Insect Biodiversity Fellowship Program

A butterfly on a flower by Nick Sloff

Insect Biodiversity Fellowship Program

The Insect Biodiversity Fellowship Program was initiated to support and train students to pursue global challenges in insect biodiversity and conservation. The fellowship encourages integrative and holistic approaches in exploring current drivers of insect decline and needs for pest management than span disparate and complementary disciplines such as genomics, remote sensing, land management and social sciences. Fellows will develop skills to respond to emerging challenges in insect biology and conservation by conducting original research, contributing to outreach programming offered through the Insect Biodiversity Center, and by participating in seminars and coursework specifically designed to highlight and advance the IBC’s mission.

Fellows must have two co-mentors whose expertise is from different disciplines. Co-mentors from different departments or Colleges are preferred; for example, research programs can span entomology, plant science, chemistry, engineering, economics, geography, climate science, sociology, or communication science. Possible research areas include elucidating and modeling the physiological, behavioral, landscape and climate level drivers of insect population distributions and declines, and strategies for engaging communities of stakeholders, policymakers and the public in managing these populations.

Interested students can apply through any program within the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. More information on the Entomology Graduate Program can be found on their website. Prospective students are strongly encouraged to contact prospective mentors in advance of submitting an application. Support is available for incoming Ph.D. students beginning Spring 2021.

2020-2021 IBC student fellowship support is provided by the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Department of Entomology.

ENT 202 – Insect Connections

An introduction to the diversity of insects and the ways in which they interact with humans and impact our world.

ENT 222 – Honey Bees and Humans

This course explores the fascinating biology of honey bees and some of the fundamental principles guiding modern beekeeping today. The intimate association between honey bees and human societies date back over 8,000 years, which has fostered a rich, nuanced and complex history binding the two through the ages and across the globe. Many human-led activities have driven changes to the management of honey bee colonies over time for better and worse (both in historical and contemporary settings). Moreover, the development of agricultural systems and rise of large-scale agricultural practices have influenced humans’ relationship with bees and have significantly impacted bee health. There are many cultural, political, and ethical implications of beekeeping that have shaped and guide historical and current perspectives on the significance of pollinators in food production in the past and today. Since 2006, pollinators, and honey bees in particular, have been featured heavily in the news and in politics. We will teach students to use foundational theories in scientific inquiry to think critically about and reflect on the goals, objectives, and validity of various contemporary bee-related articles featured in the news in the form of a written project assignment and in-class discussions.

This course is available for residential students every Fall and is making its online debut in partnership with Penn State World Campus during Spring 2021.

ENT 432 – Insect Biodiversity and Evolution

This course is available every Fall term.

This course is designed to teach graduate students about insect taxonomy, evolutionary relationships, collection and preservation techniques, morphology, and natural history. We’ll focus mostly on adult forms and emphasize insects found in Pennsylvania. In the lab, students will learn how to handle specimens, how to use diagnostic keys, and how to identify insects by sight. Collection techniques will be honed during multiple field trips.

ENT 497 – Managing Landscapes for Insect Biodiversity

This course is planned to be introduced in 2021.

In this course, students will gain a basic understanding of the biodiversity of insects, their adaptations and natural history, their ecological and economic value, and how insect populations can be monitored. Students will be able to define the primary drivers of insect declines and describe the evidence provided for these from studies around the world. Students will be able to describe how to implement changes in plant communities, habitat structure, and pest management practices to improve the biodiversity and abundance of key insect species. They will be able to discuss and describe strategies for designing landscapes to mitigate the impacts of climate change and foster human interactions with nature. They will become familiar with examples of current strategies that support biodiversity in urban, suburban, agricultural, and natural landscapes. Finally, they will work as a team to apply these strategies to holistically design a restoration and management scheme for a local site of their choosing.

ENT 530 – Seminar - Insect Declines

This course was offered in Spring 2020, and you can find out more about the readings from the course here.

Researchers have recently reported precipitous declines in insect diversity and biomass, in many habitats across the globe. The causes remain unclear, but this alarming trend stands to profoundly alter food webs, ecosystem services, agriculture, and myriad other interactions insects have with other organisms and the environment. In this seminar, we will work to understand the science that revealed these declines and their hypothesized causative agents. We will also explore the consequences of insect declines and how science can inform policy and public opinion. Lastly, we will try to end on a hopeful note by considering possible solutions to insect decline, ranging from local to landscape efforts.

ENT597 – Seminar – Global Perspectives on Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management (IPPM)

Reports of recent and alarming declines in insect biodiversity and abundance over the past two years have generated tremendous public concern, outrage, and speculation over the consequential repercussions for the safety and stability of our planet. There is a widespread consensus that these declines are human-driven and include practices such as agricultural intensification and habitat fragmentation. Now, more than ever, it is critical that scientists engage in a global discussion to address strategies that slow or reverse observed insect declines, while also continuing to allow profitable and sustainable food production.

Through a series of live-streamed guest lectures, recorded and co-hosted by Penn State University and the University of Freiburg in Germany, students will gain exposure to the contributions and perspectives of scientists, science advocates, and regulatory officials across the globe. The course will delve into how socioeconomic and environmental policies, spanning disparate cultures and countries, can restrict or enable the adoption of novel and/or potentially controversial IPPM practices. Further, students will learn how these individuals are harnessing recent advances in transcriptomics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology to better understand the nature of and problems associated with maintaining global food security and ecosystem functions in modern agriculture. Finally, we will introduce students to a series of ‘case studies’ that juxtapose common IPPM practices used in paired European versus American landscapes, such as in agriculture, natural landscapes, and urban settings. Altogether, we hope to educate students on the nuances and intricacies of balancing the needs for successful food production with the needs of preserving the integrity of wild landscapes and promoting the abundance and biodiversity of non-target organisms.

This course will be offered to graduate students and faculty from October 2020 through February 2021.

Francesca Ferguson (Ecology): Spring 2021
Dr. John Tooker (Entomology)
Dr. Heather Preisendanz (Ag Bio Engineering)

Francesca is assessing the influence that environmental contaminants and sedimentation have on the abundance, diversity, and performance of aquatic invertebrates in Pennsylvanian waterways. Through a series of mesocosm and field experiments, she will determine the role that riparian buffers in different agricultural settings play in removing sedimentation from, and in mitigating nontarget insecticide exposure to aquatic communities.

Laura Laiton (Entomology): Spring 2021
Flor Acevedo (Entomology)
Istvan Albert (Bioinformatics)

Laura’s research combines large scale biological data analysis with entomological research at Penn State. By examining the life history traits and changes in gene expression of the grape berry moth on different grapevine varieties, Laura will develop varietal-specific degree day models to inform and improve upon current integrated pest management strategies used by the industry.

Codey Mathis (Entomology): Fall 2020
Christina Grozinger (Entomology)
Harland Patch (Entomology)
Vijay Narayanan (Computer Science and Engineering and Electrical Engineering)

Codey is leading the development of an automated insect detection system which uses machine-learning algorithms to assess the abundance and diversity of insect species in a non-destructive and temporally resolved manner. This system will be used to monitor insect populations across landscapes and serve as a tool for scientists and land managers to identify conservation practices that best support insect biodiversity.

Edward 'Kwadwo' Amoah (Ecology): Fall 2020
Co-Mentors: David Hughes (Entomology)
Amulya Yadav (Information Sciences and Technology)

Edward is using remote sensing and machine learning to predict the biodiversity and ecology of transboundary pest insects of Africa. These predictive models can allow agricultural producers to anticipate the migration of insect pests into their fields, resulting in greater precision and timing of insecticide applications and higher crop yields.