Using landscape genomics to improve management of insect pest species
Growing up in rural Suffolk, I have always had an interest in entomology and the natural environment. A large proportion of my free time was spent catching/identifying insects and exploring the outdoors. This childhood curiosity influenced my decision to study Bioscience at an undergraduate level where I developed a strong scientific understanding and background of the subject area. After graduation, I was selected to conduct a 6-month internship with Kent Wildlife Trust, working in partnership with Natural England, to identify environmental niches of an endangered species of Gastropod (Segmentina nitida). Following this internship, I joined the Immunology department of the Animal Health Trust as a Research Assistant. The primary goal of this research was to improve the understanding of equine immunity induced by the pathogens during infection, and by vaccination. During employment, I was assistant investigator on several studies and acquired practical molecular and immunological techniques and contributed to research publications.
After gaining valuable laboratory experience, I wanted to pursue a career in entomology, and consequently completed an MSc in entomology at Harper Adams University. My research project was carried out in collaboration with the University of Birmingham (School of Biosciences) and the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR). BIFoR is a large-scale Free Air Carbon Enrichment (FACE) experiment with the overarching aim to understand the future effects of increased levels of carbon dioxide (550 parts per million (ppm) predicted in 2050; c.400 ppm at present) on our forests. Arthropods (including insects) make up the majority of all terrestrial eukaryotic organisms (>1 million described species) and play a significant role in maintaining the function of healthy ecosystems. In a forest environment, arthropods help maintain key ecological processes such as linking above and below ground processes, nutrient cycling, energy flow, species composition and community structure and function. Additionally, insects are important pollinators, herbivores, parasitoids and predators within forest environments and, as a result, a change in abundance and community composition could severely impact the structure and function of forest ecosystems. My project sought to identify whether elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide affects arthropod abundance, diversity and phenology within temperate deciduous oak woodlands. The results from my research suggest that the increased levels of carbon dioxide could influence the overall abundance of arthropods within temperate deciduous oak woodlands and subsequently affect the structure and function forest ecosystems.
I am now a PhD student based at Rothamsted Research (registered at the University of Warwick) and part of the new Waitrose CTP scheme. My PhD project aims to address the issue of the negative impact of insect pests within agriculture, which can result in large economic losses. Monitoring migration patterns of aphid pest species is challenging due to size and the difficultly tracking individuals. Additionally, many insect pests are becoming increasingly resistant to insecticides and/or host-plant resistant cultivars. By incorporating the use of landscape genomics, and applying this to a model system (Nasonovia rebisnigri – the currant-lettuce aphid), I hope to help improve aphid surveillance systems (earlier detection of migration into the crop) and provide important information on the evolution and spread of resistance within the UK.