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MS Biology Thesis Defense - Britt Pendleton

June 17 @ 9:00 am - 10:00 am MDT

Learning from Chemical Coping Behaviors of Wildlife to Discover New Approaches for Pest Management

Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Forbey, Biological Sciences

Committee: Dr. Ian Robertson, Biological Sciences, and Dr. Emma Weeks, University of Florida


Pests represent a current and future threat to food security and human health. Managing crop damage and transmission of pathogens from pests requires innovative and sustainable approaches. Our current approach to discovering and developing chemical control treatments against pests is tedious, inefficient, and often outpaced by evolving chemical resistant phenotypes in pests. We propose that observing chemical coping behaviors in wildlife may provide an effective framework to discover bioactive chemical mixtures that can deter pests. Chemical coping behavior is defined as the exploitation of naturally occurring chemicals within a host’s environment as therapy against pests. Specifically, the use of greenery in nests by wild avian species may provide cues to plant species that can deter ectoparasites. Many plants use chemicals to cope with their own pests, which wild avian hosts can exploit to combat pests in their nests. We used a local host-pest interaction to discover the potential chemical diversity and bioactivity of greenery found in nests of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos). Additionally, we tested how concentration and diversity of volatiles in plant species found in nests of golden eagles affected the behavior of a hematophagous arthropod (Cimex lectularius). Observing the chemical coping behaviors in wildlife could provide a sustainable strategy for discovering diverse and robust sources of chemicals and modes of action that can combat pests. Exploiting plants with higher concentrations and diversity of chemicals may help wildlife combat pests and may offer novel natural sources and ecological insight to deter pests responsible for both wildlife and human diseases.