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New UF/IFAS Entomologist: From a Kid’s ‘Lab’ to Helping Citrus Growers

Daniel CooperCitrus Greening, HLB Management, Industry News Release, Psyllids, Research

As a girl in her garage in Palm Bay, Florida, Lauren Diepenbrock, already a budding scientist, peered through the lens of her microscope and marveled at the magnification.

“As a kid, I played in the woods and brought back all sorts of ‘finds,’ including a snake skeleton, none of which my mom allowed in the house,” said Diepenbrock, an assistant professor of entomology for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). “My parents set me up with a ‘lab’ in the garage with a kid chemistry set and microscope. That microscope was great. I could look at all of my cool ‘finds’ and water from the ditch to see all of the living things up close. I guess I’ve never really looked back.”

Diepenbrock is the new entomologist at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) in Lake Alfred, Florida. She filled the position formerly held by Michael Rogers, who was named the center director.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Missouri, a master’s in science education from Syracuse University, another master’s in ecology and evolutionary biology from Florida State University and her doctorate in plant, insect and microbial sciences from University of Missouri. Before taking the position at UF/IFAS CREC, she worked as a post-doctoral researcher at North Carolina State University.

Diepenbrock is putting those years of exploring her surroundings and college education to work as the lead citrus Extension entomologist focused on integrated pest management (IPM) programs at the CREC.

Through IPM, scientists try to develop a comprehensive program to help growers manage pests and diseases. For example, in an IPM program for the Asian citrus psyllid — which can transmit citrus greening to trees — scientists might include cultural management tools such as netting to keep psyllids away from trees. They might also use reflective mulch, combined with cover crops between rows of trees, to support natural enemies and biological controls of the psyllids, Diepenbrock said.

Growers use insecticides to control flare-ups of psyllids, but they’re finding the sprays less and less effective as the psyllid develops resistance to them, Diepenbrock said.

“Hopefully, we will be able to integrate some of the newly developed tools into a broader management scheme and work toward rebuilding IPM programs in citrus, which used to be the primary management option in this system,” she said.

Diepenbrock and her fellow researchers at UF/IFAS CREC cannot control citrus greening on their own.

“It will take collaboration between entomologists, horticulturalists, plant pathologists, water and soil scientists and weed scientists to develop a comprehensive program,” she said. “The goal is to generate comprehensive recommendations that meet pest management and tree health needs, a question that I can’t look at on my own.”

As an Extension entomologist, Diepenbrock not only conducts research, she brings her knowledge to citrus growers to tell them the best IPM methods to keep psyllids and other pests from damaging their valuable citrus trees.

“So far, I’m really enjoying working with the other faculty to develop interdisciplinary projects and talking with growers,” Diepenbrock said. “I’ve received great input from several growers I’ve had the opportunity to interact with and I hope that dialogue continues.”

Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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