Postdoctoral researcher

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I am a broadly trained biologist with interests in agricultural entomology and applied ecology. My current research uses ecoinformatics to explore arthropod pest dynamics in citrus groves. We have compiled a large database of information from citrus farms in the San Joaquin Valley of California, including records of sampling of insect pests and natural enemies, pesticide use, plant nutrition, yield, weather, and geographical descriptors. This high quality data is integrated from professional consultant, farmer, and public agency records. The combined sampling effort from these sources spans more than a decade and constitutes a staggering amount of untapped data directly relevant to operational citrus farms in the area. The data collection is ongoing, as is the input from farmers and pest management consultants about the most pertinent directions and questions for the ecoinformatics analyses.

My present analyses focus on factors affecting arthropod pests that directly affect the harvested citrus fruit, including citrus red mites, citrus thrips, scales, katydids and cutworms. Ecoinformatics affords an important complement to experimental agricultural entomology studies, bringing enhanced statistical power and the ability to scrutinize many variables from the full range of growing conditions. Evaluating combined data sets with sampling methods and spatial and temporal scales directly relevant to farmers has the potential to provide tailored information to increase productivity and improve pest management practices. This approach will be especially important to contribute data-driven recommendations in a timely manner as pesticide use changes dramatically in response to the current invasion of the Asian citrus psyllid in California.

In concert with these primary goals of improving citrus yield and informing citrus growing practices with real grower-collected data, is the complementary pursuit of advancing the discipline of ecoinformatics. We are developing novel ecoinformatics tools, such as a comprehensive database program to facilitate data entry, storage and access. This sizeable amount of heterogeneous, observational data also calls for new statistical approaches and methodology. I am exploring general questions about the ecoinformatics approach to facilitate its future adoption to other agricultural systems.



My research focus prior to this has been in microbial ecology and endosymbionts of insects. The majority of insects form symbioses with maternally inherited, intracellular bacteria. These bacteria can have amazing effects on the ecology and evolution of their insect hosts, including manipulating host reproduction, providing fitness benefits or protection against abiotic stresses and natural enemies. In the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Entomology and Insect Science at the University of Arizona, I used an integrated approach to investigate the population dynamics and genomics of a Rickettsia symbiont of a major agricultural whitefly pest, Bemisia tabaci. This work included a countrywide survey of Rickettsia frequencies in whiteflies on cotton, a comparison to Rickettsia field dynamics in Israel (in collaboration with researchers at the Newe Ya’ar Research Center), laboratory fitness experiments, and sequencing of the Rickettsia genome to explore the mechanism of a strong fitness benefit associated with Rickettsia. At the University of Queensland I was a student and research specialist in the School of Integrative Biology, where I worked on molecular, genetic, and physiology projects concerning the widespread endosymbiont Wolbachia in insect hosts. With new molecular and genomics tools, we are still only beginning to understand the diversity, distribution and far reaching influences of these microbial partners of insects.

Beyond these research interests, I delight in opportunities to interact with and train students, and to engage in the important endeavor of educating future researchers. I am always seeking opportunities to share my research with the wider community, especially through outreach events. Please contact me if you would like to discuss any of this research, and especially to talk more about insects in citrus groves or the potential for ecoinformatics to aid with issues of food and water security, pest management, and related global challenges.