Sullivan Receives Grant to Study Stink Bugs

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

We have all seem them: the smelly bugs that hang out in your houses, in your cars, in your luggage, and even in your gardens.  These are the bugs you just cannot seem to get rid of, and it looks like they are here to stay.  Stink bugs have been plaguing our area for a while now, and these Asian natives are not going anywhere anytime soon.  So what else is there to do but embrace them?

That is exactly what Dr. Jeanne Sullivan, associate professor and chair of the biology department at West Virginia Wesleyan College, is doing.  Sullivan and Dr. Tracy Leskey of the USDA Appalachian Fruit Research laboratory have recently been awarded a State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania grant for $7,000.  This one-year grant is for Dr. Sullivan to study of the effects of sub-lethal exposure to insecticides on mobility, feeding, and reproduction in the brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys.

The brown marmorated stink bug has caused severe economic damage in the Mid-Atlantic States recently, causing an increase in the use of insecticides in crops.  This is a highly-mobile bug that moves between crops and wild hosts, and the increase in insecticide use has both economic and environmental costs.

“Coping with stink bugs is economically important to growers in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and surrounding states,” commented Sullivan.  “Stink bugs feed on tree and other fruit, damaging the fruit and making it unsellable as fresh fruit.  And stink bugs also feed on many other crops, including sweet corn, soybeans, and home-garden favorites such as tomatoes.”

Sullivan began her stink bug research when she partnered with Dr. Leskey at the USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Lab in Kearneysville, WV, between May and December of last year, where she worked on a preliminary study of the sub-lethal effects in the pesticide bifenthrin.  Her current grant will allow her to study the effects of four insecticides and the effects of sub-lethal doses on the stink bugs’ locomotion, feeding, and reproductive behavior.

“Right now, there are no good tools besides insecticides to protect crops from stink bugs,” stated Sullivan.  “The only viable option for non-organic growers is to spray insecticides.  This research could potentially show whether insecticides that do not kill the bugs, incapacitate them in ways that protect crops.  This way, growers may be able to use less insecticide and still protect crops from stink bug damage.”

It was Leskey that suggested the grant opportunity to Sullivan, and it is a joint grant between the two researchers.  Sullivan orally presented their proposal to growers, and the growers decided what types of research would help them in their profession.

“It was nice to meet some of the growers themselves,” stated Sullivan.  “They have a lot of economic and environmental challenges to bring in the crops on which we all depend.”

Of course, the purpose of these grants is to also to give students the opportunity for real research experience.  This particular grant pays for one full-time student in the summer and one part-time student during the academic year.  It also funds the travel expenses to work for several weeks at Dr. Leskey’s lab in Kearneysville to use specialized equipment to assess the bugs’ ability to move, as well as the supplies needed to make the research happen.

“I have to find aspects of this research that can be done at a smaller institution and can involve students,” commented Sullivan.  “The benefit of research at a place like Wesleyan is the involvement of students.”

There is an opportunity to submit a follow-up study for other grant opportunities.  Sullivan hopes her research eventually takes her to a semi-field study with an actual grower, but the lab work must be completed first.  Sullivan is currently collecting stink bugs for her research and is housing approximately 1500 in her small research lab.  She will need a few thousand males and females to complete her research.

To donate live stink bugs for research, please contact Jeanne Sullivan at Sullivan@wvwc.edu.

To hear Dr. Tracy Leskey explain the history of the stink bug invasion, the damage it creates, and how to identify it, please visit http://www.stopbmsb.org/more-resources/video-series/ .