My research focuses on the ecology of plant-insect interactions in agricultural systems and their interface with natural systems. I focus on two main themes: 1) The effect of diversity at local and landscape scales on ecosystem (dis)services important for agricultural systems, including pollinati...
My research focuses on the ecology of plant-insect interactions in agricultural systems and their interface with natural systems. I focus on two main themes: 1) The effect of diversity at local and landscape scales on ecosystem (dis)services important for agricultural systems, including pollination, herbivory, biological control and ultimately yield, and 2) the ecological, physiological, and genetic mechanisms of plant tolerance and resistance traits in agricultural crops. We seek to improve our understanding of ecological phenomena in agroecosystems that can potentially inform management strategies important for more sustainable agricultural production. My research approach involves rigorously designed field experiments at farm- or landscape-scales, combined with greenhouse and laboratory experiments that provide insight into the mechanisms driving the field patterns. I feel very passionate about personalized mentoring and teaching students at all levels of education. My research is conducted in agro-ecosystems in Colombia, Kenya, Costa Rica and the US.
At the farm scale we have been focusing in developing crop management systems that reduce pest pressure and increase yield through the use of functionally important plants (trap plants for pests, repellent plants for pests and flowering plants attractive for natural enemies and pollinators). In addition we have been studying the responses of different varieties of crop plants to herbivores in order to harness their natural defense mechanisms (resistance and tolerance) in management practices or breeding processes that would lead to higher production with less reliance and chemical fertilizers and pesticide use. We are currently collaborating with an interdisciplinary team of Colombian and US-American researchers with expertise in applied economics and management, entomology, plant breeding, genetics and molecular biology to combine the push-pull technology to reduce pest pressure by the Guatemalan tuber moth with the use of the overcompensating potato variety to successfully develop a sustainable management practice that can have a long-term impact on Colombian agriculture.
At the landscape scale we are investigating how important the biodiversity surrounding a farm is for ecosystem services such as pollination, natural pest control and increased yields. Ongoing studies work with landscape scale effects on potato pests in Colombia and on strawberry pollinators, natural enemies in cabbage, apple pests and potato pests in upstate NY.