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

Student Spotlight: Tyler Seutter

By Neetu Khanal

Have you ever thought about the challenges farmers face while savoring the juicy crunch of an apple or the sweetness of a peach? A big challenge is to protect these fruits from insect pests, such as the oriental fruit moth. The larvae of this moth damage developing shoots causing the terminal to wilt and damage fruits by feeding around the pit making them inedible. To combat this pest, farmers can use pheromones to disrupt mating or biological control agents, but they often need to resort to using pesticides, which can be expensive and detrimental for human and environmental health. However, these strategies need to be used before moths lay their eggs and the larvae burrow inside the developing shoots and fruits. Tyler Seutter, a Master’s student in the Krawczyk lab in the Department of Entomology at Penn State, is seeking to develop a tool which will allow the farmers to know exactly when to uses these strategies to most effectively control these pests.

Tyler says “The problem is that the timing of the pesticide application is based on the studies from the 1970s of another state. Here in Pennsylvania, we have many different microclimates. Each farmer may need to apply pesticides at a different time.”

The adult female oriental fruit moth deposits eggs on the upper side of leaves which takes 5 to 21 days to hatch, depending on temperature. Upon hatching, the first instar larva tunnels into growing shoots. As these larvae mature, they exit the shoots, making a hole, and then undergo pupation. While the initial two generations primarily harm developing shoots, the third and fourth generations damage fruits.

Unfortunately, when growers spray pesticides without precise knowledge of egg laid, egg hatch and larval development timing, the pesticide applied may not effectively reach and eliminate the larvae hidden within plant tissues. Consequently, farmers end up using more pesticide than necessary, with limited effectiveness in controlling the oriental fruit moth in apple and peach orchards. Therefore, the inefficiency of pesticide when the larvae burrow inside the developing shoots and fruits, calls for a strategic approach based on the Degree Day Model (DDM). Degree Day is the measurement of heat units over time in relation to a specific insect’s heat need for its development. Thus, DDM help us predict the timing of insect emergence and development, thereby optimizing pesticide application and increasing its effectiveness.

Tyler’s method involves visiting different apple and peach orchards across Pennsylvania and installing traps equipped with pheromone lures to attract moths. These traps, combined with sticky boards and artificial intelligence-driven cameras, capture images of oriental fruit moth and counts them. This data is then sent directly to Tyler, who utilizes it to track insect development. By incorporating field and climate data, Tyler aims to create an optimized DDM for oriental fruit moth in different regions of Pennsylvania.

"Through this research, my aim is simple – to hand farmers a tool, a precise DDM, tailored to the specific Pennsylvania region and safeguarding apple and peach orchards with effective oriental fruit moth management” says Tyler.

By refining DDM and reducing pesticide applications, his research has the potential to transform orchard management practices, not only in the state but potentially serving as a model for growers nationwide.

Tyler Seutter is a Master’s student in the Entomology Department at Penn State and is supervised by Dr. Grzegorz (Greg) Krawczyk. His research is funded by the FMC Corporation.