American Chestnut, whose nuts provided a prime food source for many animals, and whose populations were decimated by an introduced fungus.

Not all nonnative species are detrimental. However, their decreased utility by wildlife as a food source and often uncontrolled growth means that introducing them at a greater rate than native species can adapt to them could lead to decreased diversity in an ecosystem.

Examples of some native trees that people could start planting as alternatives to nonnatives include Smooth Witherod and Winterberry, which have berries that birds depend on, Redbud, which provides a convenient nectar source for early pollinators, Summersweet Clethra, another popular pollinator shrub, and Pipevine which serves as a food source for Swallowtail larvae.  With their colorful flowers and berries, these plants offer all the aesthetics that homeowners and landscapers tend to seek in nonnative ornamentals.

About the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of Excellence

The Tom Dodd Jr. Award of Excellence is presented annually at the Cullowhee Conference on Native Plants in the Landscape and are given to individuals who excel in one of the following areas: conservation of native flora in sites; studying and promoting the understanding of our native flora; building expertise in the propagation/cultivation of native plants; and the use of native plants in a diversity of natural and designed landscapes.

Past winners have included C. Ritchie Bell, professor of botany at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Founding Director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, and co-author of the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas; Dick Bir, professor of Horticulture and plant breeder at the Mountain Horticulture Research Center of North Carolina State University; and Lady Bird Johnson, former First Lady of the United States and an avid proponent of native plants and natural areas.

Article by Angela Carcione


New RSO takes on UD’s global initiative

August 6, 2013 under CANR News

UD's VIDA takes trip to Central AmericaAs the winter holidays were winding down and most students were taking their well-needed winter break, six University of Delaware students opted for an alternative to their vacation. The students were members of UD’s chapter of Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures (VIDA), a new Registered Student Organization (RSO) on campus. The club was founded by Jessica Applebaum, a senior pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major, and it stands to promote education for general health care problems abroad.

The national non-profit organization VIDA, from which the club adopts its mission, leads trips to Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. The service learning charity is dedicated to its mission of helping underprivileged citizens of Latin America with medical, dental and veterinary services, and divides members on the trips into teams in those three areas.

VIDA encourages the combining and exchanging of ideas across the different health professions, allowing students to broaden their perspectives within their own discipline. This growing ideology is one factor contributing to the increased competitiveness of pre-health professional schooling.

Members of UD’s VIDA teamed with the non-profit to travel from January 3-15 to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where they worked in medical and veterinary clinics getting hands-on experience.

UD had representatives traveling on both the medical and veterinary teams, and when they weren’t touring the beautiful country sides, volcanoes and rain forests, they were working in free mobile medical and veterinary clinics supervised by both doctors and veterinarians.

Within six days, the medical team performed general consults and ran a free pharmacy for a total of 365 patients. The veterinary team performed general consults, administered vaccinations, and spayed and neutered a total of 203 animals including cats, dogs and rabbits.

“The experience has been incredibly valuable and has really opened my eyes to issues in the health care system abroad, especially in Nicaragua which is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere,” said Applebaum. “And the people there were so great. Our host family cried when we left and we were only with them for four days.” She also expressed how grateful the people were for the donations they received, recalling one mother standing in line for the clinic crying as she was handed some clothes.

Donation drive

To prepare for the trip, the club hosted two donation drives, one before they left and another after their return from Latin America. The drives received everything from hygiene products and toys to clothes, dog collars, and school supplies.

All the donations were shipped to Nicaragua by the non-profit and distributed this June to a preschool located in one of the charity’s adopted communities in Masaya. The more recent spring donation drive also went on to receive national recognition by the parent organization, who published an article about it this past July–an impressive feat for the first year RSO.

UD's VIDA takes trip to Central AmericaAnother donation drive is said to be in the planning for next November, and the RSO hopes to get the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and the wider UD community aware and involved.

The club is also hoping to have a spot at activities night, a night where UD students have the opportunity to find extra and co-curricular activities, to promote themselves and to reach out to students who might be interested in taking advantage of trips offered through the founder charity.

“You don’t have to be in the club to go on the trips, and you don’t have to go on a trip to be in the club. Either is a great opportunity and our RSO is simply an avenue to connect you to resources and experiences like these,” said Applebaum, who is also trying to get more local volunteer opportunities for club members.

Erin Brannick, a veterinary pathologist and assistant professor at CANR, eagerly jumped on board as the RSO’s advisor after hearing of the organization’s mission at an American Veterinary Medical Association conference.

Brannick said it was important for her to try to seek out opportunities that will change medical outlooks and benefit her students throughout their careers. “The students that seek out these kinds of immersive experiences end up being more well-rounded candidates for health-based professional schools, being able to offer a unique perspective that incorporates varying socio-cultural and economic outlooks to their respective field.” Some of the students, she said, have seen diseases she has only ever read about in textbooks.

Applebaum said, “I received clinical experience I could have never imagined on this trip. When I—hopefully–become a Vet, I’d like to do stuff like this–travelling abroad to help underprivileged people care for their pets.”

Aside from the veterinary exposure, she also got to put her Spanish minor to use by translating for some of the local pet owners who came to the clinics.

Emily Fritz, a member of the RSO who also traveled with the non-profit and who plans on applying to veterinary school, said “I think these trips are great alternative breaks for students applying to medical, dental, or veterinary professional schools, as well as for those students that want to gain a more global perspective on healthcare. It’s definitely made me a stronger applicant.”

Students interested in joining VIDA, attending a trip through the parent organization, or donating to the next drive are asked to e-mail Applebaum or visit “VIDA at UD” on Facebook.

Students interested pursuing health-based professional careers are asked to contact Dave Barlow or visit the Center for Premedical and Health Profession Studies website.

Article by Angela Carcione


UD hosts Colonial Academic Alliance Undergraduate Research Conference

April 17, 2013 under CANR News

Colonial Academic Alliance undergraduate research conference morning poster session

The University of Delaware played host to this year’s Colonial Academic Alliance (CAA) Undergraduate Research Conference. UD, which last held the conference in 2004, organized the April 12-14 event, which boasted approximately 80 students from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

UD junior Angela Carcione, a wildlife conservation and entomology double major and Honors Program student, presented her research on the genetics of honeybees.

Carcione’s research took her to the Arnot Teaching and Research Forest in Ithaca, N.Y., where she and her fellow students discovered a stock of survivor feral bees. She is attempting to uncover whether these feral bees are genetically distinct from managed commercial bees, and what enables these wild bees to survive.

Carcione suggested that the conference offers a perfect platform to network and to hone her presentation skills.

“When people question me about my research, it helps me to realize what I understand and what I don’t. Because of events like this, I can go home and research what I don’t understand, and I can become a stronger presenter for the next time,” said Carcione, who is advised by Deborah Delaney, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

To read more about the CAA Undergraduate Research Conference, check out the full article on UDaily.

Article by Gregory Holt

Photos by Doug Baker