The Entomology Research Laboratory examines a broad range of insect issues in agriculture. We study pest and beneficial insect species, and both technological and ecological approaches to management, always keeping in mind the challenges of agricultural sustainability. Lowbush blueberry has been the main crop model for our research, but most of the problems we study are equally relevant to other commodities.
Pesticides remain a major component of modern agriculture. Our interest in insect toxicology falls under three sub-themes:
i. Pollinator toxicology. We study the impacts of pesticides on various beneficial insects but have a particular interest in pollinators. We have done toxicological studies on honey bees, bumble bees and alfalfa leafcutter bees. Using a range of laboratory, semi-field and field techniques, we have identified that while some new compounds appear very safe for bees, others may pose a hazard depending on the bee species and exposure route.
ii. Hormesis. Low doses of insecticide can stimulate certain biological processes, like reproduction, in insects. This hormetic dose-response is highly generalizable across many different stressors and insect taxa. We have shown altered gene regulation during pesticide-induced hormesis correspondingly can increase the rate of aphid population growth with no apparent consequences on biological fitness.
iii. Pest management. We conduct laboratory and field research to identify new insecticidal products for growers, considering impacts on both target pests and beneficial insects.
Agricultural systems provide an excellent opportunity to study insect ecology and answer both basic and applied research questions. We have focused mainly on understanding the spatial and temporal ecology of predatory ground beetles (Carabidae) and wild bee pollinators in lowbush blueberry systems. Our ultimate goal is to better understand habitat requisites of these taxa to conserve and promote their populations in agro-ecosystems. We also study the ecology of pest species like blueberry fruit fly. With collaborators at Acadia University and the Canadian Forest Service are identifying pheromones of blueberry insect pests with the goal of developing tools to assist in their management.
Research under this theme overlaps with our work in pest management and ecology. Several of the insecticides we work with are de facto biological controls agents, lethal microbial antagonists (e.g. insect parasitic bacteria, nematodes and fungi) of insect pests that are highly sought after owing to their favourable hazard ratings and amenability in integrated pest management. Our research on carabid beetles stems from their great abundance in agroecosystems and what we see as good potential for biological control of insect pests and weed seeds. We have also identified parasitic wasps and flies in lowbush blueberry fields that impose strong suppression of important defoliators of this crop.
National and Provincial
- Canada Foundation for Innovation
- Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust
- Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture
- Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program
- Atlantic Innovation Fund (collaborator)
- Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island Wild Blueberry Growers Association
- Bleuets NB Blueberries
- Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association
- New Brunswick Beekeepers Association
- Prince Edward Island Beekeepers Association
- Koppert Canada Ltd.
Dr. Chris Cutler, PhD
Dept. of Environmental Sciences
Faculty of Agriculture
Dalhousie University, Agricultural Campus
PO Box 550, 21 Cox Road
Truro, NS, Canada, B2N 5E3