This weeks news comes from a researcher doing work here at Heron Pond Farm.
My name is Rafael Valentin and I am a fourth year doctoral student at Rutgers University in the Ecology and Evolution graduate program. I conduct research on invasive species, spanning several areas that contribute to invasion dynamics at both large biogeographical and small local scales. Specifically, I address surveillance and monitoring methods for invasive species, while also designing advanced techniques to more readily detect invasives before they become problematic. I also focus on global transport and invasion pathways in an effort to determine where the invasive species come from, and how they got there. My current research efforts are focused on developing new surveillance methods and mapping the global invasion pathways for an agricultural pest, the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) that is spreading rapidly across the United States.
Previous research has shown that this bug originated from Asia, mainly in the Beijing, China area. It was first found in the United States in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and quickly established throughout the mid-Atlantic area. This is a voracious agricultural pest that does not depend on any specific crops. The damage that they cause to crops is substantial, with historic losses in Maryland in 2012, resulting in a 100% loss of peaches. Due to the dramatic level of destruction this pest can cause, there is a high need to control them and mitigate the damage this pest will cause on farms. The goal of my new surveillance method is to detect the presence of this pest using molecular methods without having to ever see it. This removes the need for populations to be at high numbers, before they can be seen in traps, which can allow for a more rapid response to eradication and control efforts in agricultural fields.
The premise behind this research is rooted in a concept called “environmental DNA” (eDNA). This states that all living organisms shed biological material that contains their DNA directly into their surrounding environment. My work at Heron Pond Farms is to apply this technique, which is usually used in aquatic systems, to a terrestrial system for the benefit of agriculture. With the help of the farmers, I have set up several traps throughout the farm that are traditionally used to detect the brown marmorated stinkbug. In addition, I am also collecting samples from various crops throughout the farm, which have the potential to contain brown marmorated stinkbugs’ DNA. These samples are then taken back to Rutgers University for genetic analysis. By using the traditional methods alongside my own techniques, I am able to directly compare which of the methods is most effective.
Thank you so much Rafael for your work with invasives. This kind of work goes a long way towards making our lives better out here on the farm.