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Auburn University masters student wins award for kudzu bug biocontrol discovery

During some routine dissections of kudzu bugs, Auburn masters student Julian Golec made a discovery that would make life a little easier for Alabama soybean growers.

Inside one of the female kudzu bugs was a parasitic fly. It was the first of two discoveries that would make biological control of kudzu bug an option.

His research earned him a Friends of Southern IPM Graduate Student award, sponsored by the Southern IPM Center, funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Working under Dr. Xing Ping Hu at Auburn University, Golec was observing how different legume plants affected the development of female reproductive systems. As he was dissecting one of the females, he discovered a fly larva inside the body, feeding on the organs.

Julian Golec

Julian Golec

As he and other researchers learned more about the fly, they discovered that it feeds on adult kudzu bugs but also feeds on other insects. The fly is distributed throughout North America, so finding populations for control of kudzu bug would not be a problem.

Their continued research into kudzu bug landed them another, and even more positive discovery. Golec found a wasp parasitoid in several kudzu bug eggs.

“We shared the information with other people and they said they noticed the same thing,” Golec says. “While they were going through soybean fields, they noticed that some of the eggs were discolored. We incubated them for a few days and noticed that a wasp popped out.”

Golec was co-author on a journal article about the discovery of the wasp.

Local to Alabama but non-native to the U.S., the wasp parasitoid attacks only kudzu bug eggs.

“When you have to import control organisms, you don’t know what’s going to happen 10 or 50 years down the road,” says Golec. “The fact that this wasp is just focusing on kudzu bug is going to mean a lot for control.”

Researchers are finding that the wasp is capable of parasitizing nearly 85% of eggs it comes in contact with, which means growers can cut down on sprays.

The wasp has been found in a few other southeastern states but does not seem to be as widespread as the fly.

For more about the discoveries of the wasp and fly, read our blog post for August 20, 2013.

Golec found his passion for entomology when he was at the University of Rhode Island for his undergraduate degree. While there, he worked in the plant science and entomology department, taking care of the greenhouses and helping to identify insects. The job was his first experience working with insects and conducting entomology-focused research.

After he graduated, he worked with the Forest Service and DuPont Pioneer. He decided he wanted to learn more about new invasive pests, so he enrolled in Auburn University to pursue a masters degree and applied for a research assistant position under Dr. Hu.

“Even before I started in entomology, I was interested in invasive species,” Golec says. “It’s super fun. I get to go outside every day; I get to go into the field; and I get to research the insects in their environment.”

He is now at the University of Delaware, where he will start Ph.D. work on another invasive pest: the Asian longhorned beetle.

Not many graduate students leave their university knowing that the project they worked on is actually helping people. Thanks to Golec’s discoveries, soybean farmers have less worry about their crop and more money in their pocket because they know that nature will eventually take care of itself.

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