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Zsofia in field playing with dirt

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Integrated pest management mandates the use of multiple strategies simultaneously: in particular we are interested in the impact of diversity at different trophic levels within agroecosystems and the benefits this may deliver for pest management. Habitat structural complexity is thought to increase the accumulation and conservation of natural enemies in agroecosystems through a reduction in predator interference by competition and intra-guild predation, and via increased availability of alternative food, shelter, and favorable microclimate. On the other hand, predator foraging efficiency may vary inversely with habitat heterogeneity, because of the negative effects of structural complexity, such as a decrease in predator-prey encounter rates due to increased surface area for searching. Because of these drastically different potential outcomes, it is crucial to understand the dynamic of the relationship between predator and prey in the field and how this is influenced by alterations in features of the habitat. Molecular gut analysis provides a tool to measure predation without manipulating prey abundance in the field. This information can be useful in designing management tactics that aim at enhancing the most efficient (i.e.: kills the most pests) natural enemy(s) in a species assemblage. A combination of experimental procedures ranging from large-scale field experiments to bench-top molecular procedures are used in this investigative process.

Another area we are currently exploring is the role of volatiles, either plant or insect derived, in pest management. Using baits in traps is essential in most pest management programs to effectively time control measures. We take air samples from the headspace of plants and/or insects and analyze them to determine their chemical composition. Following this, we conduct behavioral essays where the response of the insect to different volatile chemicals is determined. Once behaviorally active compounds are identified, field tests are carried out with a lure and trap. The results ideally lead to commercially viable lures/baits that growers may use for their everyday decision-making.