In my current postdoctoral work at the University of Maryland (Department of Entomology; Dr. Bill Lamp’s lab) I continue my research on ecology and evolution of plant-insect interactions with a focus on novel associations between native and introduced species. Currently, I am developing several research projects: I am planning to continue exploring herbivore resistance and tolerance in exotic grasses, a potential role of native insect generalists in biotic resistance of native communities, and, most recently, I’ve started developing a project on host plant usage by a recent invader, the spotted lanternfly. A brief description for each project is below. I will be adding more details as the projects develop.
This is a systematic review I was working on last year (manuscript submitted). The review aimed to identify patterns of grasshopper feeding preferences for native versus introduced plants and, consequently, grasshopper potential for biotic resistance of native communities, that (as the review has shown) is surprisingly overlooked in experimental studies on invasion ecology.
Update – 07/07/18: I’ve submitted a poster presentation on this review to the upcoming ESA meeting in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I’m also going to present it here, at the University of Maryland research symposium organized by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.
Update – 05/18/18: the manuscript has been submitted!
Although exotic chinese silver grass, a gorgeous ornamental plant and important biofuel source, can be highly invasive in some states, not all of its cultivars are invasive. This summer I am conducting my field and greenhouse experiments to explore plant resistance to grasshopper herbivory, how this resistance differs among Miscanthus cultivars, and whether the initially introduced wild type demonstrates the highest level of herbivore resistance.
Plant DNA detection in insect gut contents is one of the most accurate ways to confirm host plant utilization, determine insect diet and interactions with other organisms. Most of the previous studies that involved molecular analysis of insect gut contents were primarily conducted on leaf-chewing insects, such as beetles, moths, or grasshoppers. Sap-feeders could be more challenging for molecular analysis of their gut contents because phloem sap presumably doesn’t contain plant DNA. However, this method was shown to be effective for potato psyllids (Cooper et al 2016) - apparently, while feeding an insect stylet (a piercing mouthpart) can consume not only phloem sap but can also pick up some of the surrounding plant cells which allows DNA to be detected in the insect gut contents. In this project, we would like to investigate whether (and how) we can apply this method for yet another sap-feeder, the potato leafhopper, to explore its host plant usage.
Update - 07/07/18: we are making some good progress, and we’ve submitted our oral presentation (A. Avanesyan and W. O. Lamp, “Use of molecular markers for plant DNA to determine host plant usage for potato leafhopper, Empoasca fabae”) also to the ESA meeting in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
I’ve recently joined this ongoing project in Dr. Lamp’s lab, and I am currently ‘torturing’ herbarium plant specimens hoping that they will speak and tell me their taxonomic identity. Having almost zero previous experience in plant identification, so far I have barely advanced to plant family level (with the aid of textbooks and technology). A lot to learn, a lot to do…
I am currently working on a grant proposal where we propose to study the spotted lanternfly (SLF) and its interaction with host plants. This emerging invasive insect pest is currently rapidly spreading in the eastern US, moving closer and closer to Maryland. This is a completely new study species for me, and while reading more and more about it I can’t stop being amazed by SLF unique ecology and behavior.
Update – 04/22/18: the grant proposal has recently been submitted to MDA. I’ll keep my fingers crossed!