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My primary research interests are to understand the chemical signals that mediate species interactions among plants, herbivores, natural enemies and more recently microbes with the specific goal of innovatively using the semiochemicals against insect pests. My program utilizes a number of different research tools, such as gas chromatography coupled with electroantennographic detection (GC-EAD) and GC-mass spectrophotometry, wind tunnel and other behavioral laboratory bioassays, along with field scale experiments to achieve these objectives. As a new scientist, my current focus is on developing novel approaches to pest management and post-harvest treatment in tropical ornamental crops, my focal commodity. I also maintain extensive national and international collaborations on basic and applied research projects involving chemical ecology of insect pests in tree and small fruits.
Development and technology transfer of a spotted wing drosophila attractant
Drosophila suzukii, spotted wing drosohila (SWD), is a recent invasive pest of cherries and berries in U.S. and Europe. Although Drosophila flies generally colonize rotten fruit, SWD can attack fresh fruit using their specialized saw-like ovipositor, making them a great threat to soft-skinned fruit. Trapping with fermented food baits (chiefly vinegar) has been the means of detecting and monitoring the fly, and warning growers of the need to apply insecticides. In a collaboration with Peter Landolt at USDA-ARS Wapato, WA, we developed a 4-component synthetic chemical attractant for SWD, composed of acetic acid, ethanol, acetoin and methionol, isolated from a mixture of yeast and acetic acid bacteria fermentation materials. The 4-component SWD attractant was as attractive as, but more selective than, the original material of the fermentation bait. The SWD attractant was also more sensitive than the vinegar bait, capturing SWD flies earlier than observed infestation on blueberries in New York, which the vinegar bait failed to do.
We transferred the lure formulation technology to two U.S. commercial insect pest lure companies (Scentry and Trecé). This technology transfer resulted in two commercial SWD trapping systems that are currently available to cherry and berry growers worldwide to monitor and control SWD.
Apple maggot fly: Olfactory mediated host-race formation and host-race specific monitoring
In the early 1800’s, some Rhagoletis pomonella, apple maggot, flies shifted their host from the native hawthorn to introduced apple and formed an apple host-race in the northeastern US, becoming a model system for understanding olfactory mediated speciation via sympatric host plant shifting for phytophagous insects. In a collaboration with Jeff Feder at University of Notre Dame and Charlie Linn at Cornell University, we identified specific volatile cues involved in host fruit location of several other hawthorn-race flies in southern and western US and found that avoidance of certain non-host volatiles mediates the host specificity of a host-race.
In terms of agriculture, apple maggot is a very important quarantine pest of apples in Washington State, and it is important to determine whether Rhagoletis pomonella flies in apple orchards are apple host-race or non-apple host-race flies. We found that host-race specific synthetic blends were relatively more specific in capturing the respective host race flies than other non-host race flies, suggesting that the identified synthetic blends might be a useful tool for improving quarantine security of apple maggot flies.
Identification of female attractant for grape berry moth
Grape berry moths are the most important pest of wine and juice grapes in northeastern US. This native host specialist oviposits on grape fruit and subsequent larval feeding damages fruit, often inducing secondary infections. Although traps baited with sex pheromone were very effective in capturing males, a female attractant was necessary as male capture by pheromone trapping was a poor predictor of the female activity, especially in late season. Working with Greg Loeb, Charlie Linn and Wendell Roelofs at Cornell University, we identified a grape shoot volatile-based 7-component blend. The synthetic blend was as attractive as the shoot in the flight tunnel and predicted female population in vineyard and surrounding forest areas better than pheromone traps.
Attract-and-kill system for codling moth using a novel attractant
Codling moths are a serious pest of apples, and there has been a need for a female codling moth attractant in addition to pear ester. In a collaboration with Peter Landolt, we confirmed that a mixture of n-butyl sulfide and acetic acid is as attractive as a mixture of pear ester and acetic acid. In an attract-and-kill field experiment, deploying traps baited with n-butyl sulfide and acetic acid reduced numbers of codling moths captured in monitoring traps baited with pear ester and also codling moth damage on apples.
Development of a microbial attractant for Phiornis downsi, a parasitic invasive fly on Galapagos birds
Darwin’s finches have been an iconic system in evolutionary biology for 180 years. In recent years they have come under attack from the invasive parasite Philornis downsi (Diptera: Muscidae), the larvae of which feed on the blood of chicks. Populations of the Darwin’s tree finches such as the small tree finch, the mangrove finch, and the medium tree finch experience rapid population declines caused by substantial parasite-induced mortality. A multinational effort is underway to develop management tools to control P. downsi in the Galapagos Archipelago. As a part of this effort, in collaboration with Steve Teale at SUNY-ESF, we identified and optimized yeast volatile-based synthetic attractant to control adult P. downsi.
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