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