Summer research in Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock (JKS) Wilderness (2018)


If you found a trap like this out in the JKS Wilderness and you're here, then you're curious about my project. Well, as promised, here's some more info!


I am a PhD student working on an invasive fruit fly called the spotted wing drosophila (aka SWD). It's a huge problem for fruit growers around the world, and here in NC it especially affects blackberries, strawberries and blueberries that we grow in large quantities. You can learn more about the fly here. A lot of work has been done in and around farms, where the fly causes economic damage to the farmer (in essence, an infested berry is one that can't be sold, meaning lost profits). What we don't know much about is whether the fly is elsewhere in the landscape, and what kind of impact it could be having there.

So beginning in 2017, I've been surveying the JKS Wilderness area and looking for SWD. And I found the fly... a lot of flies! Wild growing blackberries (Rubus canadensis) is a common invasive plant found along roadsides and in the woods. Their seeds are dispersed by birds and it's great at colonizing disturbed areas, so it's one of the first plants to appear after forest fires (like the ones in 2016).

This year, I'm looking to collect wild blackberry fruit to help estimate how many flies unmanaged areas like this are producing. The traps help with that, as they are used as a monitoring tool to look at relative population size between different areas. I also have some in cultivated blackberry fields. The yellow pouch inside emits a smell that attracts SWD. Once they enter the trap, the water and dish soap solution at the bottom drowns them. I collect the flies every 7-10 days and count how many flies it caught. Then I can compare those numbers to other trap catches.

I appreciate your interest, and your respect for leaving the traps alone. I will be done with this project by the end of September at the latest, after which all the traps will be gone. If you have any more questions, email me using the contact page on this site, or the email I provided on the trap. Happy hiking! -Johanna


P.S. This is me. Say 'hi!' if you see me hiking about :)

P.S. This is me. Say 'hi!' if you see me hiking about :)

New paper on gene drives in agriculture available!

I'm excited to announce the paper I and my interdisciplinary IGERT colleagues wrote for the Journal of Responsible Innovation is available online and open access! "Anticipating complexity in the deployment of gene drive insects in agriculture" is part of a special edition of the journal, in part based off of conversations held during a 2016 NSF-sponsored international workshop on looking toward the future of gene drives - their applications, the unknowns, and how they may be regulated. My co-authors and I helped moderate the discussion sessions, and one thing that became clear to us after the meeting was the potential for gene drive insects to be used in many fields, but that its application to agriculture was both under-discussed and potentially more complex than other gene drive proposals, say for eliminating vectors of human pathogens.

Agriculture is a huge part of the U.S. and world economy and the crops grown in each country are becoming increasingly homogenized. As such, pests of these crops are also spreading to new countries. Since insects modified to carry a gene drive may be able to spread across international borders, creating major regulatory concerns. Gene drive insects also raise issues of grower autonomy, the distribution of benefits and costs for the technology, and who actually grants permission for its approval? Will a social license to operate be needed?

We discuss these issues and more in this article. I'd love to hear your feedback!

CEFS goes to Washington


Left: Dr. Sally Rockey at the public meeting of FFAR stakeholders. Right: coral art at the AAAS headquarters. 

AAAS coral.jpg

I, along with three other graduate students of the inaugural class of Graduate Fellows of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems from NC State visited Washington D.C. in early October to learn more about science policy as it relates to sustainable agriculture. We were fortunate to meet with several program leaders from USDA NIFA, interacted a great deal the board of directors of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture, toured the Capitol building, and met with the Food and Agriculture team at the Union of Concerned Scientists. It was illuminating to hear from so many different perspectives and world views about how to tackle  challenges in food security through research and policy. One common theme across our meetings with these groups was that the inherent complexity and interactions between the field of agriculture and the rest of the world means that we need to train more scientists who think across disciplinary, cultural, and geographic borders. I left D.C. with a lot to ponder!