New AgriLife Research Entomologist Hired in Amarillo

By: Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M AgriLife Communications

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Ada Szczepaniec. Photo by Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M AgriLife Communications.

AMARILLO – Dr. Ada Szczepaniec has been hired as an assistant professor and research entomologist by Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Amarillo and the Texas A&M University department of entomology. She began Sept. 14.

“Dr. Szczepaniec possesses an excellent academic and field research background that will allow her to quickly establish a strong entomology research program directed primarily on cropping systems that include wheat, corn or sorghum,” said Dr. John Sweeten, AgriLife Research resident director in Amarillo.

“Her strong personal attributes should promote collaborative research teamwork with other faculty at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Amarillo and our partnering agencies and universities,” he said.

Szczepaniec earned her bachelor’s degree and doctorate from the University of Maryland and served as a laboratory technician and teaching assistant in the department of entomology there for several years before moving to College Station.

She worked as a postdoctoral research associate in the department of entomology at Texas A&M, where her research focused on the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on plants and non-target organisms.

Her research demonstrated that applications of neonicotinoid insecticides suppress important plant defense genes, alter levels of phytohormones involved in plant defense, and decrease plant resistance to an unsusceptible pest in multiple, distantly related plants.

Szczepaniec said her’s was the first study to document insecticide-mediated disruption of plant defenses and link it to increased population growth of a non-target herbivore.

“Our findings were important because applications of neonicotinoid insecticides have been associated with outbreaks of spider mites in several unrelated plant species,” she said.

“This study added to the growing evidence that bioactive agrochemicals can have unanticipated ecological effects and suggested that the direct effects of insecticides on plant defenses should be considered when the ecological costs of insecticides are evaluated.”

In another study looking at the treatment of elms in Central Park in New York City, Szczepaniec concluded that the widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides such as imidacloprid increased spider mite fecundity and created the pest outbreak.

Most recently, she was an assistant professor at South Dakota State University, where she had a 75 percent Extension and 25 percent research appointment.

Szczepaniec continued her work on non-target effects of neonicotinoid insecticides in soybeans and worked on the management of corn rootworm in corn. She also conducted numerous efficacy trials on those crops and had an active Extension and outreach program.

“I learned during that time from stakeholders about what some of the limitations might be on what we recommend for them to do,” she said.

But in the end, she said she wanted to get back to Texas A&M and back to applied research.

In her new position, Szczepaniec said she will conduct research on the impact of drought on insect management in cropping systems, continue her work on insecticide resistance management and study new and emerging insect pests in the region.

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