David Miller Travel Bursary recipient, Stuart Edwards, reports from Naples

02 January 2019

The David Miller Travel Bursary Award aims to give early career plant scientists or horticulturists the opportunity of overseas travel in connection with their horticultural careers. Stuart Edwards was awarded one of the 2018 David Miller Travel Bursaries to attend the XI European Congress on Entomology in Naples, Italy and reports his experience here.

'The XI European Congress on Entomology took place in Naples between 2 - 6 July 2018 and showcased some of the world’s leading entomological research through a total of 460 talks and 560 poster presentations. A diverse range of topics from Agricultural and Forest Entomology to Morphology and Systematics were covered throughout the week and, with strategic planning, attendees could balance academic interests with personal curiosity in order to create an informative yet intense schedule for themselves. Despite the diversity of sessions, pest control was a recurrent theme. Many of the talks were of relevance to my PhD project, thus ensuring ideas and considerations were taken from each. Species interactions were also a common theme within entomological research with particular emphasis on the influence of microbes and endosymbionts on the host species.

'I am a first year PhD student at the University of Reading investigating the effects of climatic variability on tri-trophic interactions in apple orchards. As a result of increased public and legislative pressure, pesticide use is likely to decrease in the near future, which will increase the reliance on biological control methods. My research looks at the interactions between trees, aphids and parasitoids in apple orchards under varying climatic conditions. This will develop understanding of how these interactions respond to predicted climate regimes, and how management changes may influence the efficacy of pest control. With the financial assistance of the David Miller Award and the GCRI Travel Bursary I was able to attend the XI European Congress on Entomology, as well as extend my stay to spend a further two days at the University of Naples Federico II visiting Professor Francesco Pennacchio’s research group. Through meeting a diverse group of stakeholders and the learning of new research techniques I feel I can increase the applicability of my work to the horticultural industry, and thus increase my future career prospects.

'During the poster presentation I was able to discuss my research with various different researchers who made suggestions as to how to directly improve my experimental procedures and use of model systems. Several presentations during the conference were based on apple orchard ecosystems and of particular interest were the talks of Ainiara Penalva-Cruz and Sergio Angeli. Ainiara presented her research regarding the influence of Pyracantha sp. on the performance of the parasitoid Aphelinus mali and its ability to control Woolly Apple Aphid populations. The parasitoid feeds on the nectar of Pyracantha sp. resulting in enhanced performance later in the season compared to orchards without additional food sources. The Woolly Apple Aphid - A.mali System forms the focal point of my model system and as such the insights of this work can inform my future research. Sergio has characterised the chemical responses of apple trees to feeding by different pest species: this is extremely important in understanding the trophic level of the apple tree and a next step in research could be to investigate how these chemical cues are influenced by climatic stress. My time at the University of Naples Federico II provided me with practical research experience and I was taught techniques such as aphid and parasitoid dissection and life-stage identification. These skills will directly improve my research as I can now conduct experiments focusing on the specific life-stages of my chosen pest and parasitoids. I will also be able to collect data on variables such as the number of eggs a parasitoid produced in response to climatic stress.

'Once again, I would like to thank the David Miller Award and GCRI Trust Travel Grant for making this trip possible. I strongly encourage fellow PhD students and academics alike to apply for such funding for similar events. I have found the world of academia very accommodating and previously had no links to the University of Naples Federico II, a simple email explaining my research and asking if I could visit achieved this. Overall this experience has opened my eyes to the range of current entomological research, I have gained an understanding of relevant methodologies and how to conduct them and created networks of support across the world of which could form future collaborations of research. Since returning to the UK I have begun formulating research plans taking into consideration the skills and ideas learned from my trip to Naples which will hopefully inform future pest control in apple orchards benefiting the horticultural sector.'

Stuart Edwards
PhD Student
University of Reading

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