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Mentorship in Entomology Symposium

February 9th 2018


Opening Plenary Speaker:​.​Jonathan A. Cammack​, Ph.D., M-ABFE: ​10:30 - 11:00

Title:​ Coming Full Circle and Completing the Cycle
Abstract: ​As an undergraduate student in entomology, I was fascinated by insects and how we can use
them to answer so many questions about the world around us. I was particularly interested in forensic
science, and for as long as I can remember I wanted to become a forensic entomologist. Working in the
lab of Dr. Bob Wharton and conducting research with Drs. Jim Olson, Jeff Tomberlin, and Albert Mulenga
helped develop my appreciation for research, and the role that collaboration and mentorship plays in a lab
environment. These relationships ultimately led to meeting both my M.S. and Ph.D. advisors. As a
graduate student, I learned how to conduct behavior research, and got exposure to livestock entomology,
where we managed insect pests in conventional and organic livestock production systems. As a
postdoctoral research associate, I’ve built on my past research experience, to expand my skills and
investigate the mechanisms that drive decomposition ecology, no matter the substrate. I have been
studying the volatile organic compounds produced during decomposition, in collaboration with members
of the Interkingdom Research Group, where our goal is to determine the relationships and interactions
between decomposing resources, and the microbes and insects that consume them. These interests in
the basic aspect of the decomposition cycle have since translated into the formation of a private
company, where we are using the black soldier fly to convert organic waste into protein, and make the
world more sustainable. At each stage during my academic career, working with others was an ultimate
driver of the success of a project. I truly believe that my academic success has been largely the result of
meaningful relationships with professors I have worked with, who saw my potential, and encouraged me
to become the scientist I am. As a professional entomologist, I hope to one day be able to have such an
impact on other, future entomologists.
Closing Plenary Speaker:​ ​Dr. Christina M. Brock​, Ph.D.: ​3:50 - 4:20

Title:​“Questing” for knowledge: A microbiologist’s path to the field of Entomology

Abstract:​ ​Entomology as a field is comprised of scientists from a variety of backgrounds due to the wide
range of research questions that can be investigated using an entomological approach and the real-world
relevance of entomological research findings. Similar to a number of students and faculty in the Texas
A&M Department of Entomology, I found myself in entomology only after exploring other disciplines and
receiving advice from excellent mentors. My path from intending to study education and basic molecular
biology developed into an interest in vector-borne disease that finally evolved into to a fascination with tick
biology and control. As a result, I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Dr. Patricia
Pietrantonio’s lab, where I am investigating the role of G-protein-coupled receptors in the biology and
control of the Cattle Fever Tick.
Undergraduate Presentations - Session One
1. Dayvion Adams​, Entomology: ​11:02 - 11:12
Title:​ The Co-circulation of Haemosporida Parasites with West Nile Virus in Avian Hosts and Mosquito
Vectors in East-Central Texas
Abstract:​ ​Numerous studies have demonstrated that co-circulating parasites within hosts and vectors
can have a pronounced impact on the course of host and vector infection. These interactions can scale
up to influence transmission at the population level and thus impact the probability of disease outbreak.
Culex mosquitoes, the main vectors of West Nile virus, ingest a variety of viral, protozoan, and
macro-parasitic organisms that circulate among avian and mammalian hosts, however, the
epidemiological consequences of these co-infections remain largely unknown. The aim of this study is to
identify Haemosporida (Plasmodium and Haemoproteus) blood parasites that may co-circulate with West
Nile virus in passerine hosts and Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes in Texas. Culex quinquefasciatus
mosquitoes and avian hosts collected in South College Station, Texas were screened for Haemosporida
infection using established PCR protocols. Positive reactions were sequenced and compared to NCBI’s
nucleotide database. Plasmodium and Haemoproteus DNA was found in 2% (n=130; MIR=0.46) mosquito
pools and 47% (n=36) of birds. These results provide information on Plasmodium-mosquito and
Plasmodium-bird interactions in an understudied region. Furthermore, these results can inform
downstream experimental studies and mathematical models designed to ascertain the impact of avian
malaria on WNV infection and transmission.

2. Abby Jones​, Forensic and Investigative Science: ​11:14 - 11:24

Title: ​Taxonomic Resolution provides greater insight to impact of mass mortality events on local
Abstract: ​Mass mortality events (MME) impact local ecosystems especially in systems where insects play
a major role in recycling carrion. At what biomass will insects no longer be able to efficiently recycle the
carrion? Selecting the appropriate taxonomic resolution will be advantageous especially when assessing
arthropod community sensitivity to variably sized MMEs. A collaborative study examining an artificial
MME using feral swine (Sus scrofa) was conducted at Mississippi State University (MSU). There were five
different masses of swine carcasses ranging from 24.9 kg to 725.7 kg. Different plots (1 km apart) were
created based on density, carrion presence, or absence (or nutrient additive presence), and availability for
predators. Sticky traps were placed among the plots to collect insects and were replaced as needed
(between 24 hours and two weeks). Sticky traps were sent to Texas A&M University for identification of
insects. This project involves determining the most useful and practical taxonomic level to identify insects
using the MME experiment. Based on the different locations, the hypothesis is the diversity and richness
of the arthropod community will not vary at each site over time regardless of taxonomic resolution. This
experiment is continuing from spring semester 2017. 

3. Zoey Kramer​, Bioenvironmental Science: ​11:26 - 11:36

Title​: The Effect of Fungal Endophytes on Olfactory Responses of Stink Bugs
Abstract​: ​Fungal endophytes have surfaced as potential solutions in pest management. They have been
proven to improve plant performance when challenged by abiotic and biotic stressors. Recently published
research found that the stink bug, Nezara viridula, was deterred from feeding on excised fruits (bolls) of
cotton plants, Gossypium hirsutum, treated with either endophyte Phialemonium inflatum or Beauveria
bassiana. We expanded on this study to investigate the olfactory preferences of N. viridula and another
stink bug pest, Euschistus servus. We treated cotton seeds with the same endophytes and used live
intact bolls in Y-tube assays. We found that N. viridula exhibited a significant olfactory preference for
untreated plants over B. bassiana-treated plants. N. viridula did not exhibit any significant preference for
untreated plants over P. inflatum-treated plants. E. servus tended to prefer untreated plants to P.
inflatum-treated plants, but this trend was not statistically significant. Our results corroborate, in part, to
previous findings that indicate that fungal endophyte treatment influences stink bug behavior. An
important factor that may be responsible for dissimilarities between our results and previous studies is the
use of intact versus excised tissues. Excision of plant tissues has been found to significantly increase the
amounts of volatiles, plant odors, emitted from those tissues. This is likely to influence insect behavior
towards those tissues. Additionally, the difference in the responses of the two species suggest that
endophytic effects may be species-specific. We are continuing this research by investigating changes in
volatile profiles and their influence on various herbivore behaviors.

4. Mikahl Barajas​, Entomology: ​11:38 - 11:48

Title:​ Mutualisms Between Sugarcane Aphids and Tawny Crazy Ants
Abstract:​ ​The sugarcane aphid, Melanaphis sacchari (SCA), along with the tawny crazy ant, Nylanderia
fulva (TCA), have become major pests in Texas due to rapid population growth and dispersal. SCA
massive colonies have caused substantial loss in revenue for Texas grain sorghum (Sorghum bicolor)
propagation, and TCA has become a general pest in urban areas. Mutualistic behaviors have been
observed between these two species on grain sorghum in situations of low population density and limited
resources. Unfortunately, ant-aphid mutualisms can be detrimental in agricultural ecosystems (Brenton
and Addicott 1992), and a strong SCA-TCA relationship could lead to a large infestation of both species in
sorghum crops.
Often, enforcing a structured watering plan that includes a small stress period simulating drought is a
preventive practice that still allows an acceptable sorghum crop yield (Menezes 2015). However, the
effects of drought, if any on an SCA-TCA mutualism has not been tested. Therefore, in three test groups
of lab-propagated sorghum, the behaviors of SCA and TCA will be observed under simulated drought
(stressed), over watering, and average (control) growing conditions. The populations will be observed for
population growth (sustainability) and evidence of mutualistic behavior. It is hypothesized that a SCA-TCA
mutualism will strengthen in drought (stressed) conditions with continued ant-aphid tending. In average
(control) and overwatering conditions, SCA-TCAs mutualism are hypothesized to be weak, if at all
5. Sydney Tippelt​, Biomedical Sciences: ​11:50 - 12:00
Title: ​Assortative Mating in the Anopheles gambiae Species Complex
Abstract: ​T​he Anopheles (An.) gambiae species complex includes several major malaria vectors,
including An. coluzzii and An. arabiensis, as well as An. quadriannulatus, which is not considered a
malaria vector due to its zoophilic feeding preference. In nature, An. gambiae species do not typically
hybridize due to geographic isolation and differential swarming behavior. In areas where mixed swarms
do occur, hybrid copulae are observed at a much lower frequency than would be predicted by random
mating. In this project, we test female mate choice in three species (An. coluzzii, An. arabiensis, and An.
quadriannulatus) in swarm compositions ranging from 100% conspecifics to 100% heterospecifics.
Mosquitoes were sexed and sorted as pupae, and emerged adults were aspirated into experimental
cages and given five days to mate. Insemination rates were determined via spermathecal dissections,
and a species-diagnostic PCR of the spermathecae was used to determine the species identity of the
inseminated females’ mate. Our results demonstrate that swarm composition is not likely to influence
female insemination (p=0.1837). However, An. coluzzii females in mixed swarms mated exclusively with
conspecific males, which indicates a strong tendency to mate assortatively in this species. An.
quadriannulatus females in a mixed An. coluzzii/An. quadriannulatus swarm were equally likely to be
mated with conspecific or heterospecific males (p=0.1306), suggesting no preference for mating partner.
Additional replicates are still being conducted in order to further examine these trends, including trials
involving An. arabiensis. In the future, mating behavior in swarms with more varied male concentrations
will also be tested.

Undergraduate Presentations - Session Two

6. Austin D. Krueger​, Horticulture: ​1:32 - 1:42
Title:​The Effect of Gibberellic Acid on Plant Defenses
Abstract:​‘Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum’ (Lso) is a pathogenic bacterium transmitted by
Bactericera cockerelli potato psyllids. Lso is highly invasive and can infect a wide variety of plants, but
solanaceous species are especially susceptible, causing millions of dollars in damages to the tomato and
potato industries worldwide. Therefore, it is important to investigate the relationship between the disease,
the vector, and the plant and to discover novel methods of preventing plant infection. The plant hormone,
Gibberellic Acid (GA3), might offer a solution, as the GA3 signaling pathway has been implicated in
plant-microbe interactions.
The purpose of this study was to examine how GA3 affects tomato plant resistance to Lso and to psyllid
feeding. Three Lso-positive females were allowed to feed and oviposit on five-week old tomato plants that
had been treated weekly with 〖10〗^(-3)mM of GA3 solution or control solution (n=8). After a three-day
period, adults were removed and eggs counted. Number of hatching eggs, emerging nymphs, and
emerging adults were counted three times per week until all progeny became adult (≈ 4 weeks).
Additionally, plant leaf samples were collected weekly to detect Lso by PCR.
There was no effect of GA3 treatment on tomato resistance to psyllids or Lso. However, because GA3
induces plant growth and there was no size difference in the experimental plants, the GA3 treatment dose
was not adapted to the system. Current experiments are being performed with a tested effective GA3
dose in tomato. 

7. Aria C. Deluna​, Entomology: ​1:44 - 1:54

Title: ​Density-dependent phase polyphenism in S. piceifrons: a color analysis
Abstract:​ ​Like other locusts, S. piceifrons, the Central-American Locust, exhibits swarming behavior
under intermittently suitable conditions, while demonstrating density-dependent phase polyphenism. This
phenotypic plasticity is characterized by behavioral, morphological, molecular, and other visible changes
between individuals in low versus high density environments. A difference in pigmentation and marking
patterns can be seen in locusts that mature in solitary versus gregarious environments. While solitary
insects may find it beneficial to be inconspicuous within their natural surroundings, gregarious insects
may be more benefited by having bright warning-coloration that is characteristic of aposematism. It has
been observed that the coloration and amount of black pattern differs between solitary and gregarious S.
piceifrons in the field. While it has not been tested under lab conditions for this species, evidence exists
for other species of locusts that background color, black patterning, and overall size differ depending on
the phase that they are in. Based on this, it is expected that there will be different amounts of luminance
between the solitary and gregarious grasshoppers along with different amounts of black patterning. To
test this hypothesis, Images of gregarious and solitary S. piceifrons in their fifth instar were captured using
a digital camera. A consistent area on both the leg and pronotum was selected for comparison of
background color. Further, the degree of black patterning and the length of thorax and hind femur were
measured. The images were analyzed using multispectral imaging in ImageJ and the R-package

8. Michelle Marie Jonika​, Forensic and Investigative Science: ​1:56 - 2:06

Tit​le: ​Let's Talk About Sex: Identifying Female and Male Markers in Blow Flies
Abstract:​Calliphoridae is a large family of insects, and contains the species Lucilia sericata (Diptera:
Calliphoridae) (Meigen), Cochliomyia macellaria (Diptera: Calliphoridae) (Fabricius) and Chrysomya
rufifacies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) (Macquart). These species are important medically and economically
and are all commonly used in forensic investigations. For forensic investigations, developmental data for
species is used to predict time of colonization (TOC) estimates. However, there is sexual dimorphism in
development of blow flies. The difference in physical traits, as well as gene expression, may result in
development disparities between sexes. For this reason, it is important to optimize a sex identification
assay to aide in predicting more accurate TOC intervals for L. sericata, C. macellaria and C. rufifacies.
Sex determination is an important assignment made during development. In the case of calliphorids, most
undergo transformer (tra) splicing and resulting doublesex (dsx) splicing to give rise to downstream
sex-specific characteristics, which may cause differing development in males and females. Using known
primer sets for tra and dsx, an assay for sex identification can be optimized. The newfound information on
sex, in combination with published transcriptomes, can result in sex-specific interpretation of gene
expression, yielding more accurate data sets for species.

9. Jonathan Hernandez​, Plant and Soil Science: ​2:08 - 2:18

Title: ​Different Questing Behaviors of the Blacklegged Tick on Different Climbing Substrates
Abstract:​ ​The blacklegged tick (BLT) or Ixodes scapularis is a major vector for several diseases
throughout its range in the United States. The BLT uses a method called questing to find its hosts.
Questing involves ticks climbing to the top of plants or shrubs and extending their forelegs and waiting for
a host to pass by so they can latch on to feed. In this experiment, different plant species and materials
(Illex vomitoria, Fraxinus sp., Querces sp., wooden dowel, and metal rod) were offered to the BLT
specimens to test if it had a questing preference on the different materials. Results were analyzed using
an Anova test and showed that the BLT did show a preference for the metal substrate when it came to
climbing. However, when it came to the actual questing the BLT did not have a preference for any of the
substrates used in the experiment. Also, a pairwise comparison test was run between the different plants
and wooden dowel. BLT did not differentiate among wooden stakes, Illex vomitoria, and Fraxinus sp..
Future experiments will be conducted with wooden stakes to determine if substrate material does affect
questing behavior

Undergraduate Presentations - Session Three

10. Franchesca I. Rodriguez​, Entomology: ​3:02 - 3:12
Title:​ Behavioral effects of juvenile hormone on the worker caste of the red imported fire ant, ​Solenopsis
Abstract: ​The red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) was introduced to the USA in 1930 and has since 
become an increasingly significant medical, agricultural, and economic pest. Current insecticides are 
ineffective for fire ant control. Therefore, there is an urgent need to find novel pest control strategies. 
Solenopsis invicta are a eusocial hymenopteran species with a distinct colony caste system. Division of 
labor in social insects is a complex phenomenon that represents a major evolutionary transition, but the 
physiological mechanisms that regulate this behavior in social insects are not well understood. 
Experimental studies have implicated juvenile hormone (JH) in task allocation regulation in social insect 
workers. Here we investigated the effect of increased JH levels in ‘nest-bound’ worker behavior using a JH 
analog, S-hydroprene. This study shows that elevated JH levels result in workers becoming more 
phototactic (p<0.05) and engaging in more extranidal activity (p<0.05). This changes reflect the transition 
from intranidal work to foraging. These behavioral effects on behavior in S. invicta are mediated by JH and 
may be a key endocrine regulator of behavior and the evolutionary success of this social insect.
11. Christine Madamba​, Microbiology: ​3:14 - 3:24
Title:​ Fungal Seed Treatment Enhances Defensive Volatile Response to Herbivory in Cotton
Abstract: ​Piercing sucking bugs are an increasing concern as pests of cotton. These insects use
needle-like mouthparts to pierce and feed on young flower buds and fruits, often causing the plant to
abscise these structures, resulting in yield loss. Piercing-sucking bugs are not affected by Bt traits and
necessitate the development of alternative methods of deterrence. Previous studies have shown that
endophytic fungi influence host-plant selection by altering plant volatile emissions. In this study, we
investigate this interaction with cotton seeds treated with the fungal spores of either Beauveria bassiana
or Phialemonium inflatum, two endophytes. We then tested the effect on the defensive volatile response
to herbivory in cotton by collecting volatile profiles via solid phase micro-extraction (SPME) to
characterize constitutive (undamaged plants) and induced (plants damaged by herbivory) profiles. We
analyzed the constitutive and induced profiles qualitatively, to determine if treatment altered the
components of the emissions, and quantitatively, to determine if the treatment altered the amount of
volatiles emitted. We found no qualitative differences in emissions across treatments. However,
quantitative analysis shows statistically significant differences in the amounts of certain volatiles in the
induced emissions of treated plants. Additionally, we quantified the volume of leaf tissue consumed by
caterpillars in the experiments and found no significant differences in levels of herbivory across treatment.
Therefore, greater emissions of volatiles by P. inflatum-treated plants cannot be attributed to greater
levels of herbivory on those plants. We are currently investigating the mechanisms behind
endophyte-mediated changes in volatile emissions.

12. Betty N. Hernandez​, Entomology: ​3:26 - 3:36

Title:​ Differences in Pollen Consumption Between Male and Female Blow Flies
Abstract:​ ​In the light of decreasing number of honeybees, concerns about crop pollination have risen.
Recent studies show that blow flies could be potential pollinators. Previous research done by a former
student shows there is interaction between pollen and blow flies in and out of a lab setting. One question
left unanswered was if there is a difference between male and female consumption of pollen? At the
beginning of the experiment, wild flies were captured around College Station, TX. Afterwards, the flies
were separated by date/location captured, species, and sex. The species Chrysomya megacephala was
chosen, due to their high number, then dissected and grouped into fives. Eight groups were formed in
total. Pollen acetolysis was conducted on each group, then they were mounted on slides. Preliminary data
shows a difference in male and female consumption. However, further work needs to be done to show if
there is a significant difference.

13. Drew Little​, Biology: ​3:38 - 3:48

Title: ​A multiple regression model to predict phases of Schistocerca piceifrons
Abstract:​ ​The locust Schistocerca piceifrons is a major agricultural problem in parts of Central America
due to their swarming behavior and crop destruction. Locusts have two phases; solitary, in which the
locusts pose no serious threat, and gregarious, where the locusts form swarms. Gregarious locusts
become more active and become attracted to one another, whereas solitary individuals are less active
and avoid one another. Differences in the phases are also physiological, morphological, and molecular
and include changes in color. This phenotypic plasticity is dependent on population density. To study this
behavior locusts were raised in isolation and in crowded conditions and recorded in a container with a
stimulus chamber in the form of 25 crowded locusts on one end and an empty chamber on the other.
Using 200 acquired videos, a multiple regression model was generated to determine if locusts are
gregarious or solitary based on a video recording of their behavior. Using this model, we will investigate
which exact stimuli trigger behavioral phase change upon a changing density in Schistocerca piceifrons.