This is the second short news article written by students, during the professional development class of Spring 2024, about each other's research.

Student Spotlight: Anju Poudel

By Christianah Sade Komolafe

Alone a plant stands vulnerable, but together in a tapestry of roots and leaves, they forge a natural armor against the siege of pests

Cover crops, for instance, not only improve soil health but also aid in managing pests. One such pest, the corn leaf aphid, significantly decreases corn yield in farms. "The extent and speed at which these pests damage crops are concerning, underscoring the need for effective and ecologically sound pest control strategies."

Anju Poudel, an Entomology PhD student in Professor Jared Ali’s research group, is on a quest for eco-friendly strategies to mitigate the impact of corn leaf aphids on corn crops. Anju is focused on exploring how soil from different cover crops can bolster corn's defenses against these pests. "My goal is to uncover how various cover crop soils can enhance corn growth and restrain corn leaf aphid activity," Anju says.

The mechanism by which cover crops fortify soil—and consequently, plant resilience—is multifaceted. Cover crops contribute to increased organic matter, soil fertility, and better soil structure. Additionally, cover crops improve nutrient cycling and bolster biological control mechanisms by promoting the presence of pest predators. Intriguingly, Anju’s research indicates that the soil's composition and its microbial community is also influenced by various cover crops, and this can affect plant communication. “Legacy soil” from cover crops can enhance a corn plant’s ability to produce volatile compounds that attract natural predators of corn leaf aphid, thereby aiding in the regulation of pest populations.

In addition to studying how soil influences corn-aphid-predator interactions, Anju hopes to study how these changing interactions affects plant virus transmission by aphids.

Anju’s work, deeply rooted in plant-insect communication, is set to offer new insights into natural pest control methods. “I hope my research will contribute immensely to the field of pest management by improving food security and as well reduce reliance on chemical pesticides” says Anju.

Anju is a PhD Student in the Department of Entomology. She is advised by Professor Jared Ali and supported by Penn State University Graduate Fellowship Award (UGF) and Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR).