Crop Entomologist joins Faculty at West Central REC
Julie Peterson began work on March 3 as the new entomology specialist at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte. Peterson's research and extension programs will focus on integrated pest management of insects in field crops and rangeland in the 24-county UNL West Central District.
As with many faculty appointments in UNL's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Peterson has a joint appointment. Hers is in the Extension and Agricultural Research divisions.
As part of her extension programming, Peterson will address resistance management issues, including recommendations on dealing with resistant populations of rootworms and how to use existing tools effectively so the tools will be available as long as possible. She also plans to be a regular contributor to CropWatch, addressing insect and integrated pest management issues in west central and greater Nebraska.
Her research will focus on:
- How on-farm management practices affect pest and beneficial insect populations, such as:
— Crop rotation strategies in both irrigated and dryland systems
— Residue removal and cattle grazing
— Rate and timing of irrigation and fertilization
- The potential for using biological control agents, such as predators, parasitoids, nematodes, and fungi to manage Nebraska insect pests
- Food webs and ecological interactions of major west central Nebraska field crop pests, such as Western corn rootworm, Western bean cutworm, and mites
Peterson grew up in the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky, not far from the family farm in west central Kentucky where six generations of her family have farmed and now grow tobacco, corn, and cattle. Her interest in insects dates back to a childhood fascination, when a butterfly net and glass jar were among her favorite toys.
As interest turned to an academic pursuit, Peterson's studies took her to Ohio, Kentucky and most recently, Minnesota, before moving to North Platte.
"I'm really excited to be joining the team of extension and research professionals at UNL and the WCREC and am looking forward to becoming a helpful resource for Nebraska," she said.
"It has been a nice change to go from waiting for a bus in -30 degree windchill in Minnesota or being stuck in Minneapolis/St. Paul traffic to the big, sunny skies and laid-back feel of North Platte. The community in North Platte has been very welcoming."
Education and Experience
Peterson received a Ph.D. in entomology in 2012 from the University of Kentucky. Her doctoral dissertation focused on how Bt proteins from genetically modified corn moved through arthropod food webs, as well as how spiders that build their webs in cornfields will eat corn pollen, which gives them a nutritional boost. She received her B.A. degree in zoology in 2007 from Ohio Wesleyan University.
Before moving to Nebraska, Peterson was a postdoctoral associate at the University of Minnesota. There she was part of a large project funded by the USDA to look at the integration of perennial bioenergy crops into annual soybean fields to enhance control of the soybean aphid. She looked at whether plots of willow bushes or mixed-species prairies could attract beneficial insects (like ladybeetles, lacewings, hoverflies, and parasitoid wasps), provide them with food (like pollen and nectar from prairie flowers), and allow these beneficial insects to eat more soybean aphids so that farmers would need to spray less often to control soybean aphids.
While at Minnesota, she presented information at extension events like the Minnesota Ag Expo. She also worked with farmers applying for USDA Sustainable Ag Research and Education grants to do on-farm research on a new biological control agent of soybean aphid (a tiny parasitoid wasp) on organic farms.
Peterson and her husband moved to North Platte in February, and are looking to settle into a home with a little bit of acreage, where they can have a big garden, chickens, and bees.
While she comes across many insect species in her daily work, what's her favorite? The polished lady beetle. Through her research in Minnesota, Peterson often worked with lady beetles and found this species to be particularly small and charismatic.