Non-consumptive effects in biocontrol

My primary area of study is the effects of natural enemy risk in biological control systems. Biological control, or the use of biological organisms to control unwanted organisms, is ultimately an issue of behavior, since pests are defined by their undesirable behavior. Caterpillars damage plants and reduce yield, aphids spread plant diseases, and cockroaches gross people out when they scurry around at night. Biological control is really about reducing these unwanted behaviors, and killing pests just happens to be an effective method of doing so. However, it’s far from the only method, and natural enemies affect pests through plenty of non-lethal and non-consumptive pathways. I’m interested in studying these non-consumptive effects in biocontrol systems and how they interact with other pest control methods.

Pathways of risk in aphid-parasitoid-hyperparasitoid systems

I recently finished working on a USDA NIFA supported project using field and lab experiments to study the effects of multiple levels of risk on aphid population growth and alfalfa performance. Parasitoids affect aphids through both consumptive and non-consumptive pathways, but they also suffer their own consumptive and non-consumptive effects due to hyperparasitoids. I hope to elucidate the ways by which each specific pathway cascades to the level of aphid population growth and alfalfa performance, improving understanding of both aphid pest control and the broader topic of multiple risk cascades.

Disease and cannibalism

For the past several years, I have been working on a project looking at the effects of disease and cannibalism on populations of big-eyed bugs, Geocoris pallens, throughout the Central Valley. Big-eyed bugs exhibit egg cannibalism when population densities get too high, but over the past two decades, Geocoris populations have been declining as cannibalism expression has risen dramatically. Through combinations of field observations, behavioral assays, and theoretical models, I aim to explore the relationships between disease dynamics and cannibalism expression in Geocoris populations.