This is the seventh of ten short news articles written by students, during the professional development class of Fall 2022, about each other's research.

Student Research Spotlight - Sarah Henderson

By Elena Gratton

The rolling hills of vineyards across Pennsylvania have become checkered with dead vines because of spotted lanternfly feeding. “Spotted Lanternfly is a is really new invasive, especially in Pennsylvanian vineyards, and we are still learning how to manage it… Can we refine our control methods to reduce pesticide use?” asks Sarah Henderson, a graduate student at Penn State tasked with tackling an issue of the Spotted Lanternfly.   

The focus of the popular “if you see it, squash it” campaign, Spotted Lanternfly is an invasive bug that was introduced to Pennsylvania about  8 years ago. Originally from Asia, Spotted Lanternfly has no specific natural enemies in the North America. This pest fares well on woody plants, and outside of vineyards can be found on trees in people’s yards.

Using its straw-like mouthparts Spotted Lanternflies drink the juices out of plants. While individual Spotted Lanternfly might not do a lot of damage, given the densities we are seeing in Pennsylvania they can severely damage the plants they are feeding on. Spotted Lanternflies also excrete honeydew, effectively sugar water, which is a substrate for the growth of  a thick sooty black mold. In vineyards, even if the bugs do not kill the vines, they may still make the grapes unusable due to the mold.

Currently, pesticides are often used in an effort to reduce Spotted Lanternfly impacts in vineyards. However, pesticides should be used as the last resort as they are not necessarily the most efficient or effective, and can have negative effects on other insects including beneficials  that weren’t the management target.

That is where Sarah’s research comes in. Working with a local grape grower she is trying to better understand the biology of Spotted Lanternfly and help growers manage this pest a with more sustainable approach. One method she is testing is adding a physical barrier to the boarders of vineyards. Spotted Lanternfly numbers are usually higher on the edges of a field and adults are attracted to tall structures. Adding an artificial tall net based barrier may reduce numbers of Spotted Lanternfly arriving to vineyard thus reducing damage on the vines and provide an option to place other mechanical traps to control the bugs.

Net based barriers may be one of many potential solutions to the Spotted Lanternfly problem, but for Sarah the ultimate goal is to help growers to deal with this challenge. Vines are their livelihood and they take a long time to mature and produce grapes: the loss of one grape vine is a loss for years to come. The research Sarah does should help restore the health of vineyards across Pennsylvania with sustainable management solutions that will last.


Sarah’s thesis advisors are Greg Krawczyk and Julie Urban, and her research is supported by PSU Berks Staff, and the fruit and grape growers of Pennsylvania; This project was funded by the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative.