Dr. Ebony Murrell (postdoctoral researcher in Entomology, Cullen lab) received a WARF Discovery Challenge Award on October 16, 2013 from the UW-Madison Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation acknowledging exceptional collaborative work by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.
Ebony’s project, with Co-PI Dr. Pierre-Marc Delaux (postdoctoral researcher in Agronomy, Ané lab) is titled Soil Practices, Plant Nutrients, and Mycorrhizae Affect Oviposition Response of Ostrinia nubilalis to Corn. Ebony and Pierre-Marc will receive $5,000 to advance their research through this newly formed interdisciplinary collaboration.
Ebony and Pierre-Marc are one of three WARF Discovery Challenge winning teams selected from among more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who participated in a research symposium and mini-grant challenge to develop groundbreaking, interdisciplinary ideas. The WARF Discovery Challenge is a program recently pioneered by the WARF student ambassadors with the goal of encouraging graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from across the entire campus to learn from each other and expand their research vision.
As part of our USDA OREI project investigating organic soil and crop nutrient management practices, crop plant nutrient profiles, and insect response, Ebony is studying how different fertilization practices (synthetic fertilizer, manure, and manure + gypsum) affect attraction of the European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) to corn plants.
Ebony and undergraduate research mentee Crystal Hanson, found that O. nubilalis altered the number of eggs laid on plants depending on fertilizer used. The strongest response correlated with sulfur (S) abundance in the soils and plants. Surprisingly the amount of natural colonization of arbuscular mycorrhizae (a fungal symbiont) on plant roots grown in soil from our certified organic Long-Term Experiment site and a conventional field check altered O. nubilalis response even though mycorrhizae had not been specifically manipulated in our field plots or Ebony and Crystal’s preliminary greenhouse study with those same soils.
Ebony and Pierre-Marc will conduct a followup study to identify the actual fertilizer-mycorrhiza-plant mechanisms that cause this insect response. While a growing body of literature has investigated how herbivorous insect response may be modified by plant nutrition, to our knowledge no study has explored mycorrhizal additions as a method for insect pest suppression. Ebony’s collaboration with Pierre-Marc will investigate how gene expression in corn-mycorrhizal associations, as altered by fertilization practices, affect plant-insect interactions.
Read the full announcement in the October 17, 2013 WARF Press Release here