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Last week I helped to install several bee hives with Dr. Pett, one of the professors from the entomology department here at MSU. I snapped some photos of the event and took a video documenting the event. Within the next couple of days we will put up a version with narration. I wanted to use Bloodbuzz Ohio as the soundtrack… but, you know.

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So after my bellyaching about not finding aphids on Sunday, we found some on Monday. They were on several plants with one or two dozen aphids per plant. We put tomato ring cages and no-see-um netting around the plants. This will allow the aphid populations to build until we need them. I will probably begin studies within the next two weeks. And not too soon, I am pretty much done watching my beans grow.

I am currently traveling to Montcalm county to plant soybeans for my potassium study. Once this is done all of my studies wiil be planted and growing. All I need are more aphids.

On another note, armyworms seem to be taking over wheat fields in Michigan. I think they are pretty interesting, they march across a wheat field and decimate the wheat by clipping the wheat heads.  I’m not sure why anyone would be interested in reading extension bulletins for pleasure, but they are definitely interesting.

So, I have been frustrated for the past week.

 

My beans are growing. Very well. My beans are currently the largest on campus. I planted them before anyone that I know of.

I have been watching them grow for over two weeks. I cannot start doing research on aphids, if I don’t have them. I am waiting.

This would not be too bad, except for the last two years Aphids were found the first week of June. The fact that I am entering the third week and have seen nary a bug is a little scary. I can’t find them. If they don’t come I cannot research.

 

So off I go to stand in the middle of my field and call “Here aphid aphid aphid.”

 

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This is the first part of a series of posts I will be doing over the course of the summer cataloging the progress of my work researching the control of soybean aphids (Aphis glycines).

Soybean aphids are pretty crazy little dudes that like to suck soybean plants dry and can cause farmers to lose up to 70% of their yield. That is a lot of money lost to this little green bug. The United Soybean Board collects a small amount of money from each grower through the Soybean Checkoff program, a little “soy tax” if you will. This money is referred to as “Checkoff dollars” and is spent on research to figure out ways of improving farmer’s incomes and yield. These funds create the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP). This is the program, in combination with the Michigan Soybean Board, that funds my research.

My research looks at ways of controlling these aphids through conservation biological control and host plant resistance (HPR). Hopefully this will help the bottom lines for farmers and will lead to more sustainable soybean production.

Biological control relies on the principal that in the environment exist biological entities that work to control and provide resistance to the personal and population growth of every living organism on the planet, being plant, bacteria, insect, anything. These forces help to control populations and create an equilibrium, gravitating towards the carrying capacity of an ecosystem. The steriotypical example of the wolves and the moose in Isle Royale is often used to show how one organism effects the population of another. In the case of soybean aphids, the forces that help to lower the populations of aphids are not present in the United States as they are in the aphid’s native lands in Asia.

Several types of biological control exist, such as classical biological control, where we go back to the foreign lands and find the natural enemies that prey on the the aphids. This is being attempted, but is historically not entirely successful, for many reasons. The natural enemies can be fickle and can have a difficult time adapting to new environs. natural enemies can also do too well, as is the case of the Asian Multicolored lady beetle. This is the lady beetle that little old ladies are always complaining about as they invade homes in the fall. Releasing anything into the environment is always a little scary.

There are other types of biological control, such as inundative biological control, but I will not get into those.

My research is with conservation biological control. This relies of figuring out ways of attracting natural enemies that are already in the environment to problem areas by creating amenable conditions for these organisms to feed, aestivate, live, breed, etc… My specific work looks at how variety selection effects the suites of predators that inhabit them.

These varieties are bred and are selected to be resistant to aphids. This is called host plant resistance. The varieties I am investigated have been developed to have lower populations of aphids. I am looking to see how these differences in population effect natural enemy populations.

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I will be executing 4 separate studies this summer, literally taking me from one end of the state to another. I have plots in Montcalm county and just north of Frankenmuth as well as plots I have on the campus research farm. I am planning on collecting aphids from one tip of the lower peninsula to the other. This means at some point I shall have to drive the length of our great state and crawl around in farmer’s fields looking for soybean aphids. I have all but one of my studies planted and am hoping to have it completed early this next week. After that he next two weeks consist of watching my plants grow and waiting for aphids to fly in.

It should be exciting, I am hoping to be done next May and am looking at many options, ranging from going directly to my PhD. or even the Peace Corps. I also reserve the right to just work at the local Apple Store.

I kid.

I intend to put updates here and let people know how things are going, this also serves as a little measuring stick for me to use to watch my progress and see where this all goes.

P.S.- Check out this info on Cereal Leaf Beetle, a rarely problematic insect that is become an annoyance

to many farmers this summer. It is a fascinating insect and it as been fun helping growers and extension agents figure out how to handle it.

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