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

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Jeffrey Smith recognized for excellence in entomology academics and research

December 14, 2012 under CANR News

Jeffrey Smith, a senior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources majoring in ecology and environmental science, received an Undergraduate Student Achievement in Entomology Award presented by the Plant-Insect Ecosystems section of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) at the ESA’s annual meeting in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The award included $1,500, which could be used towards travel expenses for the winning students to participate in the ESA meeting. Award winners must attend the ESA National meeting and participate by submitting and presenting a paper or poster.

“For me this award was as much about honoring the past work I had accomplished, which was both gratifying and deeply appreciated, as it was about enabling me to attend and present at the national conference, which was simultaneously humbling and inspirational,” said Smith. “While it felt great to be honored for what I have already accomplished, having the chance to learn about new topics, to meet new people, and to see the opportunities available to me in research was a much more valuable component of the award.”

The award was given to Smith for work he did in the summer of 2011, when he worked with Judith Hough-Goldstein, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology who serves as Smith’s advisor and who nominated Smith for the award, as a summer scholar, which was funded by the United States Forest Service, the Undergraduate Research Program, and the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

The research involved studying the host finding behavior of a small beetle, Rhinoncomimus latipes, used as a biological control agent for the invasive mile-a-minute weed. “Biological control of weeds is essentially the use of the natural enemy of the undesirable plant as a control method rather than chemical herbicides or mechanical control, such as weeding or mowing,” explained Smith. He said that mile-a-minute weed is native to Asia and was accidentally introduced to the United States.

Since its introduction, it has “become very weedy, overgrowing and out-competing desirable native plants.” The beetle, which is also native to Asia, was determined after years of testing to be host specific to the mile-a-minute weed.

“My specific project studied what behaviors influence how the beetle finds mile-a-minute in order to help improve the efficacy of the control program by strategically determining where to release the beetle,” said Smith. “I determined that this host finding behavior was a combination of both phototaxis, an attraction to sunlight and an attraction to chemical or visual cues given off by the mile-a-minute plant.”

Smith also presented on the topic twice prior to the national conference and his research was published in the Journal of Insect Behavior that can be found here.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Brian Cutting

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Butterfly season only average, according to UD entomologist and others

July 17, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Brian Kunkel’s weekend strolls at Middle Run Natural Area make him see red – not because he’s angry but because the red admiral butterfly has been abundant at this 850-acre park east of Newark. A large, red-banded butterfly, the red admiral has been seen in large numbers throughout Delaware this summer.

“The red admiral is experiencing an irruption – a rapid and irregular increase in population numbers,” says Kunkel, an entomologist with UD Cooperative Extension. “It’s not just here in Delaware; this irruption also has been reported in New Jersey, the Poconos, western New York and other Northeastern locales. The last time a red admiral irruption was seen locally was 2001.”

The red admiral is the bright spot for Delaware butterfly watchers this summer. All in all, it’s shaping up to be just a so-so season for butterflies.

“Butterfly numbers were good at the end of May and into June but then things really backed down,” says Sheila Vincent, a group program coordinator for the Delaware Nature Society who maintains Ashland Nature Center’s Butterfly House.

“Mid-July to mid-August is typically the peak of butterfly activity in Delaware but we’ve seen fewer individuals flying,” says Vincent, “Right now, I don’t think we’re going see a repeat of 2011 and 2010, both of which were very good years for butterflies.”

Butterfly populations are influenced by a complex interplay of temperature, moisture and food supply. Different species are impacted by different factors. For example, a species that overwinters in the adult form – such as the mourning cloak — will have better survival rates in milder winters, says Kunkel. If the butterfly’s host plant flourishes during a rainy spring, odds are that butterfly will do well that season, too.

“With so many factors influencing population density, I can’t begin to speculate on why overall butterfly numbers appear lower this year,” says Kunkel.

Delaware has about 120 species of resident breeding butterflies. Considering that most states have about 100 species, Delaware is a pretty good spot for butterfly watching.

“Delaware is home to both the Piedmont Plateau, in the north, and the Coastal Plain, in the middle and southern parts of the state. This makes for a greater diversity of butterflies,” says Vincent. “For example, we don’t get cloudless sulphur butterflies in the Piedmont but on occasion you see a straggler cloudless sulphur fly up from the Coastal Plain.”

If you want to attract butterflies to your yard, Kunkel has two important tips. “First, get lots of plants that caterpillars like,” he says. “Gardeners tend to focus on nectar plants that provide adult butterflies with energy but you also need plenty of food sources for caterpillars – the next generation of butterflies.”

Most caterpillars eat only one specific plant or from one plant family. Do your research. If you love the great spangled fritillary butterfly, plant violets, the food source for this butterfly’s caterpillar. If it’s Eastern tiger swallowtails that you’re trying to attract, plant tulip poplar, sweetbay magnolia and black cherry trees.

If you’ve always prided yourself on a flawless, neat-as-a-pin garden, you may not like Kunkel’s second piece of advice – “tolerate insect feeding.”

Caterpillars eat the leaves and stems of plants, which mean, of course, little holes on the leaves of your plants. “If you want to enjoy the sight of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly, with its brilliant blue wings, you’ll have to accept that your pipevine plants are going to get chewed up a bit by this butterfly’s caterpillars,” says Kunkel.

At the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens, feeding the caterpillars is seen as just as important as feeding the butterflies. The gardens’ Lepidoptera Trail, which opened in 2009, features a wide range of plants to attract caterpillars.

“The trail is not a butterfly garden, which is designed to attract butterflies to feed on nectar,” says garden director John Frett. “It is an ecosystem to attract Lepidoptera throughout their life cycle. It’s a place for them to lay their eggs, which become larvae or caterpillars before entering the inactive pupal stage and then emerging as butterflies, moths or skippers.”

Besides, caterpillars are cool in their own right. “Take the caterpillar of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. It looks like something out of a cartoon,” marvels Kunkel.

This caterpillar features oversized fake eyes on its thorax and is a garish neon green color at certain stages of development. The fake eyes and bright color is supposed to make the caterpillar look like a snake and thus scare away birds and other predators.

The Lepidoptera Trail, as well as the rest of the UD Botanic Gardens, is open daily from sunrise to sunset for free self-guided trails. For more info, go to http://ag.udel.edu/udbg or call 302-831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Brian Kunkel

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD Cooperative Extension entomologist says summer insect populations uncertain

April 9, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

Recently, we’ve heard water cooler and dinner table pronouncements that it’s going to be a bad summer for mosquitoes, stink bugs and other insect pests. Prognosticators cite the mild winter and the fact that insects are out earlier this spring as their rationale.

Not so fast, says Brian Kunkel, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension entomologist. “The mild winter may not make much difference in the size of the insect populations this summer.  In terms of the early spring, yes, most insects are emerging or arriving about two weeks ahead of schedule,” he says. “But it’s too soon to say what impact — if any — this will have on insect populations later this season. There are many variables that could impact different species, either adversely or favorably.”

“Keep in mind, when I refer to insect populations I’m not just talking about pests,” he adds. “Beneficial insect populations — such as lady beetles — also are vulnerable to these variables.”

On the adverse side of things, some insects have become active sooner than their plant food source has become available. Various factors, not just air temperature, influence when plants bud. Photoperiod — the relative length of light and dark each day — is an important trigger for many plant species.

“We could see insect populations crash if their food source hasn’t bloomed or leafed out and they can’t obtain enough food,” says Kunkel.

Plant-eating insects that are host-specific — meaning they eat only one type of plant or from one plant family — are more vulnerable to such a crash.

Weather conditions during the rest of the season can be just as critical to many insect species as what already happened in winter and early spring.

“If the spring turns cool and damp, it could mean fewer insects in summer,” notes Kunkel. That’s because cooler, damper weather brings greater number of fungi that attack insects. A hot, dry summer could be even worse. Hot, dry conditions can make it difficult for some insects to survive.

Although Delawareans are tackling pesky insects earlier than usual, there is an upside. At the end of the season you’ll say goodbye to these pests that much sooner.

“The insects are going through their normal life spans, just earlier,” points out Kunkel. “For example, you may see Japanese beetles eating your roses earlier than normal this June. But, if that happens, then the beetles may peter out in August, instead of September.”

It’s anybody’s guess as to how bad insect pests will be this summer. But these tips, from Kunkel and the National Pest Management Association, are good advice in any season:

  • Trim back tree branches and other plants near the house.
  • Keep mulch at least 15 inches from your house’s foundation.
  • Get rid of standing water and other sources of moisture.
  • Make sure you don’t have holes in your screen windows and doors.
  • Seal cracks and small openings along the bottom of the house.
  • Tightly seal outdoor trash cans.
  • Learn about good bugs

Beneficial insects play an important role in the garden. Learn how beneficial insects can help manage your pest problems at this Master Gardener workshop to be held from 6-8 p.m., Wednesday, May 2, at the New Castle County Extension office in Newark. Cost is $15. Call 831-COOP to register and for more information.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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Stink Bug Season

October 3, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Pull up the welcome mat; they’re back. It’s early fall in Delaware, which means pumpkins on the vine, apples on the trees and stink bugs in the house.

“Last year, I got a flood of calls about stink bugs during the last week of September,” said Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with the University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension. “Sure enough, this past week, Extension has been hearing from homeowners trying to get rid of stink bugs.”

“As the days grow shorter and the evening temperatures cooler, Delawareans are discovering these uninvited houseguests in their garages, porches and decks, as well as inside the house,” Kunkel said. “The brown marmorated stink bug becomes a nuisance pest when it heads inside to find overwintering sites.”

While merely an annoyance to most homeowners, the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) poses an economic threat to Delaware agriculture. Fruit crops seem to be at greatest risk, especially peaches and apples. About 18 percent of the mid-Atlantic apple crop had stink bug damage last year, according to the U.S. Apple Association.

“West Virginia apple orchards experienced significant crop loss last season because of the BMSB,” Kunkel said. “Here at UD, we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we don’t see the kind of crop loss that West Virginia had.”

Several of Kunkel’s colleagues in Extension and UD’s College of Agriculture and Nature Resources are researching BSMBs in soybean, lima bean, sweet corn, field corn and sweet pepper fields.

Two of the most active researchers are Joanne Whalen, the Extension’s integrated pest management specialist, and Bill Cissel, an Extension associate who is investigating stink bugs as part of his graduate studies.

Cissel and Whalen, assisted by two interns, are examining stink bugs in conditions similar to home yards and gardens, too. In UD’s Garden for the Community, a one-third-acre plot on the Newark campus, the duo surveyed stink bug nymphs, adults and egg masses on plants commonly grown in home gardens — tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, eggplant, sunflowers and bell peppers. Plus, they’re studying a plot of ornamental plants to see which plants stink bugs use as hosts.

Rutgers University, Virginia Tech, the University of Maryland and the Delaware Soybean Board are some of the partners on one or more of these projects.

Although Delaware has several native stink bugs, BMSBs originates in Asia and were accidentally introduced to the United States. First collected in Allentown, Pa., in 1998, BMSBs have been spreading across the eastern half of the U.S. ever since.

Kunkel said spiders and birds have been known to eat BMSBs (he’s heard reports of house cats eating them, too) but the pest has no recognized natural predator here.

The USDA Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Lab, housed on UD’s campus, is investigating biocontrol measures. Biocontrol introduces natural predators into an environment to control, if not eradicate, the pest problem. But the rigorous research process and government approvals needed for biocontrol measures can take years, even decades.

Delaware’s farmers are asking for help now. So the focus of Whalen and Cissel’s research is on monitoring to determine when to control stink bugs, as well as which insecticides provide the best control.

Field observations in 2010 indicated that stink bug infestations usually start on the perimeters of fields, Cissel noted. “We’re studying whether perimeter applications of insecticides will prevent stink bugs from penetrating the interior parts of soybean fields,” he said.

“In our corn research, we are trying to determine how much damage stink bugs are causing and when the plant is most sensitive to damage — is it when it’s silking, during grain fill or closer to harvest?”

Insect research projects typically run for two to three seasons, and most of the UD studies are in their first year. So it’s too early to discuss preliminary results, Cissel said, especially since the BMSBs weren’t as active this summer as previously.

“We had a really large outbreak last year,” Kunkel said, “but we’re not seeing those kinds of numbers this year.”

Tell that to Kathy Fichter, a resident of Chadds Ford, Pa.

“It’s just as bad as last year and it’s only the beginning of stink bug season here,” said Fichter, who always has a tissue at hand, ready to scoop up stink bugs. “My two sons won’t go near them, and these are boys who like bugs,” she said.

“Our neighborhood seems to be a ‘vacation destination’ for stink bugs. They come here by the hundreds, maybe even thousands,” she added. “My neighbors are in the same predicament. Yet, a few miles away, they aren’t such a nuisance.”

Kunkel isn’t surprised by Fichter’s stink bug woes, even though regional conditions are generally better. “Stink bug outbreaks — and insect outbreaks in general — tend to be localized,” he said. “We often hear of one neighborhood getting slammed while another neighborhood a half-mile away will have very few bugs.”

If the BMSB already has arrived at your house — or you want to make sure it doesn’t — take control measures now. The best thing you can do, Kunkel said, is to seal all cracks around windows, doors, siding, utility pipes and chimneys. Often overlooked, he said, are the cracks that can appear around dryer vents and gaps around window air-conditioning units.

“Try to look on the bright side,” Kunkel said. “Stink bugs that get inside are helping you to winterize your house. Wherever they got in today is where the cold winter winds will, later this year.”

Article by Margo McDonough

This post also appears on UDaily.

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Corn Hybrid Trial Tour, Meeting

August 16, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

All farmers and crop advisers are invited to attend the University of Delaware corn hybrid variety trial and twilight meeting on September 1, 2011. The corn hybrid plots will be open for viewing at this irrigated location starting at 4:00 p.m. Extension specialists will be on hand to discuss insect pest management in corn, management of diseases commonly found in our area, and weed control issues. Optimizing nutrient applications in corn will also be discussed. Dinner will be provided. CCA, DE Nutrient Management, and DE Pesticide credits will be available. Contact Phillip Sylvester, Extension Ag Agent, Kent County, with questions at 302-730-4000 or email at phillip@udel.edu.

When: Thursday, September 1, 2011
Time: 4:00 PM to 7:30 PM
Location: Dickerson Farms, 1730 Bayside Drive, Dover, DE (From Rt.1, take the Rt. 9 exit towards Little Creek. Farm entrance is on the right after Bergold Lane.)
Registration: Please RSVP by calling (302)-730-4000 by August 29 or email Phillip Sylvester phillip@udel.edu.

Schedule:
4:00 to 5:30 Sign-in and Tour Corn Hybrid Plots, Dr. Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist and Tecle Weldekidan, Scientist, UD
5:30 to 6:00 Dinner
6:00 to 6:20 Late season insect pest update, Joanne Whalen, Extension IPM Specialist, UD
6:20 to 6:40 Common corn diseases in Delaware, Bob Mulrooney, Extension Plant Pathologist, UD
6:40 to 7:00 Weed control issues in corn, Dr. Mark VanGessel, Extension Weed Specialist, UD
7:00 to 7:30 Optimizing nutrient applications in corn, Dr. Greg Binford, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist of Soil Fertility, UD

Submitted by Phillip Sylvester

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Happy National Pollinator Week

June 21, 2011 under CANR News

Debbie Delaney looked like she was feeling the heat on a recent 95-degree day at the University of Delaware apiary, despite the shade of black walnut and tulip poplar trees. It was hard to tell how the 22 hives of honeybees – some two million bees in all – were handling the steamy weather.

But Delaney, an assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology in the College of Agricultural and Natural Resources, had no worries. “Bees are much better at thermoregulation than humans are,” says Delaney. “Honeybees maintain strict temperature control. The colony always stays between 89 and 92 degrees, ideal for a honeybee, and the humidity never varies more than 5 percent. Worker bees flap their wings to cool the air and some periodically leave the hive to reduce the effects of body heat.”

Delaney has been researching bees for years but continues to be amazed at their abilities, including staying comfortable in the heat while we wilt. She’d like to see bees get a bit more respect — if not the all-out enthusiasm she displays.

She’ll have an opportunity to spread the word about bees this week, which marks National Pollinator Week. The event recognizes not only bees but all pollinators – birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. One in every three bites of food humans consume has been made possible by one of these pollinators.

Pollinator Partnership, a nonprofit organization that sponsors the week, calls bees the primary pollinator of most plants. Delaney agrees, with a slight qualification.

“Bees are definitely the most important pollinator in our state in terms of the numbers and the importance of the crops they pollinate,” she says. “But bats also are important in a different way. Bat-pollinated flowers generally open at night and have distinct floral tube sizes and shapes that can accommodate bats.  So bats are very important pollinators for a certain subset of plants.”

Even while giving bats their due, Delaney rattles off the Delaware crops that bees do pollinate: apples, asparagus, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, honeydew melon, nectarines, peaches, pears, peppers, pumpkins, okra, onion, squash, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelon. She’s quite sure she has missed a few. After all, bees pollinate more than 90 crops in North America.

Non-native honeybees are responsible for some of this pollination. But Delaware’s native bees deserve credit, too.

There are at least 200 native bees in the state, according to the state Department of Agriculture, which recently completed a five-year study of native bees. “Recent research has shown that native bees can play a major role in pollinating agricultural crops,” notes Delaney. “Native bees often will visit flowers in wet or cold weather when honeybees don’t want to come out of their hives. And farmers who use managed honeybees will see increased yields when native bees interact with the crops.”

Wild honeybees – descendants of honeybees introduced by European colonists – also play a role in agricultural pollination. Research on these feral bees may even help combat colony collapse disorder, a poorly understood syndrome that can wipe out entire hives of managed honeybees.

The Feral Bee Project, sponsored by North Carolina State University, asks beekeepers and “citizen scientists” to log the location of wild honeybee hives at the Save the Hives website.

“Colony collapse disorder in domestic honeybees continues to be a major concern,” says Delaney. “We still don’t know the cause or causes of this syndrome. But the Feral Bee Project may give us a better understanding of the role that natural resistance plays in fighting disease or environmental stress, as well as a better understanding of genetic components that contribute to ‘survivor stock.’”

Learn more

To find out more about pollinators and National Pollinator Week, go to the Pollinator Partnership website.

The Brandywine Zoo will be hosting “Pollinator Power” on June 25, a family friendly event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

 

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