focus on pests to improve public and animal health

INVESTIGATORS: Piermarini, Short, Meuti, Phillip


SUMMARY: Many insects injure and spread diseases to humans and livestock.  Our public health entomology team has created new tools to combat insects and engaged Ohioans to protect themselves and their animals from these dangerous pests.  Our efforts have discovered novel insecticides, increased awareness of household pests, and improved communication that enabled rapid responses to emerging public health threats.

SITUATION: Insects and related species (e.g. ticks) frequently bite humans and animals, drinking blood for survival. While feeding itself causes undue stress, it also facilitates the transmission of diseases such as West Nile Virus, encephalitis, Lyme disease, and many diseases to animals.  These diseases, and the pests that carry them, are rapidly expanding across the globe, and even within Ohio.  For example, Ohio cases of Lyme disease has increased over 500% since 2009.  Preventing disease transmission requires chemical pest control, yet many insects are now resistant to common insecticides.  To manage these pests and their ability to spread disease, we need new control and monitoring tools as well as improved communication and coordination with external agencies and the public.

RESPONSE: Entomology faculty investigate novel mechanisms for insect and pest control.  For example, Entomology faculty have partnered with OSU Pharmacy to identify unique, medicinal chemicals from the Cinnamosma plant that are toxic and repellent against mosquitoes, outperforming most current insecticides (e.g. DEET). Such biological compounds could eventually replace harmful, synthetic insecticides.  With NSF funding, we are understanding how mosquitoes survive the cold, harsh Ohio winters. Uncovering how mosquitoes interpret environmental cues to begin overwintering can not only lead to novel targets for gene control, but also monitor how they can adapt in our rapidly changing climate. We are also investigating mosquito microbiomes in the hopes of identifying key microbial species that may improve pest control.  Our public engagement includes updated information on key medically important species such as bed bugs and ticks, as well as a new website (the Bite Site:

IMPACT: Our efforts have increased our understanding of how pests, diseases and our rapidly changing environment interact, and why it is vital for pest control and decreasing disease transmission.  Our research and extension activities keeps Ohioans and other stakeholders safe, and lessens disease risk to pets and livestock.  Our new, plant based chemicals have the potential to protect people from mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, West Nile fever, and chikungunya fever, which collectively debilitate the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of people around the globe each year.  Our “Mystery Bugs and Bites” fact sheet was the 5th most viewed in January 2021, and our Bed Bug Field Guide mobile app has >10,000 downloads.

protecting food crops from insects

INVESTIGATORS: Tilmon, Welty, Michel

FUNDING SOURCES: USDA-NIFA-CPPM, Hatch; The Ohio Soybean Council, The North Central Soybean Research Program, Various Agribusiness Industries

SUMMARY:  Ohio farmers grow a large diversity of crops, responsible for over $3.6 Billion in agricultural production.  Despite this tremendous output, Ohio farmers face emerging and expanded threats from a variety of insects that decrease yield, damage crop quality and require insecticide applications.  Our Ag Pest Management team is integrating research and extension to improve our monitoring and control of these pests and to ensure that Ohio agricultural food production is safe and sustainable.

SITUATION: Insects continuously threaten Ohio farm productivity. Many farmers have relied on traditional and modern (e.g., transgenic) insect control.  Yet, some insects are now resistant to these tools, even transgenic crops.  At least two of the most important pest species can now damage transgenic corn in Ohio, causing additional insecticidal application.  Many of the insects in Ohio are invasive, and farmers require information and training to identify, monitor and manage them to limit yield losses.  To successfully manage these pests and to ensure safer and more productive food supply, we need to coordinate and engage with many stakeholders, including farmers, federal agencies, and agricultural industry and commodity representatives.  These stakeholders require improved management strategies supported by unbiased research.

RESPONSE:  Farmers cannot control pests without knowing when they are present; therefore, we expanded our insect trapping network. This network monitored more than 10 insect pests of corn (both field and sweet), soybean, wheat, fruits and vegetables. Data were available through newsletters that reached our state, regional and national stakeholders. By comparing trap numbers from past years, these data are helping understand impact of climate change on pest abundance and distribution. By collaborating with farmers, OSU Extension and agricultural industry, we researched the distribution of the invasive Asiatic garden beetle and compared the efficacy of several chemicals to control this pest. We developed fact sheets and quick cards for identifying and managing various stink bugs and resistance to transgenic crops. We experimentally released natural enemies of the brown marmorated stink bug to help limit damage to fruits. Our research is also identifying genetic mechanisms for insect resistance that can be eventually used for more rapid and accurate monitoring.

IMPACT: Entomologists have improved and expanded efforts in engaging and communicating crop pest management guidelines. We have distributed over 13,000 field guides and quick ID cards to help control stink bugs in soybean across Ohio and the Midwest.  Our quick ID/management card for the new invasive pest the soybean gall midge will reach over 130,000 stakeholders.  With cooperation among OSU extension, agricultural industry, and other land-grant universities, corn growers afflicted with Asiatic garden beetle now have new tools to prevent damage.  More fruit growers have requested participation in our natural enemy releases, thereby helping establish a more effective population.  Growers changing tactics to control caterpillars in corn based on new information on insecticide and transgenic resistance.

Ensuring Pollination by Conserving and Protecting Ohio’s Managed and Native Bees

INVESTIGATORS: Strange, R. Johnson, Gardiner

FUNDING: USDA-AFRI, USFWS, USDA-ARS, Almond Board of California

SUMMARY: Whether in rural or urban ecosystems, Ohio’s fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants require pollination, often provided by bees. Over 400 bee species live in Ohio, but their populations and their pollination service are threatened by pesticides, diseases, habitat degradation, heavy metal pollution, and climate change. Our pollination team has investigated the degree, the causes, and remediations for bee declines and provide information to Ohio’s agricultural and natural resources stakeholders.

SITUATIONBees are critical to fruit, nut, and vegetable production and ensure the health of native and ornamental plants in Ohio. Several bee species in Ohio are declining, such as the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (RPBB)—an endangered species. Declines in honey bees, the primary agricultural pollinators in the USA, impact the economics of fruit, nut, and vegetable production nationwide. Threats to bumble bee populations are mainly epizootic diseases, whereas honey bees are primarily impacted by parasitic mites. Other factors impacting bee health include climate change and habitat alterations in rural and urban ecosystems. Bees face high pesticide exposure and limited food sources in agroecosystems, whereas urban settings offer heavy metal pollution and a lack of suitable habitat. These pressures occur nationwide, and, as hives travel throughout the USA, impact Ohio food production. Identifying the scope of bee declines, causal factors, and remediating actions are important for Ohio agriculture.

RESPONSE: OSU conducted research to address the health of Ohio bee species. With the US Fish & Wildlife Service, we developed strategies for conserving the endangered RPBB and developed pathogen detection bioassays with rapid results to improve conservation. Ohio beekeepers transport hives to California for almond bloom, but often encountered dangerous pesticides. We identified the main culprits used in almond production, and offered alternative management guidelines to sustain bee health. We are determining the importance of honey bees for increasing yield for Ohio soybean farmers. Demonstrating the importance of bees in cities, we documented 107 bee species inhabiting vacant lots in Cleveland and that urban weed species are important forage and habitat for urban bees. We also discovered that certain heavy metals in urban ecosystems (cadmium, chromium, arsenic, and lead) caused significantly higher bee mortality. 

IMPACT: Our bee research improves species conservation, bee and crop management, and urban landscape management. The USFWS is using the recommendations for RPBB conservation to set research priorities and prioritize federal funds for projects in the Great Lakes Research Initiative. Non-lethal pathogen sampling is being integrated to assess bumble bee health in areas where endangered species exist. Our findings that “bee safe” insecticides can actually cause some harm led to shifts in the recommended by the Almond Board of California’s “Best Management Practices”—70% of almond farms now have reduced insecticide applications during bloom and pollination. We demonstrated that weedy plants in vacant lots sustains a variety of bee species. Bee conservation at a city-wide scale can be achieved by reduced mowing frequency, resulting in almost $3 million in budget savings for a city’s budget. We provided greater emphasis for testing and removing heavy metal pollution for better bee conservation in Ohio and nationwide.

Enhanced soil ecosystem services with urban farming

INVESTIGATORS: Phelan, Gardiner

FUNDING: USDA Competitive Grants, State of Ohio

SUMMARY: Re-introducing agriculture into the urban landscape is expected to play a key role in strategic plans for redesigning former industrial cities. The goal of this project is to quantify how urbanization has altered soil communities and their capacity to provide multiple ecosystem services. We shall also measure the extent to which these services have been restored by established urban agroecosystems practicing organic soil management and study how specific management practices can be optimized.

SITUATION: Former industrial cities have experienced a profound loss of commercial manufacturing and population, accompanied by a significant down-turn in the demand for and market value of urban properties, resulting in the acquisition of major areas of vacant land by the cities. Community organizations and city planners view this as an opportunity to correct the negative impacts of a century of urbanization by re-purposing this land to improve urban environmental quality and quality of life for its residents. Re-introducing agriculture to the urban landscape is expected to play a key role in long-range strategic plans for cities to “reinvent themselves as more productive, sustainable, and ecologically sound.” However, research is needed to develop principles and practices for an agricultural design that maximizes contributions to multiple ecological services and is adapted to the special challenges of the urban landscape.

RESPONSE: We are partnering with the Cleveland Land Bank, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, Cleveland MetroParks, and urban and rural organic farmers to compare the ecological services provided by soils from vacant lots, urban farms, city parks, and rural organic farms. We have generated a soil sample database and comparing their chemical, physical, and biological properties. We have documented significant changes in the microbial communities and chemical contamination of these soils. We found substantial reductions in heavy metals and petrochemical contaminants in urban farm soils, correlating with the levels of organic matter added. Further studies demonstrated higher mobility of heavy metals out of the soil with the addition of organic matter. This database is also being used to connect soil characteristics with above-ground ecosystem services such as pollination and biological control. We presented hands-on soil health workshops, training the next generation of urban farmers and scientists.

IMPACT: Many former industrial cities, like Cleveland, are looking to reinvent their communities by repurposing their large bank of vacant land to provide a blend of productive and green spaces. Re-use of vacant lands will be guided by three main goals: 1) maximize productive use and public benefit, e.g., food or energy production; 2) restore ecosystem function, e.g., storm-water management, soil restoration, increase biodiversity, microclimate improvement; and 3) environmental remediation, e.g., reduce health risks of pollutants from land-use legacy. Urban agriculture is playing a major role in increasing community self-reliance as well as improving environmental quality. The Reimagining a More Sustainable Cleveland process sets the specific goal that every Cleveland resident will be within a ¼-mile radius of a community or market garden. The commission concludes that this would “increase food security, reinforce neighborhood relationships, beautify vacant lots, and promote entrepreneurship.” Clearly there is widespread and growing interest in urban agriculture among city planners, neighborhood organizations, and individuals. However, research is needed to determine whether expectations for urban agriculture to provide a wide range of ecosystem services are realistic, whether certain soil factors or conditions contraindicate its use for food production, and how soil community structure and composition relate to these services.


microscopeAgroecosystems Management Program (Casey Hoy)

The Bee Lab (Reed Johnson)

Biodiversity Informatics (Norm Johnson)

Biological control, IPM for ornamentals and vegetables grown in controlled environments (Luis Canas)

Bumble Bee Health and Genetics (Jamie Strange)

Chemical Ecology (Chris Ranger)

Chemical ecology, metabolomics, Insect-plant interactions, biological farming (Larry Phelan)

Ecology and management of insect pests in agronomic crops including corn, soybean and wheat (Kelley Tilmon)

Ecology of Urban Greenspaces (Mary Gardiner)

Insect overwintering/diapause, circadian clock genes, scholarship of teaching and learning (Megan Meuti)

Insect Population Genetics and Adaptation Lab (Andy Michel)

Laboratory for Molecular Physiology of Arthropod Vectors (Peter Piermarini)