Entomology Doctoral Student Named Outstanding Ph.D. Student of 2007 by IOBC
Studying beneficial insects from a landscape perspective earned Mary Gardiner, an entomology Ph.D. candidate who works in the lab of MAES scientist Doug Landis, Outstanding Ph.D. Student of 2007 honors from the International Organization for Biological Control of Noxious Animals and Plants-Nearctic Regional Section (IOBC-NRS).
Directing a team of scientists from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, Gardiner studied how landscape structure affected biological control of soybean aphids. She found that as landscape diversity went up, biological control of the aphids in soybean fields increased. When landscapes were less diverse—dominated by corn and soybean fields—there was less biological control of soybean aphid. The difference is probably because diverse landscapes mean that more natural enemies of soybean aphids, such as lady beetles, have access to soybean fields.
If natural enemy numbers are high enough, farmers don’t have to use pesticides to control the aphids. When the landscape around a soybean field includes highly diverse habitats such as forests, houses, cropland, pastures and other features, it provides increased food and shelter for natural enemies.
“Mary’s work demonstrates the potential for farmers to manage landscapes to enhance beneficial insect communities and reduce the need for pesticide applications,” Landis said. “Her research is changing the way we think about pest management in agriculture. By showing the overriding importance of landscape in driving biocontrol outcomes, Mary’s work forces us to think beyond field and farm borders to design farming systems at landscape and regional scales.
“The IOBC award is wonderful recognition of the excellence that Mary brings to everything she does,” he added.
“It was very exciting to receive this award,” Gardiner said. “I know several of the people that have received this award in the past, and I’m honored to be in that group.”
In addition to her research, Gardiner also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at MSU, as well as through the MSU Extension Master Gardener program. She also developed the pocket field guide “Identifying Natural Enemies in Crops and Landscapes.” The guide has been invaluable in training field scouts, Extension educators, growers and homeowners to identify beneficial insects that are natural enemies of pest insects. Since its release in 2006, it has sold more than 3,000 copies in 24 states and three provinces.
“I really enjoy working directly with growers and Master Gardeners through the MSU Extension program,” Gardiner said. “I want my research work to have components that can help people right now as well as in the future.”
The research was funded by a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Avoidance and Mitigation (RAMP) grant and the collaborating universities. Other MAES scientists involved in the project include entomologists Christina DiFonzo and Michael Brewer and agricultural economist Scott Swinton.
Established in 1955, the IOBC is a global organization affiliated with the International Council of Scientific Unions. The IOBC promotes environmentally safe methods of pest and disease control. One of six regional sections, the NRS encompasses the United States, Canada and Bermuda.
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