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Love, Tiny Flies, and One Big Opportunity for Researchers to Work Together Helping Farmers on Both Sides of the Border ~ Foreign Perspectives

Me at the University of Guelph Elora Research Station.

by Elisabeth Hodgdon, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Vermont

“It’s a story of unrequited love,” says Dr. Yolanda Chen, my Ph.D. advisor, describing our research on pheromone mating disruption. Mating disruption, a pest management strategy that involves inundating a field with synthetic sex pheromone, prevents male insects from finding their mates because they can’t cue in on individual female pheromone plumes. As a result, the males become confused and die without mating. During my time as a Ph.D. student, I’ve spent a lot of time in Vermont and Ontario becoming intimately familiar with the sex lives of swede midge, a serious invasive pest of cruciferous crops.

Swede midge (Contarinia nasturtii, Diptera: Cecidomyiidae) first arrived in North America in the 1990s in Ontario. Vegetable growers started noticing that their broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage plants were deformed and didn’t produce heads, and that their kale leaves were twisted and scarred. On canola farms, yields decreased because of distorted plant growth. The culprit, identified by Dr. Rebecca Hallett and her research group from the University of Guelph, was a tiny fly called swede midge. The midge, only about 2 mm long as an adult, is seemingly invisible to farmers because it is so small. Within a few years, the midge had made its way from Ontario to Québec and other provinces, and into New York and Vermont.

Female swede midge on cauliflower.

At the University of Vermont, we are the only research lab in the US working on this pest, which is currently causing up to 100% yield loss of organic broccoli and kale in our state. Naturally, it made sense for Dr. Chen to reach out to Dr. Hallett in Guelph for collaboration to investigate management options for this pest. Together, they wrote a grant funded by the USDA to conduct pheromone mating disruption research on swede midge that would take place in both Vermont and in Guelph.

This where I enter into the story. I jumped at the opportunity to join Dr. Chen’s lab, not just because I’m interested in insect pest management, but also because of my continuing love affair with Canada. I grew up in Vermont, a small state that borders Québec and has had lots of influence from our northerly neighbors: a history of French-Canadian immigrants, widespread availability of decent quality poutine, and signage in our largest city en français, among other things. I grew up learning French and visiting nearby Montréal and later went on to study agriculture at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus. I was thrilled at the opportunity to spend more time in Canada during my Ph.D. program.

Me and University of Guelph entomology graduate students at the ESC meeting in Winnipeg last fall: Charles-Étienne Ferland, Jenny Liu, me, Sarah Dolson & Matt Muzzatti (left to right). Photo credit: Matt Muzzatti.

I have gotten to know the English-speaking provinces better through my graduate work as a visiting Ph.D. student in Dr. Hallett’s lab in Guelph. Although many Canadians, especially those from nearby Toronto, describe Guelph as being a “small farm town,” it felt like a real city, especially coming from Vermont. I fell in love with Guelph — the year-round farmers market, old stone buildings, beautiful gardens, and emphasis on local food. The large sprawling farms just outside the city were the perfect places for me to do my research on swede midge pheromone mating disruption, which required lots of space between plots and treatments. Back in Vermont, where the farmland is wedged in small valleys between mountain ranges, we just don’t have the scale of crop production that there is in Ontario.

Josée Boisclair, me, Yolanda Chen, and Thomas Heer (left to right) at IRDA this summer getting ready to transplant broccoli for mating disruption research.

Working with Dr. Hallett opened up many doors and expanded my network in Canada. Last year, my advisor and I started a collaboration with the Institut de recherche et de développement en agroenvironnement (IRDA) in St-Bruno-de-Montarville, Québec. Earlier this winter, I practiced my French and mustered up the nerve to give two extension presentations on my swede midge work to francophone farmers in Québec. I was surprised at the number of people who came up to me after my talk, appreciative that I was making an effort to communicate with them in French rather than English. They were genuinely interested in working together with my research group across the border to help strengthen our research efforts to manage swede midge.

In all the time I’ve spent in Canada (which at this point can be measured in years), I can’t think of a time when I’ve felt unwelcome. On the contrary, I am impressed with how open most Canadians are to foreigners. I hope that we can continue to work together, despite language barriers, differing political systems, and other potential challenges, to gain traction in our efforts to find solutions for swede midge and other shared invasive species in the future.

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ESC Blog Classifieds – Student Field Research Assistants (Horticulture Crops, OMAFRA)

“Are you serious about making your mark, getting hands-on work experience and learning more about careers in the Ontario Public Service? These positions at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in Guelph, Ontario will provide an excellent opportunity for those interested in a career in horticulture crop production, pest management, research or the agricultural service sector. Crops may include fruits, vegetables and ornamentals. These positions will provide the opportunity to learn about horticulture crop production, plant diseases, insect pests, integrated pest management (IPM) and agronomy in the horticulture crop sectors within the province. Training will be provided on research methods, technology transfer and working in the public sector.”

Six temporary positions based in Guelph, Ontario for up to 18 weeks are available. Closing date is February 2, 2017. See flyer for more details and how to apply.

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ESC Students Entered in NSERC-CRSNG Video Contest

Two student members of the Entomological Society of Canada have videos entered in the NSERC-CRSNG Science, Action! competition. The contest, open to students across Canada, aims to share NSERC-CRSNG funded research through 60 second videos, and offers a cash prize of $3,000 to the winning entries. The first round of public voting is now open, and both students would appreciate your support by viewing and sharing their entries, helping highlight entomology research in Canada.

Michael Hrabar,  MSc Student at Simon Fraser University

Bed bugs have become a global epidemic. Detecting infestations early is the key to successful eradication. Scientists at Simon Fraser University have identified the bed bug aggregation pheromone. They extracted the pheromone from the bugs’ feces and cast cuticle, and analyzed extracts by state-of-the-art technology including gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. In lab and field bioassays, they demonstrated that a 6-component pheromone blend is highly effective in attracting bed bugs to, and retaining them in, cardboard shelter traps. The pheromone technology can now be developed as a tool to help detect, and possibly control, bed bug infestations.

Morgan Jackson*, PhD Candidate at the University of Guelph

Flies, two-winged insects in the order Diptera, are an important and understudied component of Canada’s biodiversity. With nearly 8,000 species known from Canada, and likely as many more still to be discovered, flies impact our lives every day, either as pests and disease vectors, or as pollinators, decomposers and in many other ways. At the University of Guelph Insect Collection, we’re working to understand the diversity of flies from coast to coast and beyond our borders by studying their natural history and taxonomy using comparative morphology and DNA. By combining fieldwork with museum-based research, we’re helping catalog Canada’s dipteran diversity.

*Disclaimer: Morgan Jackson is an administrator of the ESC Blog.

Culex pipiens photo by Kate Bassett
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New Mosquito Record on Newfoundland

Today’s post is by Kate Bassett of Memorial University. If you’d like more information about her work, she encourages you to contact her.

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Hi,

I’m a graduate student at Memorial University (MUN, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador), nearing the end of my masters…hopefully :). My research project is focused on a wildlife issue. Snowshoe hare, Newfoundland’s only Lagomorph, suffer from infection by California serogroup viruses (snowshoe hare virus and Jamestown Canyon virus). Helped by the province’s Chief Veterinarian Officer Dr. Hugh Whitney, I sampled the blood and tested for infection in wild hares and laboratory rabbits used as sentinels.  This work was based in part in the laboratory led by microbiologist Dr. Andrew Lang at MUN, as well as working with the team at the National Microbiology Lab headed by Dr. Michael Drebot in Winnipeg. But, my project also included studying mosquitoes that are thought to transmit these viruses. That part of my project was based in the social insect lab at MUN headed by Dr. Tom Chapman.

I spent two summers catching mosquitoes. Consequently, I can’t miss them. I seem to have permanently altered my hearing and vision such that a mosquito in flight always grabs my attention. Last May while putting in a load of laundry, a specimen alighted on the washer. I dropped everything and ran upstairs for my aspirator, and made it back to collect this girl to identify at work. I froze her and didn’t get around to id’ing until later in the summer, and I was shocked to see that it may be Culex pipiens. This mosquito gains attention on the East Coast of North America because it can transmit West Nile Virus, and when I made this determination the worst West Nile viral outbreak in N.A. was underway and centered in Texas. I was uncertain of my morphological identification, so I added a leg or two of this specimen to my DNA barcoding work, and I waited for the outcome. When the sequence confirmed by identification, I put out a press release, which had me immediately doing live interviews on TV and Radio. I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, I just went from interview to interview. It was a good experience; I do recommend it. I should add that we don’t have confirmation of West Nile Virus in Newfoundland, but we don’t know what lies ahead. Drs. Lang (aslang@mun.ca), Chapman (tomc@mun.ca) and Whitney (hughwhitney@gov.nl.ca) are looking for students to pick up where I am leaving off.

Culex pipiens photo by Kate Bassett

Here’s a picture of Cx. pipiens I took using a digital camera mounted on a dissecting scope. I used the program Helicon for producing a wide focal plane. It’s not the one that I got in May and fingerprinted, but another one that I got last weekend (September, 2012), also in my house!

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Learn to Publish at the 2012 ESC-ESA JAM

Today’s post comes from Julia Mlynarek on behalf of the 2012 ESC-ESAlberta JAM organizing committee.

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Dear students,

As you may have heard, there will be a workshop on the publication process called “Perspectives on the Publication Process” during the 2012 ESC-ESAlberta JAM.

Publishing research in a high quality, peer-reviewed scientific journal remains an important goal for us, but the process can be difficult to navigate, be frustrating, and create a great deal of anxiety and stress. On the Sunday morning immediately before the 2012 Joint Annual Meeting (4 November) in Edmonton, the Entomological Societies of Canada and Alberta will be jointly hosting a workshop at the JAM venue about the publication process. The overall goal is to provide attendees (students and seasoned professionals alike) with practical information about all aspects of publishing.

The organisers would like your input on the topics that will be discussed during the workshop. Please fill out this short (2 questions) survey by June 20th (I need to tally the scores and forward them to the organising committee).

The link to the survey – http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KYN56MK

Please take the time to fill it out. It will ensure that you have a say in what is discussed!