The Department of Entomology at Texas A&M had a good year at this year’s Southwestern Branch meeting of the Entomological Society of America in Tulsa as several students and faculty members received awards during its annual meeting in late April.
Ph.D. student Jocelyn Holt received the John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award. Holt’s research is looking into increasing our understanding of the interplay between genetics and insect mutualisms in invasive species.
Holt is looking at the role insect microbiomes play in mediating mutualisms among insects. Her research has revealed microbial differences between sugarcane aphids (SCA) that seem to correspond to genetic differences of sorghum or sugarcane populations. She is also investigating whether these genetically distinct SCA populations differ in their attractiveness to ants and is examining the fine-scale genetic structure of the tawny crazy ant to inform future integrated pest management.
“I am very honored to receive the 2019 Comstock Award from the ESA Southwestern Branch. It is exciting to be recognized for my research accomplishments as well as my promotion of excellence and diversity in STEM through teaching and mentorship,” Holt said. “I am proud to represent Texas A&M and hope that my determination to pursue entomology inspires others to accomplish their dreams.”
In the 3 minute presentation competition, Ph.D. student Mark Janowiecki won first place for his talk titled “The giant walkingstick (Megaphasma denticrus) feeding on eastern cedar (Juniperus virginiana)” while Holt received second for her talk titled “Assessing mutualisms in invasive insect pests.”
“I was glad to see the Southwestern Branch offer the 3-Minute Talks and found it exciting to give a quick summary of my research,” Holt said. “I am proud to be a winner in the first ever SWB 3-Minute Talks and have found that this talk has helped me better communicate my research to others. I look forward to the SWB offering this event in future meetings!”
In the poster competition, Ph.D. student Jaclyn Martin received first place in the Ph.D. category for her poster titled “Keeping
up to date on the threat of Tagosodes orizicolus and Rice hoja blanca virus to Texas rice” while Travis Trimm received first place in the Undergraduate competition for his poster titled “Evaluation of the temperature tolerance of the predatory mite Stratiolaelaps scimitus for biological control of the honey bee ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor.” Masters student John Grunseich won second place in the Masters category for his poster “The effects of below-ground chemical cues from entomopathogenic nematodes on host plant selection of diabroticite beetle larvae.”
In the 10-minute oral presentation competition, two graduate students and one undergraduate received top awards for their talks. In the Undergraduate competition, Franchesca Rodriguez won first place for her talk titled “Behavioral effects of juvenile hormone on the worker caste of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta.” Ph.D. student Erfan Vafaie won first place for his talk “Use of multiple natural enemies for inoculative biological control if Bemisia tabaci in greenhouse poinsettia production” and MacKenzie Tietjen received second place for her talk “Assessing host-associated differentiation in Dermacentor variabilis (Acari: Ixodidae).”
“I’m very happy to even had the opportunity to compete and present on my past research,” Rodriguez said. “Winning first place is likewise on a different level, I wouldn’t say I expected it, but I was fairly confident in my presenting skills.”
“It is always an honor to speak amongst my fellow brilliant graduate students. I am always impressed with the great quality of research and presentations given at these meetings, and feel very grateful for being recognized for my work,” Vafaie said.
Dr. Michael Brewer was recognized for the ESA Award for Excellence in Integrated Pest Management and both graduate teams won first and second place at the branch Linnaean Games.
Brewer’s nomination focused on his collaborative research and outreach efforts in addressing sugarcane aphid on sorghum and how this research contributed to understanding aphid invasions and their management in cereal grains of the North American Great Plains.
“I greatly appreciate the nomination by the Department and was greatly honored to receive the award at the SW Branch meeting in Tulsa. Research and outreach on sugarcane aphid on sorghum was the main thrust of the work,” Brewer said. “The entomology team in Corpus Christi and all the research and outreach collaborators along the Texas Gulf Coast and across five states were instrumental in addressing sugarcane aphid on sorghum. The early financial support of the Texas Grain Sorghum Board and United Sorghum put our research group in a great position to address the problem locally when the aphid first appeared in south Texas, and then regionally in cooperation with other scientists as it spread across 17 states, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands.
“Several USDA funding agencies supported the multi-state work, including supporting two graduate students in Entomology at A&M,” Brewer said. “Now in South Texas and many other locations, the sugarcane aphid is well managed by the great sorghum producers of the region. I am glad our A&M team and our partners were able to help.”
Brewer’s nomination will be entered into another voting in which the winner will be announced at the 2019 ESA national meeting in St Louis in November. The winners of the Southwestern Branch Photo Salon were also announced. Erfan Vafaie and Brian Rich won best image in the Macrophotography category with Vafaie winning Best Overall Image.