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Principal Investigator or CFO?

June 22, 2021

Principal Investigator or CFO? Unpacking the PI Conundrum with Basic Economic Theory

by Louis Nottingham

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 edition of “American Entomologist”
https://doi.org/10.1093/ae/tmab028

As a relatively new research faculty member, coming to grips with the true nature of running a lab has been something of an existential pursuit. The transition from researcher in- training (graduate student, then postdoc) to principal investigator (PI) has entailed a dramatic and unexpected shift in duties. During my graduate student and postdoc years, most day-to-day activities were tied directly to research projects, as expected, but as a PI, the amount of “investigating” I do is almost laughable. Instead, my tasks mostly revolve around grant applications, budget management, and administrative duties that ensure that the people who actually do the research in my lab remain employed. It’s ironic that after completing my research training, I largely stopped performing research. I spend a fair amount of time assessing my situation (i.e., anxiously spiralling) and trying to decide whether this outcome is a personal failing or the inevitable result of “climbing the ladder.”

So, where does any forlorn millennial turn for perspective on their first world woes? A podcast, obviously—but, less obviously, an economics podcast.

For many years, I’ve been a big fan of the NPR podcast Planet Money, which is informative and surprisingly funny. (Yes, economics can be funny.) In it, I see a lot of parallels between economists and entomologists: both groups are total nerds obsessed with important topics that few others care about, and we similarly like to use jargony “principles” to explain things. For example, if you found yourself in a group of economists and entomologists, the economists might toss around phrases like “opportunity costs” and “causal inference,” whereas the entomologists might casually insert a “niche ENTOMOLOGY AND SOCIETY partitioning” here and a “trophic cascade” there.

It was in this fine podcast, full of jargon, that I found an overly generalized but acceptable way to compartmentalize my PI conundrum. Enter the principle of “comparative advantage.” This is the idea that a team succeeds by allocating tasks among team members based on relative skill level instead of maximum skill level. So, in a research lab, the PI (in theory) is more skilled than grad students and postdocs in the department of research, but the relative difference in skill is not critically large. In other words, students and postdocs can still crank out some pretty dang good research, as we all know. Meanwhile, PIs, especially those of us who are new to the role, may not be that awesome at administrative tasks and budgeting; however, if those tasks were given to inexperienced postdocs or students, it could be game over for the lab. Therefore, the PI’s comparative advantage is in finance and administration, not research. So, the PI deals with the bills; the postdocs use their skills. Thanks a lot, economics.

Although my foray into economic theory may be more cute than useful, I do think it exposes a potential shortcoming in the current research structure. Because the most experienced researchers (PIs) are forced to spend so much of their time chasing funding, managing budgets, and administering, I cannot help but wonder whether this results in suboptimal research output and less time spent training the next generation of scientists. Perhaps if research labs were less beholden to the competitive grant system, our duties would better reflect our training, and the principle of comparative advantage would be much less compelling.

Author’s note: To illustrate the economic theory of comparative advantage, this article and its figures use generalizations that do not reflect all labs. In other words, I understand that there are many graduate students who perform advanced experiments, postdocs who have impressive budgeting skills, and PIs who directly conduct research. This is just meant to be a fun and somewhat sarcastic narrative of my own experience.

Louis Nottingham (Louie) is research assistant professor of tree fruit entomology at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, and the Pacific Branch representative for the Early Career Professionals (ECP) Committee. In addition to paying other people to do research, Louie enjoys hiking, mountain biking, backcountry skiing, birding, and other outdoor adventures with his wife, Molly, and his dog, Blackbird. Visit Louie’s lab website for contact and additional information: http://tfrec.cahnrs.wsu.edu/nottingham/

Pear Psylla Phenology Update

June 7, 2021

Pear Psylla’s Current Status: Old nymphs (hardshells) from the first generation are still present but declining. Summerform adults and eggs are rapidly building in cooler locations (Cashmere) and nearing peak at 1500DD in warmer ones (Medford). Early instar nymphs of the second generation are building in all locations, and will peak at 1750DD. Hardshells of the second generation are just starting in all locations.

Fig 1. Pear psylla life stages (curves) by degree days (x-axis) for three pear growing regions. Each life-stage curve shows relative abundance of the total predicted population. Adults and eggs are combined because the summer generations occur almost simultaneously. The vertical line shows where we are as of June 2, 2021. (Model created by Dr. Vince Jones. Graphic visualization by Dr. Robert Orpet)

Pear psylla IPM Recommendations (by Category):

 

Particle Films

A particle film should have been applied at 800DD, but if not, do so ASAP to help deter further egg-lay. Our experiments have shown that spraying particle films after egg-lay provides some control of nymphs, however, it is less effective than spraying before egg-lay. It is still early enough that particle films will not leave problematic lasting residues on fruit; however, past the first week in June there could be issues, especially for early harvested red pear varieties.

Conventional IPM Insecticides

Two Ultor sprays should occur after petal fall, one at 1000DD and a second 14 days later. If your populations are consistently above 1 psylla adult per tray, you can apply Ultor + Esteem together. Neither Ultor or Esteem will reduce adult numbers but will prevent nymph development. While it may not be immediately gratifying, this slow kill is much better for promoting natural enemies.

*Both Ultor and Esteem can only be used twice per season, and consecutive sprays cannot be applied less than 14 days apart.

Organic Management

Cinnerate and/or neem products (but no neem on Comice) are effective on psylla, but may need to be sprayed as tank mixes and repeatedly from 1000 to 2200DD (around July 1) to keep populations suppressed. Monitor populations to determine spray frequency and tank mixing needs. The goal is to keep your population at or below one psylla per tray. Stop spraying after 2220DD, because these products will not control hardshell nymphs.

Cultural Strategies

Two main cultural strategies can be used for pear psylla: 1. Summer pruning and 2. Honeydew washing.

Summer Pruning: The removal of vegetative shoots (water sprouts) from trees. This not only improves spray penetration, it can reduce the psylla population and amount of honeydew in trees if timed correctly. Aim for 20002200DD to maximize psylla removal. Summer pruning can occur later in the season at 3100DD as well, however, there is a greater a risk of sunburned fruit.

Honeydew Washing: The process of washing honeydew from trees by overhead sprinklers or airblast sprayer. This method is different from overhead irrigation because it is only used to remove honeydew (we highly recommend performing general irrigating with under tree sprinklers to reduce the risk of diseases). Because washing too often and for too long can cause disease issues, it is important to only wash when there is enough honeydew to cause injury. Wash near the end of the hardshell stage for each generation, around 1400, 3000, and pre harvest if honeydew is high. These timings are not exact, but research to determine thresholds and timings for washing is currently underway. If using overheads to wash, we recommend about 6 hours of runtime for a system delivering ~70 gallons of water per acre per minute. A nonionic surfactant like Regulaid can be mixed in halfway through the cycle to improve honeydew removal. For airblast sprayer washes, use at least 800 GPA for smaller trees, and increase gallonage with tree size; the goal is to make water run off all leaves.

Codling Moth

Remember, a soft codling moth program is critical to conserve natural enemies that control pear psylla. Mating disruption and first sprays should have already occurred by this point. Soft codling moth spray materials include: oil, granulosis virus, Intrepid (methoxyfenozide), Esteem (pyriproxyfen) and Altacor (chlorantraniliprole).

Natural Enemies

All the methods suggested above will have low impacts on natural enemies. Natural enemies like lady beetles (Fig. 2A), predatory bugs (Fig. 2B), and parasitoid wasps (Fig. 2C) are critical to prevent psylla and mite population explosions closer to harvest, and they do it for free! So avoid broad spectrum materials, especially multiple products at a time.

Fig 2. Natural enemies of pear psylla; i.e., your friends! A) Lady beetle feeding on psylla nymphs (L. Nottingham). B) Deraeocoris brevis feeding on psylla nymph (B. Higbee). C) Trechnites insidiosus parasitizing psylla nymph (R. Schmidt-Jeffris).

Dusky Slug in Field Corn and Soybean

dark brown slug on a green leaf

June 2, 2021

Ambient moisture causes methomyl residues on corn plants to rapidly lose toxicity to the pest slug, Arion subfuscus, Müller
(Gastropoda, Stylommatophora)

The carbamate insecticide methomyl is sometimes used to control slugs in field corn and soybean by foliar applications, but control outcomes in research trials and commercial operations have been mixed. In this study,
laboratory bioassays were conducted on dusky slug, Arion subfuscus Müller, a common pest of corn and soybean in the Mid-Atlantic United States, to evaluate residual toxicity of Lannate LV (methomyl) at low and high
concentrations corresponding to label recommended field rates, and if toxicity may be affected by ambient moisture or repellency to treated plants. Without wetting events, methomyl residues on corn plants caused 90–100% mortality of A. subfuscus for two days and 70–90% mortality for six days. When corn plants were briefly misted with ca. 0.3 cm of water 6 h after methomyl application, mortality was 36% 12 h after treatment, and 0 to 5% 24 h after treatment for both low and high rates. Repellency of A. subfuscus to corn plants treated with the high rate of methomyl was narrowly significant (P = 0.04) and low rate was not significant. These results suggest that high ambient moisture needed to elicit slug activity in the field also abates toxicity of methomyl residues, explaining why field control is usually poor despite high mortality in the lab.

Psylla Phenology and Recommendations

June 1, 2021

Pear Psylla’s Current Status:
Some old nymphs from the first generation are still present but declining. Summerform adults and eggs are building in orchards (about 25-30% of the peak population are now present). Adults and eggs will increase until the peak at 1500 DD. Early instar nymphs of the second generation are beginning (10-15% of total population are present). No late nymphs of the second generation should be present.

Pear psylla life stages (curves) by degree days (x-axis) for three regions. Each life-stage curve shows relative abundance of the total predicted population. Adults and eggs are combined because the summer generations occur almost simultaneously. The vertical line shows where we are as of May 26 2021. (Model created by Dr. Vince Jones. Graphic visualization by Dr. Robert Orpet)

Pear psylla IPM Recommendations (by Category):

Particle Films: If you have not applied a postbloom particle film yet, you can still do so to help deter egg-lay, but it should be done immediately because egg-lay is getting closer to peak. Our experiments have shown that spraying particle films after egg-lay provide some control of nymphs, however, it is less effective than spraying before egg-lay. It is still early enough that particle films will not leave lasting residues on the fruit.

Conventional IPM Insecticides: The first Ultor (spirotetramat) application may have already occurred, but it can still be made at this point if not. Perform the first spray now if you have moderate pressure (around 1 adult per tray on average). If you have consistently more than 1 adult per tray, you can apply Ultor + Esteem (pyriproxyfen, which is also a soft and effective codling moth material). Apply a second Ultor spray 14 days after the first if pressure remains high or increases. Neither Ultor nor Esteem will reduce adult numbers, so this should not be expected. Instead, they will prevent nymph development. While it may not be immediately gratifying, this slow kill has the benefit of providing food to grow predators while suppressing the psylla population.
*Both Ultor and Esteem can only be used twice per season, and consecutive sprays cannot be applied less than 14 days apart.

Organic Management: Now is an excellent time to use Cinnerate and/or neem products (but no neem on Comice) at high label rates. These products should be applied at least twice, if not 3 to 4 times during this generation; ideally, at least one spray would have already been applied. If adult pressure is moderate (around 1 adult per tray on average), either product alone may be effective, especially if a particle film was already used. If pressure is high (greater than 1 adult per tray), these products can be tank mixed to improve efficacy.

Cultural Strategies: Two main cultural strategies can be used for pear psylla: 1. Summer pruning and 2. Honeydew washing. Summer Pruning: The removal of vegetative shoots (water sprouts) from trees. This not only improves spray penetration, it can reduce the psylla population and amount of honeydew in trees, if timed correctly. Aim for 2000-2200DD, before the 3rd generation of adults have begun emerging and all psylla will be in nymph stage and on the shoots. Summer pruning can occur later in the season at 3100DD as well, however, there is a greater a risk of sunburned fruit. Honeydew Washing: The process of washing honeydew from trees by overhead sprinklers or airblast sprayer. This method is different from overhead irrigation because it is only used to remove honeydew (we highly recommend performing general irrigating with under tree sprinklers to reduce the risk of diseases). Because washing too often and for too long can cause disease issues, it is important to only wash when it is necessary. We recommend targeting old nymphs of the second and third generations, so 1600 and 3000 DD. But remember, there is no need to wash if you do not have a fair amount of visible honeydew. If using overheads, we recommend about 6 hours of runtime for a system delivering ~70 gallons of water per acre per minute. A nonionic surfactant like Regulaid can be mixed in halfway through the cycle to improve honeydew removal. For airblast sprayer washes, use at least 800 GPA for smaller trees, and increase gallonage with tree size; the goal is to make water run off all leaves.

Pear Psylla Phenology Update

May 18, 2021

A phenology model for pear psylla was recently developed by Dr. Vince Jones. This model predicts the relative number of pear psylla from each life stage occurring as degree days are accumulated. Below is a graph showing the psylla degree day model and the status of psylla development on May 6th 2021. Degree days were averaged among weather stations in Medford, OR, Hood River, OR, Wapato, WA and Cashmere, WA; the difference from the coolest to hottest location was approximately 110 DD.

Click the graph for the full article.

 

Evaluations of Conventional and Organic Insecticides Against Leafhoppers: First Year Results

May 18, 2021

Prior to this project, there was no available experimental information on insecticide toxicity against the leafhopper X-disease vectors Colladonus Reductus and C. geminatus  In 2020 we performed lab bioassays to screen various insecticide products against the most abundant of these two species in Washington cherries, C. reductus. Five insecticide materials achieved 100% mortality of C. reductus: 3 conventional and 2 organic. We will continue these screenings in 2021, with added focus on residue degradation and strategic spray timings.

Click the graph for the full report.

Update: Leafhopper Vectors for X-Disease Phytoplasma

May 18, 2021

First Generation Adults are Starting to be Active

First generation adults from leafhopper vectors of X-disease phytoplasma including C. reductus and C. geminatus started being found in traps the week of May 10, 2021. Generally, second generation leafhoppers are of higher concern as first generation leafhoppers are often controlled by your standard insecticide program. To review your current insecticide applications for efficacy against leafhoppers see http://treefruit.wsu.edu/crop-protection/disease-management/western-x/

Reflective Mulch Field Trials at Parker Pears

green circle with a light green pear tree graphic and the words parker pears

March 23, 2021

Sam Parker, pear grower and social media extraordinaire, shares his experience being a cooperator on the Nottingham lab reflective mulch trials currently taking place in his organic pear orchard.

Clicking the pic will take you to the video on Sam’s Instagram account.  You don’t need an Instagram account to watch it, but you should probably have one so you can follow Sam.

winter pear orchard with leafless trees. white reflective mulch is seen between the rows of trees and a mane is in the foreground talking to the camera

 

Leafhopper Deterrence Linked to X Disease Management

two people walk between rows of cherry trees on white reflective fabric covering the orchard floor

March 10, 2021

Leafhopper Deterrence Linked to X Disease Management

WSU entomologists and industry partners learn about X disease vectors to help the cherry industry optimize management. Work by the Nottingham lab on insecticide efficacy (“catching lots of wild leafhoppers and trying to keep them alive long enough to kill them”) and systemic insecticides applied via soil drench is highlighted.

Codling Moth Task Force

close up of a red apple with multiple black ringed holes indicative of codling moth damage

Mach 9, 2021

Codling Moth Task Force

Codling moth has been the key pest of pome fruits across the growing regions of Washington and Oregon for over 100 years. During that time, pest management programs regularly evolved as key pesticides were phased out and new technology was incorporated. As we continue to adapt new tools and tactics, there is a need to synthesize and evaluate past and current codling moth research and management recommendations, and to communicate that information to stakeholders. The Codling Moth Task Force was created to take the lead in this issue.

Nottingham, L,, C. Adams, E. Beers, M. Doerr, and D. Epstein. 2021. New task force tackles codling moth.  Good Fruit Grower Magazine, March 1, 2021. https://www.goodfruit.com/new-task-force-tackles-codling-moth/