Student Research Spotlight - Fern Graves

Posted: May 19, 2015

This is the 7th of thirteen short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Looking for love in all the wrong places
by Courtnee Eddington

A lonely male Asian long-horned beetle rests quietly on the trunk of a magnificent sugar maple. His senses are heightened as he patiently waits to begin his journey for love.  At last! He detects the beautiful pheromones of a female that will soon become his, and together they will create children that will destroy more than one-third of this forest.

As a first year Master’s student in Dr. Kelli Hoover’s Lab, Fern Graves will play with the heart and mind of the adult male Asian long-horned beetle, Anoplophora glabripennis, to gain a better understanding of how he detects the female's pheromones.  She will use this information to develop methods to better control this dangerous forest pest.

In this game of lust and deceit, heart breaker Fern is tackling the daunting task of determining how male beetles pick up the trail to find their mates. With this information she can understand his behavior and more effectively deceive him with female pheromone lures. “Though we know there is a pheromone that attracts the males to the females, we don't know if the males can sense this pheromone without touching it”, Fern says. Fern explains that she will use behavioral assays to determine whether the male beetle needs to touch the trail of pheromone using his antennae or mouthparts, or whether he can sense the chemical signal of the pheromone in the air.  Fern will then use this information to develop lures which will possess the sweet aroma of the female beetle and capitalize on the lust within the male beetle's heart. The lure will leave him in a state of confusion and heartache, and he will be unable to find his mate and unable to reproduce.

According to Graves, the Asian long-horned beetle attack and kill a large variety of trees including maples, poplars, elms, and ash. The young beetles (larvae) bore deep into the wood of the tree, until they reach the living parts where they feed. Once a tree is infested it will continuously be infested until it dies. These trees are of great economic and ecological importance to the US forest industry.  Timber, maple syrup, nursery production and tourism are all vulnerable to this extremely destructive pest.  With billions of trees at risk, the economic toll could be devastating.

Fern hopes her work will lead to improved monitoring and trapping techniques for Asian long-horned beetle eradication.  All is fair in love and eradication.