Summer Fellows Finding Alternative Ways to Reduce Pesticides

During one of the hottest summers on record, Nate Simasek 2012 trudged through open fields at a local alfalfa farm. He was studying the impact of a lime-green colored insect, only 1/8 of an inch in size. The leafhopper eats by injecting its saliva into plants, which interferes with the growth of the plant. Though small, potato leafhoppers can ravage crops. Simasek, Biology major and a Summer Fellow, was focused on finding alternative pest management strategies to reduce pesticide use. He worked with Professor Cory Straub and fellow student Regan Dohm to study the effects of polyculture (growing multiple plant types together) and predator presence on the potato leafhopper (PLH). They will present the results of their research in Pittsburgh at the Ecological Society of America conference next week.

Their research has potential to have an impact reaching far beyond Ursinus.

“One of the more interesting aspects of our project is its application outside of ecology,” says Dohm 2012. “The Potato leafhopper leads to millions of dollars in damages to alfalfa each year, which is particularly disruptive since alfalfa is Pennsylvania’s second-most important crop. Our research could provide evidence for a pesticide-free solution to this problem, saving money and improving health. It’s a tall order to fill in the remaining two years, but even if we set the groundwork for students to come.”

Simasek, who is from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, says Summer Fellows made it possible to devote eight weeks to a research project. “It is not an opportunity that is available to many people,” he says. “It was a learning experience regarding how the research world works.”

Though Summer Fellows lasts only two months, Simasek and Dohm will pick up where they left off and continue this research in the fall. “Ursinus builds a community that not only allows student research, but also provides the support to take the next step.”

– KC