Emergency poultry disease response workshop considers biosecurity, rapid reaction

Emergency poultry disease response workshop considers biosecurity, rapid reactionAccording to Vimbai Michael Magaisa, the most vulnerable birds when it comes to avian influenza (AI) in his hometown of Montclair, South Africa, are ostriches. And while there aren’t as many ostriches in Delaware as there are in his home country, Magaisa still learned helpful tools and important lessons about how to manage the disease and other poultry afflictions at the 2016 Emergency Poultry Disease Response Certificate Program workshop held at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) from June 20-24.

Magaisa, who works as a veterinarian responsible for a municipality and heard about the CANR program through an email from a friend, was one of 20 international participants who attended the certificate program, now in its eighth year.

Magaisa said that having participants from many different countries was beneficial as it allowed them to get a wide range of perspectives on the poultry industry.

“With the interactions, you get to understand other perspectives that you might not see in your own situation but that might help you in applying some of the concepts that we are learning. We’ve got quite a diverse group and we are learning from each other,” said Magaisa, who added that he plans to keep in touch with the other participants through email and the program’s Facebook group.

Magaisa said the program was very beneficial and also a memorable experience.

“We got to visit a broiler farm, which was an eye opener. The establishment is quite big and some of the procedures were quite new to me. Then we went through to a processing plant that was also awesome. It was just out of this world,” Magaisa said.

Having to deal with several layer farms and a great number of broiler farms, as well as backyard chickens, Magaisa said that everything in the course was useful but perhaps the most beneficial aspect was the importance of surveillance of a disease — such as Newcastle disease or AI — and how to control the disease once it has emerged.

With regard to the state of Delaware and the UD, Magaisa said there were a lot of friendly people and that “the weather is also very friendly, considering where I’m coming from.”

On the first day of the program, participants got to hear from and ask questions of U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) who spoke about the importance of the poultry industry in the United States and specifically in Delaware, where in Sussex County more broiler chickens are grown than in any other county in America.

Coons also spoke about his experience working with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, to help bring the first American poultry in more than 15 years to South Africa.

“The University of Georgia from his home state does a great deal of education and outreach but no one does a better job than the University of Delaware,” Coons said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing that you’re able to spend a week with us and get concrete, relevant, hands-on training from the people who have responded to the avian influenza outbreak in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, and you can hear from us how we coordinate between industry, government and non-profits at a grassroots level and at a statewide level to make sure that we are monitoring, that we are responding, that we are training. I hope you will also bring your knowledge to us and if there’s contributions you care to make, criticisms or questions about how we do it, we welcome that as well.”

Coons said he believes poultry can play a major role in providing protein for a hungry and fast-growing world population.

“Chicken is much more environmentally sound, easier to scale and a more accessible protein for a hungry world and particularly, a rapidly growing Africa. I think poultry has enormous potential but if all we do is grow more poultry in the United States and export it to the rest of the world, I think we will have failed because there are billions more hungry people than are currently being fed,” Coons said, adding, “We should grow the poultry industry in Senegal, in South Africa, in Kenya, in Nigeria, in partnership and learn that way from each other because AI will affect the whole world if we do not manage it, maintain it, control it and poultry can benefit the whole world if we coordinate.”

The program was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) in conjunction with UD’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies and is part of a combination of science-based training programs provided by CANR and the Avian Biosciences Center (ABC) to help Delaware’s national and international emergency disease response capability.

The program was led by Eric Benson, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS); Jack Gelb, professor and director of the ABC; Robert Alphin, instructor in ANFS and manager of the University’s Allen Laboratory; Soma Chakrabarti, director of Professional and Continuing Studies (PCS); Patricia Allen, project manager in PCS; and Dan Hougentogler, senior research associate in ANFS.

The participants spent five days learning about the avian influenza virus, disease surveillance and outbreak response and control, among other topics.

The training program also presented and utilized the “Delaware model,” which emphasizes close cooperation between government, industry and educational institutions to manage avian influenza outbreaks with best management practices and technologies related to controlling outbreaks of avian influenza and other diseases.

The participants were able to listen to experts from across the country and Canada with lectures on specific topics — such as the current status of avian influenza in wild birds and how to effectively manage live bird markets.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

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UD Cooperative Extension offers Dining with Diabetes programming in Spanish

UD Cooperative Extension offers Dining with Diabetes programming in SpanishWith diabetes affecting more than 29.1 million people in the United States and approximately 85,000 Delawareans over the age of 18, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension offered its spring Dining with Diabetes program in Spanish at select locations throughout New Castle County to raise awareness among Hispanic residents on how to eat properly and lead healthy lifestyles.

The Cenando con Diabetes classes were led by Cheryl Bush, an Extension agent and registered dietitian nutritionist, and Carlos Dipres, Extension educator, and helped participants learn how to follow a careful meal plan to reduce sugar, salt and fat in foods without giving up good taste.

The first class dealt with desserts, the second with main dishes and the third with side dishes.

“The first class is information on artificial sweeteners, carbohydrates, statistics about diabetes and what diabetes really is. With the second class, we move more into fat and salt and different foods that people should limit if they have diabetes and need to manage their diet,” Bush said. “Then the last week is more focused on fiber and calcium and fruits and vegetables, foods that you can use to improve your diet along with exercise and activities to help with those blood sugar numbers.”

Betsy Morris, nutrition assistant, also helped with the class, getting all the preparation work done the day before with a team of Master Food Educator volunteers.

“We take all the food on the road, all the baked goods – anything Betsy and her team have prepped – and they do a live demonstration of Hispanic recipes, which is the focus each time they present. The fun part is that people get to eat; it’s a sample, but they receive some nice full plates,” said Bush.

Dipres said that the class was fantastic because it combined the theory and the practice of what people should eat and what they should watch.

“People don’t know what to eat. A proper education on the disease is definitely going to help you. Through Dining with Diabetes, we’re going to show you what diabetes really is,” said Dipres.

Bush said that in the Hispanic community, there are differences between diabetes rates among the different populations of Cubans, Dominicans, Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans, with the Puerto Rican population having the highest percentage of people with diabetes and who are considered pre-diabetes.

“We’re now approaching 30 million Americans overall and it’s about 440 million in the whole world, so it truly is an epidemic,” she said. “Anything we can do to help people understand that the lifestyle changes that they can control more than anything else — we always want to impart that it’s not a person’s fault that they have diabetes, as much of it has to do with genetics — are diet and exercise.”

The classes were held at the New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office and at Westside Family Healthcare, and participants ranged in age from seniors to the middle aged to young people with children.

Dipres said that those who participated with the class walked away impressed and informed.

“They were impressed not only with the food — which was great and fantastic — but they learned a lot. They came to realize what diabetes is and what they can do, and they were surprised when they learned that they could eat certain things to deal with the disease,” Dipres said. “I believe the theory and the practice – practice meaning the food that they eat and how to prepare it – was an eye opening experience. They all were impressed by learning what is going to increase their blood level, their glucose level. It was a really good program.”

Bush said it was great to get to work with Dipres, who translated questions from the audience and helped organize the program and get participants involved.

“Carlos had to do all that ground work of trying to get the various groups together and he also had to try to find the sites,” said Bush.

She noted that the participants did not have to pay full price for the program, with those who participated in a Healthy Living Challenge, designed by UD Cooperative Extension and the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition only having to pay $10 per person and some of the older participants sponsored by the Latino magazine El Tiempo Hispano and Westside Health.

Some of the participants had pre-diabetes with a few having Type-2 diabetes, and they passed along critical firsthand information to the other participants about what it was like to manage the disease. Others came to the class to pass along information to at-risk family members.

“Generally the idea of this is to sit down and have others talking about their experiences and that helps the whole group learn. We sat family style and it was really great. These groups were engaged more so than I’ve had in any other program that I’ve done here,” said Bush.

The most important lesson that most of the participants walked away with at the end of the program was to pay attention to food labels and portion control and to follow MyPlate, the current nutrition guide published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“When they walk out of there, they know a lot more about how diabetes is affecting them and the different things that they need to talk about with their physicians. We also direct them to what kind of help is available in Delaware,” said Bush.

Dipres said he is hopeful the program will be held again next year and that it is especially important for those at risk or already affected by the disease to take the class and get better educated about the disease.

“Prevention is the only medication that works, and this is prevention, right here,” said Dipres.

For those interested in learning more, email Dipres or call him at 302-831-1067.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

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Don Sparks’ pioneering work recognized by the Clay Minerals Society

Don Sparks’ pioneering work recognized by the Clay Minerals SocietyDonald L. Sparks, Unidel S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Environmental Soil Chemistry at the University of Delaware and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute, has received the 2016 Pioneer in Clay Science Award from the Clay Minerals Society (CMS).

The award recognizes research contributions that have led to important new directions in clay mineral science and technology. As the honoree, Sparks was invited to present a plenary lecture at the society’s 53rd annual meeting, held June 5-8 in Atlanta.

CMS initiated the award in 1987, in part to provide younger scientists the opportunity to meet the researchers who have previously broken new scientific ground and to hear some of the inside stories on the developments and concepts that scientists now take for granted.

Past recipients have included several members of the National Academy of Sciences and a Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling.

“Dr. Sparks is one of the most celebrated and respected soil scientists in the world, a visionary leader in the soil science and agriculture communities, and a lifetime role model for many researchers including myself and many peers,” said Yuanzhi Tang, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech, in her introduction to the lecture.

Sparks’ lecture addressed the history of clay mineralogy and some of the advancements he has been involved in as well as recent technical developments in his laboratory at UD.

“It was a true honor to receive this recognition and the opportunity to address this audience from a different perspective than the usual scientific talk,” Sparks said. “It was certainly enjoyable to tell some of the stories of pioneers in the field before me, and how their discoveries inspired and helped me in my work and to pass some of that history along to a new generation of scientists.”

Sparks has led the way in using innovative techniques such as synchrotron based X-ray absorption spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and chemical kinetics methods to investigate reactions at the mineral-water interface.

“Dr. Sparks is a true pioneer and worthy recipient of the 2016 Pioneer in Clay Science Award,” said Balwant Singh, professor of soil science at the University of Sydney, Australia, and a member of the selection committee. “He is a brilliant scientist and a very generous human being, who is always willing to help others and to advise young researchers.  He commits a great deal of time and energy in sharing his expertise and time to improve opportunities for young researchers all over the world.”

Since joining the UD faculty in 1979, Sparks has created an internationally prominent graduate program in environmental soil chemistry in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, serving as chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences for 20 years. He has received numerous awards and honors, including the University’s highest academic recognition, the Francis Alison Award, and UD’s Doctoral Student Advising and Mentoring Award, of which he was the first recipient.

Sparks was selected as the 2015 Geochemistry Medalist for the American Chemical Society. He currently serves as chair of the U.S. National Committee for Soil Science, which advises the U.S. National Academies on issues related to soil science, and is an honorary member of the International Union of Soil Sciences.

Other awards include Einstein Professor from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Liebig Medal from the International Union of Soil Sciences, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Sterling Hendricks medal, the Northeast Association of Graduate Schools Geoffrey Marshall Mentoring Award, the Soil Science Research Award, the M.L. and Chrystie M. Jackson Soil Science Award, and the American Society of Agronomy’s Environmental Quality Award.

Sparks is a fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, the American Society of Agronomy, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geochemical Society, and the European Association of Geochemists. He is a past president of the Soil Science Society of America and the International Union of Soil Sciences.

Article by Beth Chajes

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UD graduate finds career success with Massachusetts Land Court

UD graduate finds career success with Massachusetts Land CourtWhile an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, Courtney Simmons majored in natural resource management and agriculture and natural resources and minored in wildlife conservation and resource economics with the goal of one day becoming an attorney who could influence change happening in the environment.

Now, by working with the Massachusetts Land Court, Simmons gets the opportunity to work on cases that deal directly with land in the state.

Simmons, an Honors Program student who graduated from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2011, said that Massachusetts is the only state that has a land court, which is based on the Australian Torrens system.

“Our jurisdiction is pretty unique in terms of it being so specifically related to property and land use issues. But it makes it really cool because at Delaware, my whole undergraduate career was in natural resource management and wildlife conservation so I was really focused on the fact that development is going to happen but how can we do it in a sustainable way where we’re revitalizing areas and communities that need it instead of destroying new green spaces for extra development?” said Simmons.

Simmons works for two different judges at the land court and goes into the courtroom with them whenever they have a hearing, motion or trial while also discussing the cases with them and assisting them in writing decisions.

“Sometimes the judges will make rulings from the bench, like on the TV shows, but most of the time, they take things under advisement and go back and prepare written decisions that become published law,” said Simmons. “Being able to actually draft decisions myself and have discussions with the judges regarding the application of the law or assist in shaping the law is really why I believed the legal system was a good avenue to pursue my goals of sustainable development.”

Environmental law

As an undergraduate at UD, Simmons said that an environmental law class sparked her interest in pursuing a career in the field.

“That was the first law class that I took and it really got me interested in thinking of different ways that we can influence changes happening to the environment,” Simmons said. “I actually thought that being an attorney working for the court or the legal system was probably the most effective avenue to go about changing the law or to be an advocate for natural resources that don’t have their own voice, and to protect natural areas and endangered species.”

Simmons, who received her law degree from Boston University in 2015, also worked as an intern at an Alaskan non-profit law firm for a summer and worked at American Tower Corp., where she spent time going over real estate documents and leasing documents after the company purchased towers from Verizon.

During that process, Simmons said that some of the projects had to submit environmental reports that included wetlands impact studies or native species impact studies, and she was able to see her degree from UD pay off.

“Not only were we reviewing the leases but we actually were looking at these environmental reports and documents. It was interesting because as an undergrad, I saw all those documents and I saw how a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) report was set up – then to actually be put on a project where I’m not only dealing with the legal side but I have this environmental scientific background, it made it a lot easier to understand the science behind things,” said Simmons.

Because many lawyers have undergraduate degrees in political science or law, Simmons said that having a degree in natural resource management and wildlife conservation helped her to be well-rounded and to have hands-on research opportunities

“When I was in Alaska, the people who didn’t have environmental backgrounds often had a really difficult time reading reports from state departments and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because they didn’t know all these different chemicals or economic analysis of affected property values,” Simmons said. “I think my background at Delaware was really well-rounded in that sense. It allowed me to apply the law in this field in a really useful way that not a lot of law students have, and being in this field in particular really helped.”

Time at UD

Simmons singled out Steve Hastings, professor and associate chair of the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, Josh Duke, professor of food and resource economics, economics and legal studies, and Jacob Bowman, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, as being particularly helpful to her during her time at UD.

Of Hastings, Simmons said that he was “always great and easy to talk to” and that he helped her out with recommendations throughout law school.

“He taught me to not just be so one-sided when you look at something and not be an environmentalist who contends ‘development is always bad.’ Everything is shades of gray so you can’t really be too far on one side or the other. You have to find compromises, which I think is a lot of what natural resource management is all about,” said Simmons.

Simmons said that by looking at different points of view throughout her time at UD, her undergraduate experience allowed her to figure out ways to compromise.

“That’s a lot of what being an attorney is. The last straw is for people to take things to trial. We want to get things done well before that or before something is even filed in court. I think all those perspectives were really helpful,” said Simmons.

She also said that she enjoyed studying in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and being on south campus.

“The labs were one of the best features. I took soil science and mammalogy and apiology. Just being able to go out and get your hands dirty and learn how to harvest honey, it’s something that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do. I think having that hands-on part of the undergraduate degree really helped make me a more well-rounded person in the way I approach things,” Simmons said.

Article by Adam Thomas

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CANR pre-veterinary program sends 29 students to vet, medical schools

CANR pre-veterinary program sends 29 students to vet, medical schoolsThe University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences program had its most successful spring on record, sending 29 students to veterinary and medical schools with an acceptance rate of 96 percent.

The program has a long history of success, with an average acceptance rate of around 80 percent – significantly higher than the national average of veterinary school acceptance rate, which is around 50 percent according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

Eight of those students were accepted to Ivy League schools with five going to the University of Pennsylvania and three to Cornell University. Three students were accepted to Tufts University and two students were accepted into medical school. One student in particular was accepted into 12 veterinary schools.

Lesa Griffiths, the T.A. Baker Professor in CANR, said that the success of the students is contingent on many factors, with one of the most important being the location of a working farm right on campus. That provides students critical hands-on discovery learning opportunities.

“What is unique about us, and getting more and more unique, is the 350-acre farm right on campus. Students have access to the farm 24/7 and they don’t have to take buses or rely on transportation to the farm, so we’re able to incorporate the farm into many of our classes and undergraduate research and our internship experiences. I think that still having a farm and then having it right on campus is getting more and more unique,” said Griffiths.

The farm is utilized from day one for students in the program. Beginning with their first fall semester, students get to go out on the farm and participate in discovery learning.

The discovery learning also comes in the form of undergraduate research opportunities offered by the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS) and field experience courses in which students work on the UD farm, other local farms, or with local veterinarians and animal shelters.

The program also offers a curriculum that reflects a unique combination of faculty expertise, with strengths in animal health and nutrition and the interactions between animal health and animal nutrition.

“It is unusual to have a faculty very focused on animal health and nutrition and that grew out of the link to the poultry industry and poultry health, although it’s much more basic now in terms of microbiology and virology. The microbiology has grown out of links to both food science and food safety, and now with the huge interest in the gut microbiome and its link to human health,” said Griffiths.

Griffiths also pointed to the program’s faculty expertise and advising capabilities as setting the students up for success.

“We have a lot of advisees so I think the fact that we can continue to make it very personal and one on one is really critical,” said Griffiths. “We work very hard to try to maintain one on one interaction and we’re very good at backing each other up. If a student can’t reach his or her adviser and contacts me, I will fill in. The faculty members talk about advising and share information about veterinary schools and advising. I think we encourage student-faculty interaction and do our best to make connections with students.”

The closeness that alumni of the program feel toward it can be seen in the fact that every year, UD graduates who are now enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine come back and participate in a panel talk for the animal science club with advice for applying to veterinary school and discussions about their experiences in veterinary school.

Veterinary school applications

To help current students with the process for applying to veterinary school, the department worked with Christy Mannering, communications specialist in CANR, to set up a website that takes students through the four-year process of applying to veterinary school.

The website includes frequently asked questions about veterinary school and reminders by year, as well as interview questions and comments on interviews from alumni who have just gone through the interview process.

The animal and food sciences faculty advisers help the students with the intensive and detailed application process for veterinary school by providing recommendation letters, reviewing their personal statements and sharing their knowledge about the application process. As part of the process, students have to document not only their academic program and their academic success but the number of hours they’ve worked while shadowing veterinarians and hours worked interacting with animals.

The application also includes a personal statement and many veterinary schools have follow up personal statements so the whole process involves a lot of writing, which Griffiths said means the students have to make themselves stand out and distinguish themselves from other students.

Griffiths singled out one statement in particular from a student who happened to be a cheerleader at UD. Both Griffiths and Erin Brannick, director of the CANR Comparative Pathology Laboratory and assistant professor in ANFS, told him independently that he should include that piece of information in his essay.

“We both told him to go back and we said, we don’t really care if the admissions committee doesn’t remember your name, but you want them to say, ‘Hey, where’s that cheerleader guy? We want him.’ After revisions, his statement came back equating how being a cheerleader helped him in all the skills he’s developed, such as self-confidence, time management and all those important life skills and professional development skills.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

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UD Department of Applied Economics and Statistics’ new tuk tuk supports mobile research efforts

UD Department of Applied Economics and Statistics’ new tuk tuk supports mobile research effortsThe University of Delaware’s Kent Messer was looking for something that would allow him and his research team from the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) to stand out in a crowd and drum up participation when they travel to locations for their experiments, while at the same time, being able to serve all of their research needs.

Upon returning from a recent trip to Thailand, Messer, the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment, director of the CEAE and co-director of the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research (CBEAR) in the University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), found the vehicle that would be truly unique to the state of Delaware: a tuk tuk.

“Social scientists always want to recruit a representative sample of participants for their research, but recruiting has become increasingly difficult as people’s lives have become so busy.  We needed something that was attractive and instantly welcoming. People smile when they see our tuk tuk and they approach us wanting to learn more,” said Messer.

Made in Amsterdam, UD’s tuk tuk is a sort of three-wheeled motorized rickshaw decked out in UD colors and logos that arrived the night before Ag Day and made its debut at the event where it garnered much attention.

Maddi Valinski, lab manager for CEAE and program administrator for CBEAR, said that at one point when she was riding in the tuk tuk with Leah Palm-Forster, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC), who was driving it at Ag Day, about 50 kids descended on the tuk tuk.

“The tuk tuk is very eye catching, and really draws people in. It’s a great way to connect with people and get them interested in our research, more so than just handing out flyers. I think the tuk tuk was part of the reason we were so successful at Ag Day this year. We had over 750 people participate in research compared to 500 last year, which is an incredible increase,” said Valinski.

The tuk tuk is a mobile lab that runs off of electricity and can be set up to charge 30 computers inside or house whatever equipment the center needs to run its experiments, such as a fryer or a refrigerator.

“Whatever our experiment needs are—for oyster experiments or other consumer experiments—we can customize it similar to the way you would customize a food truck,” Valinski said.

It was designed with the help of Keith Heckert, creative and branding director in the UD Communications and Public Affairs office, and has the departmental name and the center’s name, as well as ‘Dare to Experiment,’ emblazoned on the sides.

The tuk tuk can only get up to 30 miles per hour so taking it to far away locations requires it to be towed with a trailer, although it is street legal.

Funding for the tuk tuk came from APEC, and Valinski said that Tom Ilvento, chair of the department, was great in supporting it and recognizing that it would be a great resource, not just for the center but also for the rest of the department.

The tuk tuk will be seen throughout Delaware this summer as it will be used for research on the UD campus, near the UDairy Creamery, and on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. It has also earned a spot at the United States Department of Agriculture’s farmers market on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD students get hands-on farm experience in beef and sheep capstone course

UD students get hands-on farm experience in beef and sheep capstone courseTwenty-seven University of Delaware students in the beef cattle and sheep production capstone course got hands-on experience this semester on the Webb Farm, learning everything from sheep shearing to pasture rotation as they acquired valuable tools to carry with them in their future agricultural careers.

The course is led by Lesa Griffiths, the T.A. Baker Professor in the University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), who said that capstone courses like these are integral in preparing students for veterinary school and other animal agriculture pursuits.

She also said that because Webb Farm operates like a small scale farming operation on campus, students get real world experience before they graduate.

“We don’t do anything different than a regular sheep or cattle producer would do other than that, in this case, we have 27 students helping and watching over the animals daily. But the lambs and cattle are produced just like any farmer would produce them,” said Griffiths.

Lamb watch

This year, around 50 to 55 lambs, were born during the course and Griffiths explained that the sheep are assigned to certain groups of students to care for throughout the semester.

“Any lambs that are born on their watch, they are responsible for their care for the rest of the semester,” said Griffiths. “They ear tag them, they dock their tails, they give them their vaccinations and monitor their growth rate and their health. For those lambs that are born when nobody is watching, we assign them to students.”

Since the students have already taken courses in animal nutrition, animal physiology and animal genetics, among many others, they take everything they’ve learned in the classroom out on the farm during the month that the ewes give birth, working early mornings and evenings with the hope that they get to witness a live birth.

Caitlin Jozwiak, a senior in CANR, said that when the groups made their rotations, they would “make sure that it’s a steady birthing process and if it’s not then, we have the opportunity to go in and assist.”

Under the watchful eye of the farm manager, an instructor and, if needed, a veterinarian, students have the opportunity to help ewes when things are not proceeding normally.

Griffiths said that experiencing a live birth for the first time is an eye-opening experience for the students.

“You can read about it all you want but until you actually watch an animal going through labor and develop the patience to just watch and observe — as well as the skill to know when something is going wrong and at what point you intervene by contacting a veterinarian and what information you would give to the veterinarian. All of that is really hard to put into a textbook,” Griffiths said.

Sheep shearing

In addition to observing the birthing process of the lambs, the class also had a chance to learn how to shear the sheep, with the wool used to make UD’s Blue Hen Blankets and Yarn.

Jozwiak said that shearing the sheep was a great experience but that it was also hard work.

“It’s very methodical to make sure that you cover the entire animal and it’s not in any direction that will hurt them. It was awesome, but I was also sore the next day from holding them up at all sorts of angles,” said Jozwiak.

The class was shown the proper shearing technique by Larry Armstrong, manager of the Webb Farm, and Scott Hopkins, UD farm superintendent.

Jake Morris, who recently graduated from CANR, said he agreed with Jozwiak that it was fun but hard work.

“It hurts. It’s a backbreaking kind of thing but once you do it like Larry does multiple times a day, on multiple sheep for years and years, you get used to it. The first time you do it, it probably is the hardest to get used to,” said Morris.

Sarah Morrissey, who also recently graduated from CANR, said that the hardest part of shearing the sheep was getting the courage to begin.

“We learned how to press down at the correct angle pretty easily, but everyone was hesitant at the beginning,” said Morrissey, who thought that the process was a little bit easier than what she had expected. “I think we all became nervous once we saw the giant clippers, but the demonstration beforehand was helpful when it came to approaching the task with the proper technique. And since we took turns, no one had to shear an entire sheep, which can become exhausting.”

Griffiths said that learning the proper technique to shear a sheep is integral because not only is the safety of the animal of the upmost importance, but the wool that is being taken is a product that needs to be kept intact.

“You can’t just clip it off because its quality is related to your skill in removing it. In particular, the length of the wool is important and if somebody doesn’t have the correct skill and just did swoops or short swipes or multiple swipes to get to the one quarter inch left on the ewe, you’re destroying the value of the wool itself. So while you have to be very careful about how you handle and care for the animal, you’re actually removing a marketable product and so you have to be very careful with the product also,” she said.

Pasture rotations

The class also learned about the importance of pasture rotations — moving livestock to different parts of a pasture to allow for its recovery and growth after grazing — something Jozwiak said was great to see firsthand.

“The biggest thing for me to grasp in lecture is this idea of pasture rotations, so when we actually got to go out and corral the animals into a different pasture and you see how far they graze it down and how dead that area gets, and then you move them to this huge grassy area, you see it happening and you see why they do that. Before I thought, ‘It’s grass, it’ll grow right back.’ That was pretty eye opening,” said Jozwiak.

Griffiths said that it’s a goal of hers to show students that beef and sheep production is intimately tied to pasture production.

“The students have to understand something about the biology of the plants that the animals eat and how we carefully match the biology of the animals to the biology of those plants for optimum nutrition,” said Griffiths.

Understanding animals

Because the beef cattle calved a bit later in the semester, there was a greater emphasis on the sheep this year and, based on the timing of lambing, the class was able to fit in more sheep labs and emphasize small scale sheep production.

Still, Griffiths said that the skills the students learned with the sheep are transferable to other animals and other aspects of animal agriculture.

“I think the ability to observe the animals and to understand animal behavior, while it is specific to some species, those skills about watching and observing and understanding when something is not quite right I think are transferable,” said Griffiths. “The patience to sit through labor and have the patience to stand back despite wanting to help and understand when it actually is time to intervene is important. Otherwise you should never intervene which goes against a lot of our interest in getting in there and assisting and helping and trying to make it easier for the animals.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

NIFA director reflects on UD visit, nutritional security challenges

NIFA director reflects on UD visit, nutritional security challengesSonny Ramaswamy, the director of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), recently visited the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to tour the facilities, offer a roundtable discussion on NIFA opportunities and give a seminar titled “Perfect Storm to Nutritional Security.”

Ramaswamy took time to discuss his visit, the importance of nutritional security and the value of innovations by land grand universities.

Q. What were your impressions of the University of Delaware and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources?

Ramaswamy: What struck me is that the University of Delaware is one of these institutions that really does get its work done. As a land-grant university, your natural resources are critically important for you and I was blown away by the work that you do.

I talked to your stakeholders, including Ed Kee, the state secretary of agriculture, and they all are really appreciative of the kind of work that you do. Your plant sciences group, your poultry group, some of the innovative work that’s going on – for example the work that’s going on with regards to chickens and the adaptation to higher temperatures and climate change based on the genetics of chickens from Africa. These are the kinds of things that are truly outstanding work that’s going to be of relevance to everybody, not just the state of Delaware. I think you all can play a significantly bigger role not just for the state of Delaware but also to set the national agenda.

Q. Was there a particular highlight of your visit?

Ramaswamy: The conversations that I had with folks. I interacted with two of your Ag Ambassadors and they were really sharp. It was excellent to talk to them and find out about why they went to the University of Delaware, the education that’s being offered — those are the kinds of things that stick out and some of the work that I referred too. I’d stack it up against the best anywhere.

Q. Could you talk about the presentation you gave at UD on “The Perfect Storm to Nutritional Security?”

Ramaswamy: We have an existential threat and this existential threat is nutritional security. A few years ago, I quit using the term “food security,” in part because it’s not just food. It really is nutrition we have to be mindful of and if we don’t think of it from a nutritional perspective, from a health outcomes perspective, we will continue to exacerbate this situation that we’ve got.

We frame our conversations around the year 2050, that something bad is going to happen with this nine-plus billion people, and that in the next 35-50 years we’re going to have to produce as much food as we’ve done in the last 10,000 years. But it’s not only about food, it’s about nutritional outcomes.

The obesity epidemic that we’ve got in America and even globally, we’ve got a yin and yang situation. Globally, we’ve got about 1.3 billion people that before going to bed, they have to take Lipitor for cholesterol, baby aspirin for heart disease, medication for hypertension, medication for Type 2 diabetes and things like that. This is because of the excessive amounts of calories and poor quality calories as well. As a consequence of that, globally, we’ll have about 50,000 people that will drop dead today. Here in America, it’s one out of five people that have to take those medications to have a reasonable living.

On the flip side, globally we’ve got about 850 million people that are going to bed hungry tonight for lack of food and every four seconds, a man, woman or child is going to drop dead. So you’ve got people dying because they don’t have any food and you’ve got people dying because they have too much food.

In America, we’ve got 17 million households that are nutritionally insecure. On the other side of my building is the section of Washington, D.C., called Anacostia and it’s predominantly African American and very poor and there are food deserts out there. What happens is, folks are going to go to a local convenience store and getting a lot of cheap calories. We’ve also got people that have got no food in rural communities, even in the state of Delaware.

Ursula Bauer, who is with the Center for Disease Control, did a study that said basically 75 percent of our nation’s health care costs are attributable to chronic disease. This is the result of genetics, excessive calories and quality of those calories, sedentary life styles, and behaviors.  Chronic diseases include Type 2 diabetes, metabolic disorders, and things like that. A number of cancers are the result of excessive amounts of calories, excess glucose in our diets. There’s tantalizing connections between excessive amounts of glucose that gets deposited in the brain that’s contributing to plaques, that’s contributing to Alzheimer’s disease. Many, if not all, of these are manageable by just being more mindful of the quality and quantity of food, along with a reasonable effort to avoid sedentary lifestyles, smoking, and other behaviors that contribute to negative health outcomes.

Q. How does this factor in with the perfect storm?

Ramaswamy: The perfect storm is everything from climate change to diminishing land and water resources, the competition between people wanting to build cities and towns and needing water for people living in cities and towns, and competition without food production enterprises, all of which compete with our ability to achieve nutritional security.

Q. How do we get from where we are to where we need to be?

Ramaswamy: I’m super optimistic and I know we’re going to get it done. At my talk, I showed since the invention of agriculture, all these innovations have come along whether it’s the use of biological control or the use of manure as fertilizer or the development of synthetic fertilizers to the genetics and genomics revolution to precision agriculture, tractors, combines, and robotics.

Then I showed a line graph of teosinte — the ancestor of modern corn — that was just about as big as the American quarter. Then, humans got involved when they figured out how to take teosinte and convert it to corn that we could eat. Then the scientific enterprise, hybridization of corn and all that happened and it shoots up to where the corn is about 12 inches long and big and that quarter looks like a puny little thing.

That’s what we’ve been able to do. Unbelievable creativity and innovations that have been brought to bear by institutions like the University of Delaware and the University of Maryland and Purdue University, and the many other academic, government, and private sector scientists and educators, including our extension personnel. So we know we can do it. Human ingenuity is critically important for this and now we’ve got to step it up.

We need the 21st century Extension of translating knowledge and delivering it to the end users. We need the education of young people, not just to become scientists but to go and actually grow the crops and raise the livestock as well.

All of the greatest discoveries and innovations, that knowledge you’re generating with regard to African chickens, means nothing at all if you don’t have people actually growing those chickens and making them available to our dinner tables. What’s incumbent on the University of Delaware is to make sure that those livestock producers are supported.

We can address this nutritional security. It’s not just for America but America has shown that we can feed the world. I’m the beneficiary of America’s investments in me when I was growing up in India at a time when India couldn’t feed itself. My mom raised us as a single parent, four brothers, standing in line for rations, and America was very much a part of our ability to eat back in the 1960s. The education I got was at an institution that was built by American land-grants.

So America can do it. We’ve done it and land-grant universities are an amazing part of it. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law, he said these land-grants are going to be the economic engine of our nation and sure enough, these land-grants have been the economic engines. We can put a man on the moon, we can fly airplanes, we invented the internet. What other country can lay claim to that sort of capability? It’s because really, truly, these land-grant universities and these incredible American farmers that the land-grants support allowed us to do that.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Scientists look at use of rice husk to reduce arsenic levels in vital grain

Scientists look at use of rice husk to reduce arsenic levels in vital grainA team of researchers at the University of Delaware has found that incorporating rice husk to soil can decrease toxic inorganic arsenic levels in rice grain by 25 to 50 percent without negatively affecting yield.

This research could have important implications for developing countries whose populations rely on rice as a staple of their diets and are in need of cheap, readily available material to improve soil quality and decrease arsenic levels that threaten human health.

The team is led by Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who worked with a group of research technicians and undergraduate researchers from diverse areas of study on the project, the results of which were recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, which is an American Chemical Society journal.

The work was funded by Seyfferth’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Award, an NSF Division of Biological Infrastructure award, and an award from the UD Research Foundation.

The work builds on previous research led by Seyfferth that looked at soil incubations of rice husk, rice straw and rice ash.

For this study, the researchers grew rice plants in the soil amended with residues and rather than using rice straw — which they found from the previous study has negative impacts on the environment — and they focused on the rice husk, which is silica rich, has less arsenic in the tissues and promotes less arsenic release from not only the tissues but also from the soil compared to the straw.

They also looked at rice ash, which Seyfferth said is basically a charred rice husk material, as an amendment.

“We used those two materials and compared the growth of rice with those materials incorporated into a soil that had background levels of arsenic and relatively low plant-available silicon,” said Seyfferth. “The big finding is that when we grow these plants in the fresh husk amended soil, we see a 25-50 percent decrease in the inorganic arsenic in the grains which is the most toxic form of arsenic. So right away, just by putting this material into soil, we can make the plants healthier and alter the toxic form of arsenic that’s in the grain which has direct implications for human health.”

Arsenic and silicon

Being a silica rich material is important for reducing the amount of arsenic in the rice plant because the mechanism for uptake of arsenite, which is the most dominant form of arsenic in flooded rice paddies, shares a transport pathway with dissolved silicon. This finding was published in a paper that came out in 2008 led by Jian Feng Ma, a Japanese researcher, and Seyfferth said that it confirmed some of her earlier suspicions about arsenic and silicon.

“There were already some clues because arsenic and silicon are very similar in terms of their location on the periodic table, and before that paper came out I had thought about doing some competition experiments between arsenic and silicon rice. When that paper came out, it gave me some confidence that it would be important to investigate,” said Seyfferth.

Although she had done some research with synthetic silicon fertilizers that showed promise for decreasing arsenic in the grains, Seyfferth said it wasn’t until she went to Cambodia and saw the vastness of rice paddies and how much rice residue is being generated from the production of rice globally that she really wanted to explore using some of those materials as silica sources.

“In Cambodia and in many other rice growing regions, the plants are grown in the soil and then when they harvest, they remove the straw and all of the above ground portion, so they leave the roots in place but most of the silicon is in the straw and also in the husk,” said Seyfferth.

When rice comes right off the plant, it is encased in a husk material, and when that gets removed to get to the grain, the leftover husk has a lot of silicon.

“Usually, this material is just put in piles and the engineering industry is always coming up with new and interesting things to do with it. When I was there, seeing these giant piles of husks that were double my height and incredibly vast, I looked at that and I said, ‘Wow, look at all that silicon,’” said Seyfferth.

In a natural environment, those silica rich tissues would get re-incorporated but when rice is grown and the tissues are removed and taken off site, that loop is disrupted and the silica loss is exacerbated.

“By incorporating this, we’re putting that silica back, which as we show can decrease inorganic arsenic in the grain but it also can provide other nutrients so maybe more phosphorous, more nitrogen as sort of an organic fertilizer without the need for more chemical fertilizer. Then, having more silicon also makes the plants more resistant to other stresses like fungal pathogens,” said Seyfferth.

Undergraduate researchers

Seyfferth said that one of the exciting aspects of this project was getting to work with so many undergraduate researchers who were all co-authors on the paper.

“Working with the undergraduate researchers, I think that everybody wins in that scenario. They get research experience which helps prepare them for their next step whether it’s graduate school or industry. Our research group gets more help and more hands means light work or that we can do more things and it’s just fun to see them get motivated, to get engaged enough to get co-authorship on papers,” said Seyfferth.

The undergraduate researchers involved in the project included Kelli A. Kearns, a rising senior in the College of Engineering; Jessica N. Mann, a 2016 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences; Michelle Paukett, a 2015 graduate of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Corey Leskanic, a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Adalsteinsson, Rosier receive Benton Graduate Student Awards

Adalsteinsson, Rosier receive Benton Graduate Student AwardsThe University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) has announced that the winners of the 2016 William J. Benton Graduate Student Awards are Solny Adalsteinsson and Amanda Rosier.

The awards were established in honor of William J. Benton, former CANR associate dean of research and professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS), in recognition of his dedication to graduate education.

Solny Adalsteinsson

Adalsteinsson recently received her doctorate from UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and will step into a post-doctoral position at Washington University in St. Louis.

While at UD, Adalsteinsson worked with her advisers Jeff Buler, assistant professor of wildlife ecology, and Greg Shriver, associate professor of wildlife ecology, researching Lyme disease and other pathogens that cause different tick borne diseases.

“The overall theme was looking at how urbanization changes local forest fragments, how those changes affect the disease transmission cycle in the environment, and what that means for human risk of Lyme,” said Adalsteinsson.

Adalsteinsson is looking at how invasive plants, specifically multiflora rose, affect tick populations and the populations of host animals that are important carriers of these pathogens. She said that in terms of tick abundance, forests with a lot of multiflora rose tend to have ticks concentrated in large numbers within those invasive plants. Forests without invasive plants, however, tend to have a larger number of ticks overall than the rose-invaded forests.

“It was a surprising and really interesting result. We did some modeling to figure out what was driving that relationship and we identified other changes to the habitat associated with these invasive plants,” Adalsteinsson said. “The most important one is the loss of leaf litter — all the dead leaves that accumulate on the forest floor. That makes up really important habitat for ticks because they need it to be humid and they evolved naturally to live in that litter layer.”

In the forests that have many invasive plants, the litter is gone, and Adalsteinsson thinks that results in a poor quality habitat for ticks to survive on the ground. Conditions are improved in the invasive plants themselves, and ticks are found aggregated within the plants in those sites.

Forests that have a thick litter layer intact and no invasion support more ticks overall.

When Adalsteinsson looked at the prevalence of the pathogen that causes Lyme disease, specifically looking at the presence of a bacterium in the ticks themselves, the ticks collected from forests with lots of multiflora rose had almost twice as much of the Lyme disease pathogen compared to the ticks from the uninvaded site.

In addition, Adalsteinsson studied mice and fledgling birds in urban landscapes to see how many ticks they were carrying. In some cases, she got tissue samples from the mice to look at what pathogens they were carrying and transmitting to the ticks and looking at which features of the urban landscape might influence the abundance of important disease reservoirs and their interactions with the ticks.

As to her favorite thing about studying at UD, Adalsteinsson said it was the “sense of community within the department and the support among the faculty and students. My advisers and my whole committee have just been fantastic to work with and have helped me and given me a lot of guidance shaping these ideas and figuring out what the important questions are. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented undergraduate students and technicians, and that’s really all thanks to my advisers and my committee.”

In addition to Buler and Shriver, Adalsteinsson wanted to thank her committee members Vince D’Amico, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service and an adjunct faculty member in CANR, Jake Bowman, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, and Dustin Brisson, associate professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania, for all the training and support they’ve provided her.

Amanda Rosier

Of receiving the Benton Award, Rosier said she was “profoundly honored to have received this acknowledgement of my accomplishments while a student here at UD.”

Rosier, who received her master’s degree from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has been advised by Harsh Bais, associate professor of plant and soil sciences, and her research entailed studying beneficial bacteria that associate with plants – essentially the plant’s “microbiome.”

“We know about, and even use, bacteria to improve plant health. However, we know very little about how a majority of these ‘beneficials’ work. My research focuses on how different bacteria may work together in the environment to protect plants from pests and increase yield,” said Rosier.

With agriculture companies looking towards more natural ways to protect crops and garden plants by using micro-organisms, one current idea is to mix many different types of beneficial bacteria together to enhance their overall benefits to the plants even though bacteria don’t always get along.

“My work is looking into how two common, but very different plant beneficial bacteria interact with each other and how those interactions may impact the plant,” said Rosier. “One of the bacteria I work with, rhizobia, are commercially very important. These are bacteria that live symbiotically inside the roots of certain plants like peas and clover that can take the nitrogen from the air and make it so the plant can use the nitrogen as an essential nutrient.”

Rosier said that the other bacteria she works with, Bacillus subtilis, are very common in soil, but they also live on the plant root and can protect the plant from pathogens. She is looking at whether these two bacteria are better at helping the plant when they are together or if they cancel out each other’s plant benefits.

“My research is showing that there are subtle ways that these two bacteria are interacting with each other that might influence how well they function to help the plant. The Bacillus is capable of disrupting the ability of the rhizobia to ‘talk’ to each other. This is important, since the rhizobianeed to communicate to each other in order to start the process of symbiosis with the plant. Considering that the whole point of using these bacteria together is to enhance plant growth, interactions such as those I have found could have an impact on developing better plant beneficial products,” said Rosier.

As an undergraduate studying for her degree in microbiology, Rosier said she was “fascinated by the concept that these incredible small organisms can have such a profoundly large and positive influence on the environment. We are surrounded by a greater number of helpful and beneficial bacteria than by those that may cause harm. If there is any one message, I’d like to emphasize is that microbes are awesome, not bad.”

Rosier said she would love to continue to pursue research either academically or in an industry position that combines the areas of microbiology and plant health or environmental restoration.

In addition to Bais, Rosier also wanted to thank Janine Sherrier, interim chair in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, for supporting her work and being a cheerleader along the way.

With regards to her favorite memories from UD, Rosier said that it is the little things that have made her experience memorable.

“My colleagues and fellow students in the department, those moments of achievement when an experiment works or getting really interesting results, and engaging in intellectual and challenging discussions with my mentors about my research. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have found myself in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and to have had the opportunity to engage in a research project that I really love and care about,” said Rosier.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD assists historic Old Swedes with landscape design, preservation

UD assists historic Old Swedes with landscape design, preservationUniversity of Delaware professors and students are partnering with Old Swedes Foundation in Wilmington to assist in determining the best way to manage storm water runoff, preserve its historical record, artifacts and buildings, and explore ways to transform the National Historic Landmark into a gathering space for the surrounding community.

Students in Anna Wik’s Advanced Landscape Design Course worked this semester to design landscape architecture plans for the site, which dates to the late 17th century.

“One of the primary issues identified for this site was the need for improved storm water management. In the cemetery, there are areas that are washed out, graves that are collapsed because of water, and a lack of vegetation as a result of erosion and aging tree roots. Rebecca Wilson, the executive director of the Old Swedes Foundation, really wanted to get some solutions in place for these issues,” said Wik, assistant professor of landscape design in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC) in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The students’ ideas for addressing these issues and transforming the space were on display at the annual SpringFest event on April 17, celebrating the rich historical heritage of Wilmington’s 7th Street Peninsula, which includes Old Swedes Historic Site, Fort Christina Park, the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard and the Copeland Maritime Center. Students set up posters of their work and collected surveys to find out what people in the neighborhood, parishioners and others at the event were looking for in the space.

With that feedback, the students selected a specific area they wanted to focus on for their final project and came up with more detailed plans for that area, which were displayed on Tuesday, May 24, at a public presentation held at the Old Swedes Historic Site.

Student solutions

Hunter Perry, a senior majoring in landscape horticulture and design, said the class visited sites around Wilmington to get a sense of the different issues affecting the urban environment. Understanding the challenges and opportunities present in Wilmington helped the students come up with new ideas for the Old Swedes site.

His poster showed plantings right against the church and large beds of ground cover, such as perennial flowers and annual plantings, that would look attractive as well as manage storm water.

“Right now, storm water is just running along the existing surface, and there’s not much to catch it. I used a number of planting barriers that will allow water to infiltrate and potentially alleviate some of the issues caused by the run off. These plantings could put the water to use and cut down on a significant number of the problems,” said Perry.

Perry said that a great learning experience with the project was being realistic in his plans.

“The foundation has a budget, and obviously isn’t going to be able to put in Belgian block pathways that are a half million dollars. They also don’t want to remove all of the existing trees; many of them are attractive and have historical interest, so I elected to keep all the trees and do minimal site impact,” said Perry.

Another portion of the project was the assessment of existing trees and creation of a conceptual tree succession plan. Tara Trammell, the John Bartram Assistant Professor of Urban Forestry in the plant and soil sciences department, helped the landscape design students measure and record data about the existing trees and gave them tips on preparing a succession plan.

UD assists historic Old Swedes with landscape design, preservationOlivia Kirkpatrick, a sophomore majoring in landscape horticulture and design, said the class researched the history of the site and let that inform what they were doing as they came up with their conceptual designs.

Kirkpatrick said she believes the biggest issue facing the site, other than the physical issues with runoff, is improving its ability to serve the surrounding community.

In my design, one of the things I added was a larger entryway so that when people are looking in, it seems more inviting,” said Kirkpatrick, who enjoyed the semester long focus of the project because it allowed her and her classmates time to explore a topic that interested them.

“You’ll always find something that interests you and you want to pursue it, but with a lot of shorter term projects, you don’t have that opportunity. With this, we started broad and then we were zeroing in. Having the whole semester to do that research to focus on is just incredible,” said Kirkpatrick.

Old Swedes Foundation

Wilson, executive director of the Old Swedes Historic Site and Foundation, said that the foundation was thrilled to be able to partner with UD on the project.

“They have some wonderful designs. I wish we could afford to do everything that they’re all saying but we’ll at least start with the things that we have to have for the water issues, and they’re coming up with some really good ideas. I’ve always enjoyed working with students and I like the relationship that I have with the University of Delaware. It helps them but it helps me too,” said Wilson.

Wilson said that there is the possibility to incorporate bits and pieces of the students’ ideas and was pleased with the designs to improve the amphitheater.

“It’s not being utilized as much as we would like but we’re planning to do more with it. The city offers some concerts there in the summer. We’d like to do a whole outdoor concert series in the fall with different musicians for the community and we also have a labyrinth out there, so a lot of people come and walk that,” said Wilson.

Project origins

The project came about when Wik met with Lu Ann De Cunzo, chair and professor in the Department of Anthropology, at a 2015 Summer Faculty Institute session where faculty members from diverse backgrounds were paired to come up with projects that would incorporate their work.

De Cunzo had worked in the spring of 2015 at the Old Swedes site doing an archaeological investigation for the group.

“When the church realized they were having serious drainage problems, they decided they would probably have to install an underground drainage system right outside the foundation of the church but they didn’t know if there were any archaeological remains from earlier in the history of the church, or if there were burials that went right up to the church walls, so we decided to do a course here,” said De Cunzo.

With the 15 students in her Introduction to Archaeological Field Methods class, De Cunzo tested four locations around the church where they were having problems with water penetration. When they did a ground penetrating radar survey to try to see below the bricks, there were several places that showed graves going right up to the walls of the church.

UD assists historic Old Swedes with landscape design, preservation“We tested one area where it showed graves and one area where it didn’t, and we found graveshafts in both locations,” said De Cunzo, who added that they were careful to stop excavation before reaching any human remains. They wanted to give the foundation information that would help them plan to preserve the church but also preserve the landscape and the burial ground.

“Based on the information we found, Anna’s class is trying to provide some design solutions that would not further damage the archaeological record or the cultural landscape of the burial ground, so it’s looking at the whole property as an artifact and not just the building itself,” said De Cunzo.

Ana Ambriz, a junior double majoring in Latin American studies and anthropology, worked on the project with De Cunzo and said that during the dig, they uncovered artifacts from the Lenape Native Americans.

“We thought since it’s a Swedish settlement, we were going to find Swedish artifacts. Turns out, we didn’t just find Swedish artifacts, we actually found a lot of Lenape artifacts in addition to pipe stems and tea cups,” said Ambriz.

Using characteristics and category technique checkpoints, the earliest artifact that they found could date back to 12,000 B.C., a fact that Ambriz thought was particularly interesting.

“I remember the best part was coming home and being like, ‘I found this artifact that’s from 12,000 B.C.’ It was awesome,” said Ambriz.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan and Sarah Morales

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Chambers, Flynn, Whalen recognized for service to people of Delaware

Presentation of the Ratledge Family Award for Public Service  SHOWN - Michelle Rogers, Assoc. Dean, Cooperative Extension Service (L) with award recipient Joanne WhalenThe Ratledge Family Award for Delaware Public Service has been presented to three members of the University of Delaware community – Darryl Chambers, James Flynn and Joanne Whalen – for their contributions to the well-being of the people of the state.

The recipients were honored during a ceremony April 28 at Marriott’s Courtyard Newark-University of Delaware campus hotel.

Joanne Whalen

Whalen joined the University in 1979 as an associate in Cooperative Extension’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program. She became the Extension IPM coordinator and Extension entomologist for agriculture in 1983.

Whalen, who received her master’s degree in entomology and wildlife ecology from UD in 1983, has served on statewide, regional and national committees. She is a current member and past chair of the Northeast Region’s Technical Committee on Integrated Pest Management, responsible for improving communication and cooperation throughout the region.

As a past member of the International Certified Crop Adviser Exam Committee and current Mid-Atlantic Certified Crop Adviser Board member, she has worked to establish base standards of knowledge and continuing education for individuals who advise growers on crop and pest management practices.

As the Extension IPM coordinator, she focuses on developing and delivering recommendations that have both economic and environmental benefits. She conducts research and extension programs that educate agricultural clientele on a range of practices including the use of cover crops, reduced tillage, conservation biological control, trap cropping, insecticide resistance management and the proper use of insecticides to manage insect pests in crops.

She was recognized by Michelle Rodgers, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of Cooperative Extension.

George Watson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, presented welcoming remarks, and Mark Rieger, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, closed the program. Dan Rich, University Professor of Public Policy, presented a talk on the value of community engagement.

About the Ratledge Family Award

The Ratledge family, Delawareans who can trace their roots back to the 1700s, established the award to encourage and recognize significant public service contributions with at least one award of $1,000 made each year.

Recipients of the award must be members of the UD community. Professional staff, faculty and students are eligible.

Preference is given to members of the School of Public Policy and Administration and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The award is presented to those who exemplify excellence in public service to citizens in the state, and those contributions are defined to include both paid and volunteer work.

Photos by Duane Perry

To read more about the other award recipients, check out the full article on UDaily.

UD, USDA researchers study natural enemies of tree-killing emerald ash borer

UD, USDA researchers study natural enemies of tree-killing emerald ash borerWith the emerald ash borer beetle devastating ash tree populations throughout the United States — from locations as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Louisiana — solutions to help fight the insect are critical.

Thanks in part to research from the University of Delaware and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a host-specific parasitic wasp so new and obscure that it doesn’t even have a common name — known only by its scientific name Spathius galinae — has been approved for release to help control the invasive beetle.

Some of those research findings were recently released in the May edition of the journal Biological Controland looked at the environmental parameters, specifically the temperatures, under which this parasitoid worked best.

Timothy Watt, who received his master’s degree from UD in 2014 and who also worked at the USDA Beneficial Insects Lab on campus starting in 2011, was the lead author on the paper and worked with Jian Duan, a research entomologist and lead scientist with the USDA ARS Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit, and Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, both of whom co-advised Watt during his time as a graduate student at UD from 2012-14.

Watt said that this latest paper was the third chapter of his thesis, with one paper outlining research they conducted looking at the factors of emerald ash borer host size to determine the best quality larval size and age for rearing Spathius galinae and the other looking at factors encountered when rearing any insect natural enemy — predator or parasitoid — such as host density and parasitoid density.

This latest paper looked at the effects of temperature on the parasitoid’s development in reproductive biology.

“You’ve got to know the biology but then you also have to know the environmental factors and for this one, we just focused on temperature because you can start to get into all sorts of other studies and data analysis when you add other variables,” said Watt.

Optimal temperature

Watt said that temperature is an integral piece of the puzzle for understanding insects in general.

“Insects in general are ectothermic — they’re basically controlled by temperature. Their physiology and metabolism are strongly influenced by ambient temperature, almost like they’re programmed in a way,” said Watt.

Duan said that knowing which temperature works best for Spathius galinae is critical to developing a rearing program as well as a strategy with regard to where to release the parasitoids.

The researchers tested five different temperatures – 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 degrees Celsius – and from those temperatures, they found that 25 degrees was the most optimal temperature as it would minimize the wasp’s immature development time and maximize female reproductive output.

Host specific parasitoid

The researchers also spent a great deal of time making sure that the parasitic wasp was host specific to emerald ash borer and wouldn’t impact any other similar species.

UD, USDA researchers study natural enemies of tree-killing emerald ash borer“There’s a lot of behavior and ecological mechanisms to prevent this wasp from attacking other insects,” said Duan. “Prior to the regulatory approval, we conducted extensive host specificity testing against 14 different non-target beetle species in the quarantine laboratory. Only one of the 14 non-target beetles was impacted, and that was the gold spotted oak borer, which itself is a serious invasive pest of oak trees in California. But that’s under laboratory conditions. In general, this is one of the most host specific wasp species of emerald ash borer natural enemies.”

They are also aware that the name “wasp” might conjure images of stinging insects being released upon an unsuspecting population and made it clear that these wasps are different than a typical wasp.

“These wasps do not sting human beings. They don’t even sting ‘naked’ emerald ash borer larvae dissected out of the bark,” said Duan. “They simply lay eggs on it.”

Tallamy added, “People worry because it’s a wasp; they wonder ‘will it sting my kids?’ They’re picturing bigger wasps. These are tiny. Nobody would look at them and recognize them as a wasp. They’d think it’s a little gnat or something. They will never sting you. They couldn’t sting you.”

Watt said that it can take up to four or five years of research conducting non-target testing before a biological control measure is even considered for release.

“A lot of our work focuses on non-target testing, looking to see if the parasitoid might seek out other insects that live in the same habitats or are taxonomically related to the target pest. There is a very rigorous testing model in place to make sure that these organisms aren’t all of a sudden going to go attack another insect that’s out there once we release them into the wild,” said Watt.

Bark vibrations

As for how the parasitic wasps find and prey upon the emerald ash borer, Duan explained that the wasp is a larval parasitoid, attacking primarily medium to large emerald ash borer larvae.

When emerald ash borer feeds under the bark of an ash tree, the parasitoid locates the larvae first by smelling the ash tree — which gives off a different scent when infested— and then by walking on the tree’s trunk and using sensors in their legs to detect the vibrations of the emerald ash borer larvae feeding.

Once a wasp feels larval vibrations it uses its ovipositor which is normally 3-5 millimeters long to drill through the bark and lay eggs — normally a clutch with 9-15 eggs — on the surface of the emerald ash borer larvae. Once the parasitic wasp larvae hatch, they begin to feed on and suck the juices out of the emerald ash borer larvae.

Now that the studies have been complete, the Spathius galinae has been approved for release and is currently being reared in the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) lab in Michigan.

“Because we have done all these studies, we have developed an effective rearing program and USDA APHIS approved it for release in the United States as of May 2015. The parasitoid colony has been transferred to USDA-APHIS lab in Brighton, Michigan, where APHIS has a mass rearing facility for all emerald ash borer parasitoids including this one. The plan is, they’re going to produce tens of thousands of these parasitoids and send them to northeastern states to release,” said Duan.

As for the collaboration between the USDA and UD, Duan said that it is a really beneficial partnership for everyone involved.

“I currently have four UD students working on my projects and they get hands-on experiences that they won’t get in the classroom,” said Duan.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Juan Castellanos and Jian Duan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Entomology Club hosts Insect Carnival Extravaganza at Blue Hen Fandemonium

Entomology Club hosts Insect Carnival Extravaganza at Blue Hen FandemoniumThe Entomology Club at the University of Delaware set up an Insect Carnival Extravaganza on Saturday, May 7, as part of UD Athletics’ Fandemonium event.

The five-table exhibit catered to the Future Hens Club, which is open to children ages 12 and younger, though the club members interacted with the general public as well in an effort to raise awareness on the importance of insects.

The exhibit included an insect zoo, a variety of live arthropods such as tarantulas and cockroaches, and the club handed out milkweed seeds and milkweed plants to help promote monarch butterfly conservation.

Zach Schumm, a senior double majoring in entomology and wildlife conservation and the president of the entomology club, said the group also sold milkweed seeds and plants at Ag Day and used those that were remaining at Fandemonium.

“It’s one of those things that people don’t really promote because they think of milkweed as just a weed that you need to pull and get rid of but it’s the only food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars, so we try to promote it as much as we can,” said Schumm, who added that it was great to be able to connect with an audience that might not otherwise be in an ecological mindset.

“The parents were there, and they have gardens at their homes, so we let them know that this is what we would think of as a weed but it’s really important for insects. Not all the pretty flowers we buy at the store are native and beneficial to us. I think the educational aspect of this really clicked with a lot of people,” said Schumm.

Cassandra Ference, a senior double majoring in entomology and wildlife conservation with a minor in statistical data analytics, is the outreach coordinator for the Entomology Club and helped organize the exhibit. She said the group doesn’t want people to be repelled by insects but to see their integral and important role in providing ecosystem services.

“Insects break down material, like carcasses and leaves, and they’re detritivores, which means that they break down dead material, and basically they work on nutrient cycling for trees and other plants,” said Ference. “They’re food for lots of other animals and birds in our world. They’re also indicators of good water quality. Mayflies, for example, have certain tolerances that they can only survive in good water, essentially.”

Ference also pointed out that pollination services are provided by a wide array of insects.

“That’s probably one of the most important services. That and nutrient cycling are some of the most important ones,” Ference said. “People think bees are the only pollinators but that’s not true. Beetles pollinate, flies pollinate – there are lot of different insects that pollinate.”

Schumm said he thinks connecting research and science with the public is a mission that can have lasting impacts and tangible results.

“I think there’s this gap between people doing research and the public. We can keep publishing all these papers, and that is really important and we’re getting a lot done, but we need to get the public informed and on board, as they can play a huge role in the effectiveness of programs implemented from what we learn from research,” said Schumm.

Youth engagement

The majority of the exhibit was geared toward children, and Ference said that the club has worked with area schools in the past.

“We do outreach with schools and a lot of times the schools will call us. I’ve done a few programs where we go out and do a presentation on what an entomologist is, why bugs are important, what an insect is,” said Ference.

Schumm said he thinks it is important to get kids exposed to insects and their importance at an early age.

“I think teaching youth is one of the more important things because kids are really interested in insects and the environment but they don’t get much exposure to it depending on what school system they’re in. Reaching out to the youth and starting with the youth is really important and I enjoy doing it,” said Schumm.

Entomological interests

As to how she got involved in entomology, Ference said she wasn’t into insects until she got to UD and took a class with Deborah Delaney, assistant professor of entomology in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

“When I started here, I was a wildlife conservation major and I was dreading taking this Elements of Entomology class because I didn’t like bugs, but that class changed everything for me. I immediately added on the entomology major and started doing research with Dr. Delaney. She changed everything for me. I am such a big advocate of insects now,” said Ference.

With graduation right around the corner, Schumm said he plans to work at the United States Department of Agriculture Beneficial Insects Introductory Laboratory located on the Newark Farm. There he will study brown marmorated stink bugs.

He also plans to work more with his company, SchumBug, which provides displays of insects and artwork at birthday parties and at local universities and science centers.

“It’s been tough to keep SchumBug going while I’m in school so, hopefully, after graduation I’m going to spend some time and actually try to see what I can do with it. I really enjoy the teaching aspects of everything, so it’s fun to do,” said Schumm.

For more information on the Entomology Club, visit the club’s website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Kevin Quinlan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Winners of the 2016 Study Abroad Photo and Video Contest announced

Tyler Lavender wins the 2016 Study Abroad Photo and Video ContestDuring the 2015-16 Academic Year, approximately 1,600 students engaged in education abroad opportunities courtesy of the University of Delaware.

Together, they collectively took in the world’s most breathtaking landscapes and architecture, were exposed to the cultures of more than 35 countries, and got to know the people that call each of these locations “home.” They returned to UD – after just a semester or session away – as citizens of the world.

The Institute for Global Studies annually invites each of these students to share their experiences with the UD community and with the world in a Study Abroad Photo and Video Contest.

Participants were encouraged to submit photos in three categories: Landscape, Portraiture, and Impactful Moments. The latter category asked students to dig deep to uncover photos that truly represented their most life-changing and transformational moments abroad.

In addition, students could “Dare to Take Us There” in 60 seconds or less with a short video compilation of their program.

A total of 130 students submitted in excess of 300 photos and videos chronicling life in their host countries. Eleven were chosen as winners of this year’s contest.

This year, 60,000-plus followers of the University of Delaware on Facebook were invited to serve as judges. Voting took place over a three-week period on UD’s Facebook page, where voters were asked to like, love, or react to their favorite entries.

Contest winners were recently honored at the Institute for Global Studies’ “Best of UD Global” celebration alongside Crista Johnson, the 2016 Faculty Director of the Year, the 2016 UD Fulbright Award winners, and the Delaware Diplomats.

Tyler Lavender, a junior pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major, was awarded the overall prize of the photo contest with “Open Wide,” a close-up shot of a New Zealand seal waking up along the rocks on the shores of Kaikoura.

Lavender participated in the 2016 Winter Session Animal and Food Sciences Program to New Zealand led by Lesa Griffiths, T.A. Baker Professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Susan Truehart Garey, UD Cooperative Extension agent and state 4-H Animal Science Program coordinator. The study abroad program sought to explore the diverse and efficient agricultural industry of the country, and to address current challenges in the system.

“As a pre-veterinary medicine and animal bioscience major, a lot of the focus in class goes toward animal agriculture and animal health. We participate in active learning on the farm here on campus, and it’s been great getting to learn hands on,” said Lavender. “When provided the opportunity to go abroad and learn about international animal agriculture, I was excited to expand upon what I’d been learning in class to a global level. In New Zealand we learned first person, out on farms and talking to local professionals; I came away from it with an entirely new take on how agriculture works… This has already helped me in my classes this past semester and has given me new things to consider as I work toward becoming a veterinarian.”

Other winners of the contest included Kyle Weinberg, Brian Griffiths, David Litz, Matthew Kantner, Cailin Murphy, Charlotte Vincent, Tyler Roberts, Laura Woodward, Grace Hassler, and Emily Mozal, who ventured to locations including New Zealand, Italy, Fiji, Turkey, Tanzania, France, and Dominica.

Mozal, a junior communication major and UD Social Media Ambassador, won the top prize in the video category for her re-creation of the 2016 Winter Session Geography and Environmental Sciences Program led by Peter Rees, professor emeritus, and Lusiana Browning.

“We learned so much and met so many more people then this 59-second video can hold,” she said. “It was the most amazing program of my lifetime.”

To view this video and all of the winning photos in the 2016 Study Abroad Photo and Video Contest, visit the Institute for Global Studies website.

Follow along as IGS shares the story of study abroad and UD Global on Twitter and Instagram. Engage using the hashtag #UDAbroad.

Students who will travel abroad beginning this summer session through spring 2017 are invited to submit their photos and videos in the 2017 Study Abroad Photo and Video Contest. For full details will be added to the Institute for Global Studies website and communicated via email in early fall 2016.

About the Institute for Global Studies

The Institute for Global Studies was created in 2009 to enhance the international dimensions of teaching, research and outreach at the University of Delaware. IGS provides leadership and support for programs and experiences that contribute to the education of informed, skilled, open-minded citizens of the world.

Best known for coordinating the University’s study abroad program, IGS also awards scholarships and grants to faculty and students for a number of global opportunities, and administers internationally-recognized State Department-sponsored programs such as the UD Fulbright InitiativeMiddle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Student Leaders Institute, Mandela Washington Fellowship Program for Young African Leaders, and most recently the Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders on Women’s Leadership (SUSI-WL) program.

IGS sponsors such signature events as Global Month each fall and country-specific celebrations each spring.

IGS collaborates with other global partners on campus, including the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Confucius Institute and the Center for Global and Area Studies. In addition, IGS partners with Enrollment Management to coordinate the UD World Scholars Program.

Article by Nikki Laws

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UD professors look at water reuse for irrigation and consumer response

UD professors look at water reuse for irrigation and consumer responseTwo University of Delaware professors in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Kali Kniel and Kent Messer, are members of a multidisciplinary team that is dedicating itself to developing innovative, safe and sustainable ways to irrigate food crops in variable climates.

The CONSERVE team is led by Amy R. Sapkota of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, and received a $10 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), awarded over a four-year period, to support the CONSERVE Center of Excellence.

CONSERVE (for COordinating Nontraditional Sustainable watER Use in Variable ClimatEs) includes bioscientists, engineers, economists, social-behavioral scientists, law and policy experts, agricultural extension specialists, educational media developers, computer scientists, and public health experts.

CONSERVE team members from the University of Maryland College Park, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the University of Delaware, the University of Arizona and the USDA Agricultural Research Service will lead the study, determining the microbial, physical and chemical constituents of reused water to understand what is required to make the water acceptable and safe for irrigation.

The CONSERVE Center of Excellence links experts from the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest to identify the best nontraditional water sources and new water treatment technologies that farmers can safely use on food crops without compromising public health.

The center’s focus will be on developing water reuse solutions to safely irrigate vegetable and fruit crops that are generally consumed raw, which therefore require the highest quality, contaminant-free water during the irrigation process.

Irrigation water

Kniel’s role in the project will focus on looking at the safety of non-traditional water sources for irrigation.

“We hope to better define what is the right water and what makes water useable for irrigation so that growers don’t have to rely on groundwater for safe irrigation water,” said Kniel, professor of animal and food sciences.

Working with a team that includes Gordon Johnson, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, Pei Chiu, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Manan Sharma, a research microbiologist affiliated with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Kniel will look at brackish river and stream water in Delaware that growers in the state are interested in using, although these sources may not necessarily comply to the microbial water quality standards that will now be required through the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Kniel said this research will look to define and create a resource for the nation in terms of what is good microbiological quality.

“We will also be able to use technologies to better utilize water that’s there, surface water, to improve the use and improve the yield of the water that’s available using either ozone or zerovalent iron filtration,” said Kniel.

Chiu has been working on zerovalent filtration for quite some time and Kniel said that it has a lot of promise in the use of irrigation technology.

A zerovalent filtration system is a sand filter in which some of the sand is replaced with zerovalent iron (ZVI), a waste product of metal manufacturing. As water flows over the ZVI, its surface is oxidized and it can adsorb microorganisms, like viruses and bacteria.

“We’ve had great success showing removal of pathogenic bacteria and viruses from water using ZVI but it can also remove chemicals from water, so we think it will be a great tool for use with the CONSERVE project,” said Kniel.

The research will have the potential to assist in areas that have tight regulations on what water can be used for irrigation but have been stricken with drought.

“California already has very specific rules where they can’t use surface water because of the risk of microbiological contamination to the crops. Growers on the East Coast do use surface water but now we’re hoping to make it safer,” said Kniel, who added that surface water tends to be clean microbiologically except for after rain events or if animals are around.

The project will also have an education component with an open education resource being developed to house information for the public and consumers.

“We’ll have K-12 information, information for secondary education and information for college students and college professors. There will be a variety of instructional content, including videos and animations, graphics, virtual labs, traveling labs. At the end it’s going to all be wrapped up into an e-book that people can read and take with them,” said Kniel.

Adrienne Shearer, research associate in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, is a large part of this project along with New Mexico State University’s Media Productions and Learning Games Lab.

The team has plans to use a Creative Commons license and have flexible curriculum materials in order to market the materials to educators. Matthieu Plourde and Paul Hyde, from Academic Technology Services at UD, are providing their expertise to this part of the project.

“We will hold teachers’ workshops to train and provide all this information in hopes of spreading the word to change behavior and thinking about agricultural water sources,” said Kniel.

Understanding the consumer

Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics and director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics, said he is excited to work on the project because it is at the nexus of agriculture and the environment.

“If we look at the next generation of food production, we need to understand where we can get the irrigation water from and how we do that in a sustainable way since food production inevitably involves water,” he said. “If we can find non-traditional ways — either through re-use water or brackish water — and do it in a safe way, that has a real opportunity to benefit consumers, farmers and the environment.”

Increasingly, Messer said it has become apparent that science and technology can be brought into agriculture but if in the end the consumer is uncomfortable, that can stop a project entirely, no matter how promising it may be.

“Early in the development stages, one needs to understand consumers and their likely response to these new technologies. That is where UD’s Center for Experimental and Applied Economics comes in,” said Messer. “We study consumer behavior. We especially focus on circumstances where the best available science says a product is safe, but consumers remain wary.”

Messer notes that “to a certain extent, being wary of something new makes a great deal of sense from an evolutionary perspective. However, as we look towards new ways to sustainable use water for food production this aversion to new processes could be a significant obstacle.”

Messer said it is hard to forecast what the consumer response will be to non-traditional sources of water for irrigation and his team will work with Cooperative Extension to evaluate how best they can communicate the results of food safety tests on this food.

“Some food produced with some water sources might raise concerns amongst some consumers. For example, reused water that’s been part of the sewer system at one point — even if it’s clean now – can raise a sense of disgust in consumers. Thus, we want to understand to what degree will consumers get concerned about recycled water being used in their food production? Does the response vary by the type of water or the type of product? For some products, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, we may need to ensure that the water is both physically and psychologically clean before consumers will accept this food,” said Messer.

As damaging droughts occur, such as the current one in California, people may become more sensitive to their foods’ “water footprint” and begin seeking out food that uses less fresh water. In fact, in California there have been “water shaming” efforts to encourage people to avoid eating high water foods, such as almonds. Messer is interested to see if there is an opportunity to market products to alleviate these concerns about excessive water use.

Recently, at UD’s Ag Day, Messer and his team evaluated whether consumers would actually pay more for food produced with recycled water. They evaluated the consumer response to strawberries, blueberries, spinach, and broccoli produced with and without recycled water.

“Through the CONSERVE project, we have the opportunity to say, ‘Here’s some water friendly products. Would you be willing to pay more for them?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ then this might be a win for the consumers, the farmers, and the environment,” said Messer.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Pippidis recognized for work on Smart Choice Health Insurance program

UD's Pippidis recognized for work on Smart Choice Health Insurance programUniversity of Delaware Cooperative Extension educator Maria Pippidis was part of a team that has been presented the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Jeanne M. Priester Award for outstanding contributions to the Cooperative Extension System and the public in the area of health and wellness.

The team, made up of Cooperative Extension personnel from UD and the University of Maryland, was given the award at the National Health Outreach Conference and recognized for its work spreading the word about the Smart Choice Health Insurance program, which helps consumers make informed choices concerning health care insurance needs.

Pippidis, New Castle County director and Extension educator for family and consumer sciences, said she was pleasantly surprised to hear that the team had received the award.

“I didn’t know that an award nomination had gone in and so I’m very pleased for our Health Insurance Literacy team,” said Pippidis.

Since 2013, the team has developed and pilot tested curriculum, amended the curriculum as needed and offered trainings to other extension educators in 32 states across the country on how to use the Smart Choice Health Insurance program in their states.

“When we trained and certified educators from across the country to use the curriculum, they were also collecting the evaluation data and turning it in. This really helped to show that the curriculum was effective. The Priester Award recognized these individuals as well,” said Pippidis.

With the help of those educators across the country, Pippidis said they were able to get enough information from 1,600 participants to do a statistical analysis on the effectiveness of the program. An evaluation specialist in Maryland used the data to analyze the numbers and showed that the program was having an impact on participants.

“We can honestly say that almost every participant who participated in the program increased their knowledge, skills and confidence in making a health insurance decision or choice and increased their confidence around understanding health insurance terms,” said Pippidis.

Pippidis said the team encounters people who enter the program knowing they are confused and then also encounter individuals who think they are informed about insurance literacy only to find out their understanding of certain insurance terms is different than the reality.

“The term co-insurance is a good example. I don’t know how many people told me that they thought this term meant both themselves and their spouse were covered by the insurance plan as opposed to it relating to a cost term describing a percentage of the allowable amount that they’re responsible for. It’s a huge difference in understanding,” said Pippidis.

Other difficulties encountered include things like the differences between the types of plans and how to calculate costs.

“What we’re trying to teach is consumer decision-making and what are the best processes and strategies to do that. In addition, we are providing resources, ideas for next steps to find out more about the market place, or questions you can ask your employer about your options,” said Pippidis.

The curriculum has been delivered both in person and through the use of distance technology. Additional programs are also being developed for the program.

“The first program was called Smart Choice and this focused on how to make a choice around health insurance programs and health insurance options. What we’re working on now is Smart Use – how do you use your insurance effectively?” said Pippidis.

Pippidis said that throughout the whole project, the leadership at both UD, with Michelle Rodgers, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of UD Cooperative Extension, and at Maryland, with Bonnie Braun and Teresa McCoy and their administrative team, has been outstanding.

The leadership has supplied financial and personnel resources so that the team can function well and the curriculum can have a foundation in research and literature, and they have helped to promote the importance of Extension in addressing health and health insurance literacy nationwide through the Extension system.

“We know if people don’t have insurance or can’t afford insurance, then they’re not going to access care. Potentially, their physical and mental well-being will diminish, which means that they won’t be able to work or go to school, which in turn means that they won’t be able to earn which means they won’t be able to get insurance,” Pippidis said. “There’s this circular connection between health and financial wellbeing that is really important to address. Our goal is to help people afford insurance by picking the right insurance and using it wisely so they can go to work and go to school.”

Other team members from the Maryland include Lynn Little and Bonnie Braun, co-leaders, University of Maryland, Extension; Mia Russell, Extension educator; Virginia Brown, Extension educator; Patsy Ezell, assistant director for family consumer sciences; and Teresa McCoy, assistant director for assessment and evaluation, University of Maryland Extension.

Article by Adam Thomas

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Vita Nova partners with UDBG, Longwood Graduate Program for centerpiece plant materials

Vita Nova partners with UDBG, Longwood Graduate Program for centerpiece plant materialsEvery Monday morning during the spring and fall semesters, students in the Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture gather plant materials at the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) and transport their harvest to Vita Nova, the fine dining student operated restaurant on campus, where the materials are arranged and placed in vases to serve as centerpieces for the tables at the student-operated restaurant.

Frances Jackson, one of the current Longwood Graduate Fellows, said that going out and picking the flowers is a fantastic way to start the week.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to give yourself time to walk around the garden, and there’s worse things to do than go out and pick flowers,” Jackson said. “It’s a lovely garden and it’s a really useful resource. It’s great to be out there even if it’s just picking flowers and looking for plant materials. It’s a great sort of breathing space.”

Brian Trader, the interim director of the Longwood Graduate Program, housed in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the partnership allows students a chance to get outside and be involved with experiential learning.

“Most of the Longwood Graduate Program is experiential learning. The students learn by doing, but a lot of it is inside and a lot of it is around a conference table and everyone on their laptops, so I think it’s very refreshing for the fellows to go out and be immersed in the garden,” Trader said, adding, “It’s very easy to take for granted that we have these beautiful grounds right outside the walls of Townsend Hall. The gardens are a great resource for the University.”

Seamless partnership

Having beautiful, locally grown flowers is all part of teaching the students at Vita Nova the art of providing an experience for the guests at the restaurant, which is located on the second floor of UD’s Trabant University Center.

“Fine dining and beautiful flowers go together, so we get a lot of use out of the flowers,” said Venka Pyle, manager of Vita Nova. “In a restaurant, creating a good ambiance for our guests for conversation is vital. I think it’s part of teaching our students about what it takes to pamper our guests and give great service.”

Sheryl Kline, chair of the Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management(HRIM) in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, said the collaboration was one of the first undertaken by Vita Nova and that it helps the students to appreciate all aspects of the restaurant industry.

“You don’t just learn about operating a restaurant and it is a complex business. In restaurants, you have flowers, you have centerpieces, you need to work with florists, you need to understand seasonality of what’s available and how to compliment the food and decor,” said Kline. “And we do that with our collaboration with the Longwood Graduate Program and UDBG. It is a wonderful learning experience for students in both programs.”

Trader said that the collaboration is “a seamless partnership. It runs and it runs very well. It gets the program and the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences a little bit of recognition, and the restaurant benefits from having beautiful flowers and beautiful arrangements on the table. It clicks.”

Endless supply

John Frett, professor of landscape horticulture in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC) and director of the UDBG, said that the Longwood Graduate Program students are always able to find something to provide for the centerpieces, no matter the season.

“There’s enough material in the botanic gardens that there’s always something, whether it’s foliage or stem color or fruit or flowers or seeds,” said Frett.

In return for providing plant materials for the centerpieces, informational brochures about UDBG are available at the restaurant, as is a sign thanking UDBG and the Longwood students for the flowers.

Robert Lyons, UDBG board president and former director of the Longwood Graduate Program, was initially contacted by Vita Nova to start the collaboration and said that he “looked at it as a great service project and an opportunity for our students to be good citizens of the college and the University. We had different students doing it every week and we have 10 students in the program, so that’s 10 weeks — that’s almost the whole semester covered. I told the students, ‘Go select what you like.’”

Lyons said it was always great to visit the restaurant and for the students to see how the vases were put together.

“I would go up with my students and have lunch and then the staff from the restaurant would come out and they’d welcome us and they’d thank us for doing this, and UDBG was thanked for the materials, so it was this great pat on the back all the way around for this one collaborative effort,” said Lyons.

Sustainability

Getting flowers and plant materials locally from UDBG also helps with Vita Nova’s sustainability goal.

Grace Parker, grad student in the Longwood program, picks flowers from around the Botanic Garden for use in Vita Nova.“There’s a big sustainable push. We want to tie that to other student initiatives and collaborate on research projects and events,” said Pyle.

Lyons said his students took the sustainability goal to heart, with many of them picking the flowers and then taking the bus to deliver them in order to cut back on fuel use.

“Some of my students, after they gathered the cut plant materials, would take the bus or they’d make the delivery on bike,” said Lyons, who noted one student in particular would ride to main campus on his bike with a big bucket of flowers and other plant materials under his arm.

“That’s the ultimate sustainability practice. He’d hand deliver the plants and then ride back to South Campus on his bike. They really got into it,” said Lyons.

Many UD collaborations

Vita Nova has many partnerships and collaborations with organizations throughout UD.

In the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources alone, they work with Mike Popovich, a research associate in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, to get fresh produce grown at UD’s Garden for the Community and UD Fresh to You. They also get Dare to Bee honey from UD’s apiary, and they serve ice cream from the UDairy Creamery.

In addition, they collaborate with students in the College of Arts and Sciences, having students’ art featured as part of an art exhibit in the Vita Nova Bistro Dining Room, as well as students and faculty in the College of Engineering, with engineers showcasing their experiments and using some of those concepts to create dishes, such as food that looked like molecules.

They also partnered with Xiang Gao, UD Trustees Distinguished Professor of Music, and the English Language Institute (ELI) to put together the UD World Kitchen Series.

Kline said that all of these collaborative efforts are “a great way for undergrads, graduate students, faculty and staff to meet people they wouldn’t normally meet. For example, in the UD World Kitchen Series we are using food to break down cultures and build interdisciplinary relationships. The most intimate thing you can do for someone is to prepare a meal, and the idea is that we’re going to prepare a meal and we’re going to sit down and have conversations and break down barriers and build awareness of diverse cultures and perspectives.

“Again, it’s part of the diversity and interdisciplinary goals that we have in the department. We want to expose our students to different people and different cultures,” said Kline.

Pyle added, “Our customers love the fact that we have so many UD things, that we’re local, we’re UD, we’re young and vibrant, and I would love to do more.”

DIY bouquet

For details on creating a colorful bouquet, see the Pinterest site.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan and Ashley Barnas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Wildlife Society members get hands-on experience at Northeast Student Conclave

wildlife75Members of the Wildlife Society Club at the University of Delaware traveled to Camp Blue Diamond in Petersburg, Pennsylvania, last month to take part in the Wildlife Society’s Northeast Student Conclave hosted by Juniata College.

The conclave provided UD participants opportunities for hands-on experiences and networking with fellow wildlife students and professionals, and they said they learned valuable skills that will help as they embark on their future career paths.

Those who participated in the event from UD include Catherine Clark, a senior majoring in wildlife conservation and ecology and treasurer of the Wildlife Society at UD; Melissa Moody, a senior majoring in wildlife conservation and ecology; Emily Slingerland, a senior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR); Aaron Crasnick, a junior majoring in wildlife conservation and ecology; and Lauren Meckler, sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Activities included mammalogy skills and a rocket netting workshops, in which the students learned how to catch a group of birds in order to determine things like sex and age distribution in a population. There was also a trapping techniques course, in which students learned to put ear tags on white footed deer mice, and a mist netting workshop, in which the students caught birds and put bands around their ankles.

There was also a workshop in which a radio tag was applied to a turtle and it was released, with the students having to find it using radio telemetry.

Clark said that the trip was “very hands-on. It gets you exposed to things that you might not be exposed to in the classroom. We got to use handheld GPS devices that you don’t usually get to use in classroom settings and learned a lot of field lab techniques.”

In addition to the hands on-learning, Clark said the conclave also offered great networking opportunities.

“Wildlife conservation is a growing field so I still feel like it’s still pretty small and if they know your face or your name, it gives you those connections in different parts of the United States and not just Delaware,” said Clark.

Since she had gone to the event last year, Clark said that it was great to be able to see familiar faces at the event.

“A lot of people were very recognizable. We hung out with the same people pretty much. It was really easy to get to know other people in your age group in your same field,” Clark said.

As for the learning opportunities afforded to students studying in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at UD, Clark said that Jake Bowman, department chair, provides students great experiences in research techniques and that her ornithology class has been particular beneficial.

“In ornithology, we did a lot of mist netting and catching birds, putting tags on them and learning how to use trackers on birds — things like that, which I feel like you don’t get in just a normal ornithology classroom setting,” said Clark.

The Wildlife Society Club at UD also holds a retreat to allow some of the newer students an opportunity to experience that hands-on learning.

“As a club, we hold a retreat where we ask graduate students and professors to give us little demonstrations on how to do things for younger undergraduates to see, or even if people are thinking about transferring into this program, to give them the opportunity to see what we’re actually about as a wildlife conservation major,” said Clark.

Article by Adam Thomas

UD Blue Hen flock welcomes new faces thanks to alumnus Wesley Towers

The new blue hens that were recently donated to the UD flock.The University of Delaware’s flock of Blue Hens grew by three this year with the addition two males and one female — or two roosters and a hen.

The birds were generously donated by Wesley Towers, a 1964 UD graduate who majored in animal and poultry health during his time at UD and went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and then serve as the Delaware state veterinarian for over 37 years. He is also a former member of the University’s Board of Trustees.

The new Blue Hens join a flock that features descendants of birds that were originally donated by S. Hallock du Pont in the 1960s for teaching and research.

Towers, who has raised Blue Hens since receiving birds that belonged to the late R.R.M. Carpenter Jr. after the death of the late UD benefactor, said that he has decreased the size of his flock over the years.

When Bob Alphin, instructor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and manager of the University’s Charles C. Allen Jr. Biotechnology Laboratory, called Towers and asked if he had any Blue Hens that could be donated to the University, the timing was perfect.

“I had sold all of the young ones except these two roosters and a hen, and I was getting ready to pare things down for the winter when Bob called and asked me if I had any. I said, ‘Yeah, you’re just in time. If you’d have called this time next week, they’d have been gone,’” said Towers.

UD Blue Hens

The Blue Hen flock at UD consists of about 60 birds that live on the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus. The number varies, especially when new chicks hatch.

“The first hatch this year I think we had about 60 or 70 chicks and then we’ll have a second hatch and then they’ll be grown out to a certain age, usually say in the range between 12 and 16 weeks. At that point then Karen Gouge [poultry farm manager] will select the best males and females that will become next year’s flock. Basically, we do our own breeding and produce our own breeders,” said Alphin.

The flock had been genetically closed over the years and Alphin said that was one of the reasons he got in touch with Towers to see if he could introduce any new birds to the flock.

“We’re limited to the genetics that we have within the birds on our farm. Even though we keep a large number of males as well as females to try to get as much diversity as we can, every once in a while, we like to try to find some Blue Hens that have not been part of our flock and we were very fortunate that Dr. Towers was willing to donate these birds,” said Alphin.

Alphin said that the three new birds will be placed in a house with some of the best females from the UD flock so that the eggs that come from the group will all be different from the UD flock and will be hatched out separately.

Paul Sammelwitz, an emeritus faculty member in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences who worked with the flock for 40 years until his retirement in 1999 — and who also happened to teach Towers and Alphin as undergraduates — said that the blue coloration in poultry is heterozygous, meaning that if a Blue Hen female is bred with a Blue Hen male, the results will be 50 percent blue and then 25 percent with a white splash and 25 percent black.

Alphin said that most people are probably familiar with what’s called the “blue phase,” which is a steel blue color.

“The males can have more color in what are called their hackle and cape, which are the more prominent neck feathers and in their saddle feathers — those are long feathers that are present on the sides of the males that are not present in the females,” said Alphin. “The males also have what are called sickle feathers, which makes up the bigger tail that’s on a rooster. If you cross a light pattern with a dark pattern, you end up with 100 percent blue color, or that steel — it’s really a steel blue rather than a robin’s egg blue. I think they’re very beautiful looking birds in this color.”

Blue Hen outreach

In addition to being used for research and teaching, the birds along with other types of chickens raised on the UD Poultry Farm, are also used for outreach. They are featured at events such as Ag Day and are provided to non-profit groups like Ashland Nature Center.

The eggs that the hens produce are given to local schools as part of the Cooperative Extension embryology program.

“The eggs get used throughout the tri-state area. Some of them go to Pennsylvania, some go to Maryland, most go in Delaware,” said Alphin. “The students love to see the different chicks and they love to see Blue Hens. Because some schools were studying the Blue Hen, we’ve supplied them with nothing but Blue Hen eggs.”

Blue Hen origins

While Blue Hens come from English gamecock stock, it is not an officially recognized breed of chicken. It also has multiple origin stories linking it to the First State, one of the most notable being about a group of Revolutionary War soldiers from Kent County under the command of Capt. John Caldwell whose troops amused themselves by staging cockfights with a breed known as the Kent County Blue Hen, recognizable for its blue plumage.

Capt. Caldwell’s company likewise acquired a considerable reputation for fighting prowess in engagements with the British at Long Island, White Plains, Trenton and Princeton, and earned the nickname “Caldwell’s Gamecocks.”

The name “Fightin’ Blue Hens” has been used by University of Delaware athletic teams since 1911. The Blue Hen Chicken was named the official state bird by the Delaware General Assembly in 1939.

Article by Adam Thomas

Video by Ashley Barnas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Researchers look at impact of competing geese, Arctic fox predation on Atlantic brant nests

Researchers look at impact of competing geese, Arctic fox predation on Atlantic brant nestsWhen the University of Delaware’s Chris Williams traveled to Southampton Island in Canada’s north Hudson Bay in the summer of 2015 to study the nesting sites of the Atlantic brant goose, the last thing he and his research group expected to run into was a fellow Mid-Atlantic resident. But as he scoured the scenery one day, he found someone else who made the trip in the form of a red knot.

Red knots are shorebirds that come north through the Delaware Bay on their trip from South America to the Arctic, eating horseshoe crabs to refuel on their trip.

Williams said he was pleased to get a photograph of the bird, which had a leg flag markings J7V that was last re-sighted in 2010 and 2011 around Cape May, New Jersey.

“It was fantastic to run into this little bird that had made the long trip north just like us,” said Williams, associate professor of wildlife ecology who oversees a Waterfowl and Upland Gamebird research program in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Brant in decline

The focus of the research team, which includes UD graduate student Clark Nissley, was on the Atlantic brant goose, a bird whose population has been fluctuating and on a moderate decline for many years, to learn if limitations during the summer breeding season have accelerated that trend.

The brant has a number of factors working against it, beginning with its size. Because the brant is smaller than the other two birds that nest in the area — snow geese and cackling geese — it is at a disadvantage when competing for habitat and food.

Also due to its size disadvantage, the brant arrives at its breeding grounds later than the other geese, which can build up larger fat reserves prior to make the trip north, enabling them to make fewer stops to the Arctic nesting grounds. The smaller brant, on the other hand, must stop more along the way in order to feed and rebuild its fat stores. Because of these delays, the brant arrive about 1-2 weeks after lesser snow geese and cackling geese causing them to miss out on prime nesting real estate.

This prime real estate can help shield the nests from predators, specifically the Arctic fox, and this year the researchers decided to focus extra effort on the foxes to see how much of an impact they have on the nest success.

Arctic fox predation

Arctic foxes are the biggest predators of the goose eggs, though there are a number of other animals that will eat them — such as parasitic jeagers, herring gulls, and polar bears — but the one thing the researchers noticed last year was that the foxes would sometimes be unable to reach a nest if it was located on a small island, just a handful of square meters, that was surrounded by deeper water.

“What we were seeing anecdotally last year was the cackling geese were nesting on islands with deep water around them but when the brant came in late, they couldn’t choose those areas and so they were left nesting on islands that were not as well protected by deeper water. The Arctic foxes could just annihilate them,” said Williams.

This year, the researchers spent more time focusing on foxes to identify the number. They marked them and identified them on nest cameras to get a better idea of the impact of fox predation. They also measured the water depths around all the nests and found that this year, once the water was deeper than 20 centimeters, fox depredation of nests dropped off substantially.

Williams said that this was an interesting year for the researchers as weather conditions caused a late thaw, which made it harder for the birds that arrived earlier — the snow geese and the cackling geese — to nest effectively.

“It was a wickedly cold year up there this year, one of the coldest they’ve seen in a long time, and so it was ice covered. The snow geese arrived first and, in theory, they are trying to time their landing just right in the Arctic when the icy tundra starts to melt. But this year nothing melted, so the snow geese hung around for a little bit but, ultimately, had almost a complete nesting failure,” said Williams.

The cackling geese came in right as the ice was starting to melt but the number of nesting sites was reduced by 38 percent from last year due to the ice coverage.

“For migratory geese, when it comes to migrations, they are most driven by light cycles. Their internal clock is saying, ‘It’s time to leave and get up to the Arctic.’ They are hoping to time their migration just right to take advantage of recently thawed land for nesting and feeding, get through the nesting cycle, and then leave for the south before the weather turns again in the arctic. It is a relatively small window. However, if you arrive too early in the Arctic it can be devastating for physiological health and nesting success. Big geese with extra fat can take this chance. However, I think brant take the exact opposite evolutionary strategy and say, ‘Well, we’re small and it takes us a while to get up there, but we can guarantee that when we do get up there, everything will have melted and there are plants growing, so I’ll have things to eat when I land,’” said Williams.

It’s basically a bet-hedging strategy and Williams said that could explain why the brant numbers show a lot of fluctuation over the last 70 or 80 years.

“I think what is happening is that there are good years and bad years based on weather and now competition is adding an additional complexity to brant success. The cackling goose population has exponentially increased and has inserted itself into the equation – something that was not there 30 years ago when brant populations were much more robust,” said Williams.

Unlucky goose

This year seemed like a perfect opportunity for the brant population to thrive but the only problem was that this fortuitous weather cycle also coincided with a dramatic drop in the lemming population which cycles every 3-4 years and which are the other main food source of the Arctic fox.

“On one hand I would suggest this was going to be a growth year for brant because they came into an environment where there was almost no competition for nest sites and food and so nest production could theoretically be high. However, since there were almost no lemmings for foxes to eat, they had to rely primarily on bird eggs. While geese were hit hard, shorebirds nests were almost completely decimated across the study area,” said Williams.

While the brant did have more nesting success this year than last, Williams said that it was still not likely enough to rebound the low population. “They initiated almost twice as many nests as last year but their nest success was still a paltry 17 percent this year compared to 6 percent last year.  However, given the numerous odds stacked against the brant, it is scary what is in store for their future,” said Williams.

Williams’ research is funded by the Arctic Goose Joint Venture and the Polar Continental Shelf Program, which is a division of Natural Resources Canada.

Nissley has also received scholarships funds to help with the project from California Waterfowl through the Dennis Raveling Scholarship for Waterfowl Research and from Long Point Waterfowl through the Dave Ankney and the Sandi Johnson Waterfowl and Wetlands Graduate Research Scholarship.

Article by Adam Thomas

Video by Jeffrey C. Chase

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD students learn the art of field sketching in Brazil

UD students learn the art of field sketching in BrazilTwelve students from the University of Delaware studied abroad in Brazil in January, exploring the landscapes and sketching the South American scenery.

Led by Sue Barton, associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), students in the Field Sketching of Landscape Subjects class tried their hands at sketching landscapes as diverse as the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro to the lush Amazon region.

The students had 25 different individual sketching assignments due during their time in Brazil, and their final project is on display in the hallway of the plant and soil sciences department in Townsend Hall. For this project students had to create a montage of five different images that had meaning to them from the program.

“It’s wonderful to teach something like field sketching in Brazil in January where we are outside constantly, the subject matter is fascinating, plants have really bold textures and are interesting to sketch, and we go to lots of gardens. There’s really a great opportunity for students to sketch,” said Barton.

Barton said she first learned field sketching by taking a class taught by Jules Bruck, associate professor of landscape design who has led classes on study abroad programs in the past. Barton has taught the class the last two times they have gone to Brazil and said she is interested in teaching the students how sketching can be used as a tool.

“The process causes you to observe what you’re seeing more carefully and learn more about what you’re seeing than if you took a photograph of it or if you walked by it, so it hones observation skills as well as teaching you how to sketch,” said Barton.

Barton said that this year’s final projects, which were done in pen and ink — with one student using pastels and some using water colors — were “just amazing. The students did such a great job. We had two students who were art students so they already had some of these skills but I had a number of students who had never really sketched before. It was a great group of students.”

Interdisciplinary learning

The class was made up of students from various disciplines across UD, with students from plant science, food science, wildlife conservation and wildlife ecology representing CANR. Also part of the class were students majoring in chemistry, engineering and English.

Those students who had art experience helped fellow students who did not have much background in art, which Barton said was great to see.

“One art student in particular was really good at, when we had critiques of student’s work, making positive suggestions – probably suggestions I would not have been able to make,” Barton said. “We all learned from her, which I think is just a wonderful environment, when people are learning from each other. We had two neuroscience students, one girl who was already an amazing sketcher, and one guy who had never sketched before in his life but did a great job. It’s really fun.”

Austin Virdin, a junior majoring in landscape horticulture and design who hopes to one day have a career in landscape architecture designing urban blocks, said that it was beneficial to be able to sketch landscapes, tropical plants and streetscapes that contrast sharply with those in Newark and the United States.

He also said that for someone interested in landscape horticulture as a career, learning to sketch is beneficial because “it allows me to see subjects in greater detail. Whether it be a plant that catches my interest or a unique paving pattern, sketching gives me a greater understanding of the subject that I would not have had by just taking a photograph. These are elements I can then bring into a design by just looking through my sketch book.”

Virdin said he enjoyed visiting the Roberto Burle Marx Landscape Design officeand was excited to hear that some of the people they interacted with at the office will be coming to Townsend Hall on Thursday, May 5, at 7 p.m. to speak about the Burle Marx landscape legacy. The speakers are part of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences’ celebration of the new bachelor of science in landscape architecture degree program, a degree in which Virdin has interest.

Virdin said he was excited that the study abroad opportunity arose, as it gave him a chance to see a region of the world he might otherwise have missed out on.

“I had friends who went to England, different places within Europe, and what drew me to the Brazil trip is that Brazil is not somewhere I would’ve gone just on a whim. It was an experience that I don’t think I would’ve had without doing the study abroad and I want to go back because of it,” said Virdin.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo of students with sketch show by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

In Memoriam: Colleagues remember William Brown, Cooperative Extension poultry agent

William “Bill” Reily Brown III, a Cooperative Extension poultry agent, known as Bill or Bud to his family and friends, died Thursday, April 14, 2016, at his farm. He was 54.

Born May 29, 1961, in Wilmington, Delaware, he was the son of the late William R. Brown Jr. and Mildred Gene Wilgus Brown.

He received his bachelor’s degree in animal science from University of Delaware in 1983.

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of UD Cooperative Extension, said, “I consider Bill a gentle giant. Bill’s passion about his work and the poultry industry was so large and yet he was such a humble man. Bill was a great educator and presenter. He was seen by our stakeholders as a trusted source of information that was based in his practical knowledge and experience from both a producer and a former industry professional. Bill was able to relate to both perspectives so well and, additionally, was such a gentleman that he helped to bring the people together for the common good. Our Extension lives have been touched and enhanced by sharing life’s journey with Bill Brown.”

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean Mark Rieger added, “Bill Brown was one of the most dedicated Extension professionals that I’ve ever met, and I have had the privilege to work with dozens at three different land-grant colleges of agriculture. His research-based program was strengthened considerably by the fact that he operated a family farm of his own and led by example. Bill’s cheerful demeanor and altruism made him a quintessential member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mary Lou and the Browns at this difficult time.”

Mr. Brown was a member of Unity Washington United Methodist Church in Hurlock, past president of Tri-City Little League, past Cub Scout Leader and was a past volunteer with the Boy Scouts.

He was on the Board of Directors of LEAD Maryland, a very active member of Hurlock Lions Club where he served as president for many terms and was the current district zone chairman. Along with the Hurlock Lions Club, Mr. Brown chaired many fundraising events in Dorchester County for schools, civic groups and athletic organizations cooking his famous chicken. He was also a past member of Camden-Wyoming Lions Club. He served in the Delmarva Poultry Industry as a board member and on the Grower, Poultry Health and Environmental Committees. He also was involved with the Emergency Disease Task Force. He was formerly employed as supervisor for Perdue Farms for 20 years.

Mr. Brown is survived by his wife, Mary Lou Parry Brown, whom he married in 1992; a daughter, Ashley Elizabeth Brown; a son, Jacob Edward Brown, all of Hurlock, Maryland; a brother, David Brown and wife Sue of Wyoming, Delaware; a sister, Pam Haddick and husband Rick of Wyoming, Delaware; seven nieces, seven nephews; his mother-in-law, Emily Parry of Centreville, Maryland; two brothers-in-law, Dennis Parry and wife Diane of Goldsboro, Maryland, and Dickie Seltzer of Centreville, Maryland; two sisters-in-law, Jen Seltzer of Church Creek, Karen Colley and husband Kenny of Goldsboro, Maryland, Pam Usilton and husband Steve of Secretary, Maryland.

Funeral services were held on Saturday, April 23.

Memorial donations may be made to Unity Washington United Methodist Church Van Fund, or to Endowment Scholarship Fund. Make checks payable to Unity Washington United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 298, Hurlock, MD 21643.

In addition, contributions can be made to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Delaware in memory of William R. Brown III. Contributions will be used to support a scholarship in his memory. Please send contributions to: University of Delaware, Gifts Processing, 83 East Main St., 3rd Fl., Newark, DE 19716. Make checks payable to ‘University of Delaware’ and include on the memo line “in memory of William R. Brown III.” Gifts can also be made on the University of Delaware’s secure website, www.udel.edu/makeagift (select “Other” and fill in College of Agriculture and Natural Resources “in memory of William R. Brown III”).

UD graduate fulfills lifelong dream to work with dolphins

UD graduate fulfills lifelong dream to work with dolphinsUniversity of Delaware graduate Jenna Billings is putting her psychology and animal science education to good use, helping to get inside the minds of marine mammals at Florida’s Dolphins Plus. There she is learning to train dolphins and inform the public about conservation issues, while also fulfilling her lifelong dream to work with dolphins.

Dolphins Plus is committed to the conservation and protection of marine mammals worldwide and is actively involved in research — constantly trying to learn and discover new things about the species — with extensive education and outreach programs. The organization is located in Key Largo, and has facilities on the Atlantic and on the Gulf of Mexico.

Billings is at the Bayside facility on the Gulf of Mexico, a job she started in February, where she works with 11 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins — two of which are eight months old — and two California sea lions, which have their own trainers.

The interactive facility is open to the public and offers programs such as a structured swim during which guests can get into the water with the dolphins to do various behaviors with them, and a shallow water encounter for guests who are younger or not comfortable in the water. Guests who still want to meet and interact with a dolphin without getting into the water can do so by signing up for a kiss with a dolphin or paint with a dolphin, several of which happen to be quite the artists.

“We hope to inspire conservation and protection of marine mammals through our guest interactions. By our guests observing or being in the water, we hope that they will form a connection with these animals and be inspired to make a difference and help protect the dolphins and all of the other animals out in the wild,” said Billings.

Billings said that one of her favorite parts of the job is seeing a guest interact with a dolphin for the first time.

“Some of the guests who’ve never seen a dolphin before, or never been up close and personal with a dolphin, just think it’s the coolest thing ever. It’s really great to see that we can instill that passion in others,” said Billings.

Teaching dolphins

Billings also said she enjoys asking the dolphins for various behaviors.

“Just like humans, dolphins learn differently. Seeing what they find reinforcing and seeing what works better for each individual dolphin is really neat. When you end up training a behavior, you can relate it to a school teacher explaining a new concept to her students. It’s a really rewarding job,” said Billings.

Billings is still in her three-month training period and because she is a new face to the dolphins, she is getting to know them and allowing them to get to know her in order to build relationships.

“I’ve been working with some of the dolphins more so than others and I can already see a relationship forming with some of them. They seem more comfortable around me and they get really excited around me. Just seeing that is rewarding. And knowing that you are helping provide amazing care to these animals, I absolutely love that aspect of the job,” said Billings.

As a dolphin trainer, Billings will eventually get to do things like train new behaviors with the dolphins and swim and work with the dolphins more as her time with Dolphins Plus goes on.

Dolphin communication

Billings said the primary way trainers communicate is through what’s known as a bridge.

“If you’ve seen trainers with a whistle, that’s an auditory bridge so we can use that to communicate with the dolphin when they do what we are looking for. That tells them, ‘Yes, that was perfect. Great job.’ Once we blow the whistle, we start to pair that with what we call primary reinforcement,” said Billings, adding that an example of primary reinforcement is fish.

“The more the dolphins associate hearing the whistle and the whistle being paired with something they find reinforcing, soon enough the whistle will become reinforcement on its own, and won’t always have to be backed up. The dolphins come to learn that the whistle communicates to them yes, good job and to come back to the trainer,” said Billings.

Billings said another way trainers communicate with the dolphins is through hand signals, almost like a sign language, in order to train behaviors.

“It usually starts with what’s called a hand target. That’s when you present your hand and the dolphin’s mouth — also known as their rostrum — will come into contact with that hand and soon they’ll learn to follow that wherever it goes,” said Billings.

That hand will get extended to what’s called a target pole, which the dolphins learn to follow. Once they get the motion of the behavior, the trainers incorporate a hand signal so the dolphins will eventually be able to associate the behavior with the hand signal.

History with dolphins

With regard to her prior experience working with dolphins, Billings said that she interned at Dolphins Plus last summer for three months before interning at Dolphin Quest in Bermuda.

I learned a lot from those internships. Both were pretty hands-on and within my last month at Dolphin Quest, I got hired back here,” said Billings.

Her love of dolphins began when she was young and would visit Sea World when taking trips to see her grandparents in Florida.

“I was really young — about five years old — the first time I saw a dolphin. My grandparents live an hour away from Orlando so growing up, it was really nice. Over the summer, my family would come down and visit them, and we would do a lot of fun things. One of my favorites was visiting Sea World,” said Billings.

She thought it was “mind-blowing” that the trainers could get in the water and interact with the dolphins.

“I was intrigued and blown away and ever since that moment, I wanted to be a trainer,” said Billings.

Billings said that her time at UD helped prepare her for her current job as some of the classes in her psychology major go hand-in-hand with what she is doing with the dolphins and her animal science minor allowed her hands-on experience with animals — especially in her senior year swine production capstone course.

“Never in my life did I think that I’d fall in love with pigs but I did, and it was really cool how hands-on that class was. The University of Delaware has an amazing animal science and agricultural program. For any students who are looking at places to go and looking for where they can get the experience that they need, I would definitely put UD out there. It was a great school for me. I absolutely loved it. The program is unbelievable and it helped me achieve my dream job, so that’s really awesome,” said Billings.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD Cooperative Extension lawn and garden team gears up for spring

UD Cooperative Extension lawn and garden team gears up for springWith the arrival of spring, the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Lawn and Garden Program is offering a variety of services to provide information and new research findings from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) to homeowners and industry in the state.

Carrie Murphy, Extension’s lawn and garden leader, said the program offers a wide range of services to help communities create landscapes that are both low maintenance and productive.

“The lawn and garden team provides education to professionals, homeowners, and communities to assist them in designing and maintaining productive, sustainable landscapes,” Murphy said. “We want to promote a balance between native plants that do well in this area and plants that are not native but still good choices for their landscapes.”

Lawn and garden team

Extension’s lawn and garden team is made up of seven primary members, each representing a specific need area — and in some cases crossing interest areas — to best address the needs of the Delaware community.

Dot Abbott, Extension’s renewable resources agent, does a great deal of work with wildlife habitat, backyard composting and urban/rural forest management. Abbott leads the Outdoor Woodland Classroom program, which is designed to get schools and communities outside to experience the natural environment. The 18-stop outdoor woodland classroom is located in Sussex County on the University’s Carvel campus, near Georgetown, but there are others throughout Delaware.

Sue Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and an Extension specialist, is the sustainable landscapes leader and has done much work to develop roadside plantings to replace turf with more sustainable landscapes that promote diversity and utilize diverse plantings, shrubs, and perennials and meadow type plantings. Barton also teaches courses at UD that focus on sustainability and has worked on sustainable landscapes across the campus and on projects to rid it of certain invasive plant species.

Valann Budischak, Extension agent, provides extension programming for the nursery and landscape industry. She coordinates the Livable Lawns program with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT). She is the statewide Master Gardener coordinator and was instrumental in creating the first statewide training in the fall of 2015.

Budischak works with Barton to team up on various projects. She is the executive director of Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association (DNLA), which partners with Extension on many projects, including expositions and educational conferences. She’s also the education and volunteer coordinator for the UD Botanic Gardens.

Nancy Gregory, Extension agent, works with Brian Kunkel, ornamentals Integrated Pest Management (IPM) specialist, in the Plant Diagnostic Clinic and focuses on plant diseases, pests, environmental stress disorders, and mushroom and weed identification. Kunkel’s focus is insects and he offers home gardeners and industry professionals IPM education. Kunkel has cooperative research projects across the Mid-Atlantic region that address various nursery and landscape needs.

Gregory and Kunkel present up to date information in the weekly Ornamentals Hotline newsletter, in talks to growers and landscapers, and in training for Master Gardeners. Fact sheets are posted on the Extension website and updates made to the Hot Topics in Plant Health Blog.

Tracy Wootten, Extension agent, is located in Sussex County and, like Murphy, coordinates Master Gardener Volunteer Educators, and provides homeowner and green industry education, working with a more agrarian clientele.

“With the help of trained Master Gardener volunteer educators the lawn and garden team’s reach is extensive. We have a lot of information to share with the public to help them succeed in planting and maintaining their lawns and gardens.” said Murphy.

Lawn and garden services

In addition to training Master Gardeners, volunteer educators and experienced gardeners who provide home horticulture education, the Lawn and Garden Program offers home garden workshops throughout the year and a short course schedule for landscape professionals but is open to anyone who wants to participate.

Courses include everything from basic landscape design to pest walks. Many of the short courses also offer pesticide and nutrient management recertification credits for professionals who need continuing education credits.

There is a garden hotline at each of the county offices that people can call at any time to ask a question. Callers will receive a response that will direct them to what they need or provide them with an answer.

“To complement the garden line, we also have Ask an Expert, which is an on-line vehicle through Extension for asking questions. People can attach pictures; and, for example, if they are looking for identification, as long as it’s a quality picture, we can assist quickly,” said Murphy.

Soil testing and diagnostic program

The soil testing program allows farmers, homeowners and others engaged in soil management and land use the ability to analyze their soil which provides useful information on how best to manage their land. Soil tests can be purchased from each of the county offices, online and from garden centers and retailers in the counties.

The plant diagnostic clinic, run by Gregory and her team, allows for people to bring in plant samples to each of the county offices for disease or pest identification.

“We try to evaluate the samples and provide a diagnosis in the county office but if it’s something that we can’t handle we will get it to Nancy in the clinic and she’ll take a look at it and provide assistance,” said Murphy.

Livable Lawns

The Delaware Livable Lawns program is a project overseen by Barton and Budischak, backed by DNLA and other partners, that promotes good lawn establishment and maintenance and longer term management.

The Delaware Livable Lawns program website has information on appropriate times to seed or sod, and the appropriate times to fertilize. It also promotes soil testing for people to better understand their soil and how to make good decisions to fertilize or amend the soil.

“The goal of this initiative is to reduce fertilizer and pesticide runoff from lawns. By providing homeowners with the necessary information to apply the right product, in the correct quantities, at the ideal time, they will maintain a healthy, beautiful lawn and partner in protecting our environment,” said Budischak.

The program is connected to Livable Delaware, a series of publications that addresses invasive plants, native plants, good plant choices for landscapes, and good management techniques.

Vegetable gardening

The lawn and garden team also has demonstration gardens at each of the county offices that serve as classrooms where workshops and demonstrations are held. Everything in the gardens is labeled and people are free to walk around the gardens.

The group partners with food pantries and the Food Bank of Delaware to get the produce – such as blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers –  to people in need.

In addition, Wootten runs a program in Sussex County called “Garden Smart, Garden Easy,” which is about accessible gardening and provides people with tools and different ways to think about how to set a garden.

Home visits

Lastly, the Master Gardeners in New Castle County organize a program that will make house calls to residents in the county, a lot of times fielding calls from new homeowners who don’t know what plants they have and want help with identification. They also go out and provide design advice, and assist people who may be having problems where they are trying to plant.

“You can contact our office and request a home visit and Master Gardeners will try to accommodate the request,” said Murphy. More information for the program is on the New Castle County Master Gardener website. “It’s a popular program that we have to cut off most seasons. Last year the Master Gardeners visited 35 different home landscapes.”

The UD-Renewable Resources program also provides on-site visits to urban homeowners — including homeowner associations — for assistance with tree care concerns.

In addition, most of the lawn and garden team will be on hand at Ag Day.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UDairy ice cream available for shipping to homes, businesses

UDairy ice cream available for shipping to homes, businessesFans of the University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery ice cream will no longer have to be close to the First State to get their hands on their favorite flavor as the creamery will now offer to ship its product anywhere in the continental United States.

Melinda Shaw, UDairy Creamery manager, said the decision to make ice cream available via shipping came when the creamery got an unusually large number of requests over a two-month period for products to be shipped to locations outside of Delaware.

“We had a handful of requests from the Development and Alumni Relations office and then a handful of random requests in a short period of time,” said Shaw.

The UDairy Creamery is also working with a spice company to develop new ice cream flavors and the firm asked if it could ship the ice cream to some of its trade shows as well as provide samples to clients.

“We thought, if we’re going to have to figure it out for those requests, we might as well offer it to everyone,” said Jennifer Rodammer, supervisor at the UDairy Creamery.

The creamery will offer pint, half gallon and two and a half gallon containers, all of which will be packed with dry ice in a foam cooler in a box. To ensure that the ice cream doesn’t melt on its way to the customer, the packages will be shipped overnight.

There will be two cooler sizes available, a small one for $25 and a large one for $30. The dry ice and cooler are included in the costs but the ice cream and the cost of shipping will be added on to those starting prices.

Any of the flavors that are currently in stock and available at the creamery are eligible for shipping.

Shipping will also be available during the holidays to allow for a sweet treat to be delivered to anyone’s home or business.

To get ice cream shipped out to a certain location, those interested should visit the UDairy Creamery website and fill out an order form and then call the creamery at 302-831-2486 to get a quote once the weight and shipping costs are determined.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD researchers identify two enzymes that regulate communication channels in plants

UD researchers identify two enzymes that regulate communication channels in plantsUniversity of Delaware researchers have identified two novel molecular players necessary to regulate plasmodesmata – communication channels in plants that bridge individual cells with their neighboring cells for distribution and exchange of nutrients, minerals and cellular signals – under both biotic and abiotic stress conditions, shining light on what is considered one of the mysteries of plant biology and a fundamental structure essential for plant survival and body formation.

“Plants do not have cells that move freely like humans do because plant cells are kind of glued together. So they have to have a different way to communicate and that’s these channels,” said Weier Cui, a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Department of Plant and Soil Sciences who used the study for her Ph.D. thesis.

The research, published recently in the journal Nature Plants, was conducted by Cui and Jung-Youn Lee, professor of plant and soil sciences and biological sciences. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The paper is the result of three years of research and Lee said that without Cui’s level of commitment, hard work and perseverance, they never would have been able to get their results. Lee also said that it is very rare for a paper of this magnitude to have only two authors.

Prior research

According to Lee, not much is known about plasmodesmata due to the technical challenges associated with its study.

“Our lab has been studying how plant cells regulate plasmodesmal gating to either facilitate or block intercellular movement in response to environmental challenges. Our previous finding made the connection for the first time that plasmodesmata are closed when plants are attacked by microbial pathogens as an innate immune response,” said Lee. “It is almost as if plants are guarding the intercellular passageways limiting food supply or distribution, which would deter the invading pathogenic bacteria, for example, to proliferate.”

This latest research shows that in addition to closing the pathways due to immune response, the pathways are also closed in response to mechanical wounding.

Callose

Through targeted mutant screening of Arabidopsis plants, Cui identified two genes encoding enzymes that catalyze the production of cell wall polymers called callose, which is not a structural constituent of the plant cell wall and functions as transitional wall materials formed at the cell division sites or wounding sites.

“Our job is to find molecules that may be the door keepers of the channels, sometimes restrict them and sometimes open them. Callose is one of the most important physical constraints of plasmodesmata,” said Cui.

Lee said that callose has been found as a kind of structural element near the plasmodesmata channel and “people have seen that sometimes the level will go up and sometimes it will go down, and when it’s less, it seems to correlate with when plasmodesmata permeability has increased. There were strong correlations.”

In other words, when signals or nutrients need to be extensively moved between cells, the callose levels drop and allow the plant cells to enhance communication with one another and when molecular movement needs to be blocked, callose levels rise and block molecular movement through plasmodesmata.

Lee further explained that because the callose is a biopolymer – polymers produced by a living organism – it has to be synthesized by enzymes. “It has also been known that callose itself is synthesized by callose synthase enzymes, and there are gene families known, but no one knew which callose synthase member is specifically devoted to produce callose at the plasmodesmata.”

This research shows that two enzymes are devoted to altering callose levels at the plasmodesmata, with one working particularly when the plant has been infected by a pathogen and one functioning specifically in situations where plants are stressed by an abiotic mechanism.

“If you wound the plant leaves, they deposit a large quantity of callose at the wounding site, which is controlled by one of the known callose synthase members. When plant tissues are damaged, the plant has to clot the wounded sites – that’s the wound callose. At the same time, they also deposit a finite amount of callose at around the channels between intact cells nearby the damaged, dying cells. Here, different members of the enzyme, which we newly identified, seems to function to close channels because isolating the healthy cells is perhaps necessary to protect them,” Cui said.

Next steps

Now that the “molecular players” critical for changing plasmodesmata permeability have been identified, researchers can use the molecular and genetic information to find even more components of the plasmodesmata regulatory pathway or mechanism and will be able to link the significance or the functional importance of plasmodesmata in development, physiology and in interaction with its environment.

“Our finding really opens up many avenues in the whole field,” Lee said. “The reason that plasmodesmata have remained a mystery of plant biology is because we have not known much about how they are formed or the molecules or the genes that are involved in the formation or regulation. These two genes that we identified are novel regulators of the plasmodesmal permeability, which allows us and others to use as new molecular tools for further exploration.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD sophomore gets hands-on experience as volunteer at animal clinics in Nicaragua

UD sophomore gets hands-on experience as volunteer at animal clinics in NicaraguaWhen University of Delaware student Emma Charlton decided that she wanted to travel abroad during Winter Session, she was looking for an opportunity that would give her a real-world, hands-on learning experience with animals and also help her make a decision about her future career.

Working with Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures (VIDA) in Nicaragua, Charlton not only got the experience working with large and small animals she was looking for, she was also able to figure out what she wants to do when she graduates.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do going into this trip. I kind of wanted to soul search a little bit, and this trip made me realize and help me decide that I want to focus more on the nutrition and medical aspect and not so much the veterinary aspect with regard to animals,” said Charlton.

Nicaraguan experience 

Charlton, who is majoring in animal and food science in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), traveled to Masaya and Diriamba, Nicaragua, from Jan. 3-13 and worked in a small animal clinic for four days and a large animal clinic for two.

“With the small clinics, we set up in local schools and we brought our own supplies. Things like electricity and running water were a problem so we kind of worked with what we had and we did basic consultations and gave dogs de-wormer. We gave the owners pills to take home, so they could give them to the animals themselves, and then we also spayed and neutered,” Charlton said.

With the large animals, Charlton said she worked with cattle, horses, goats, pigs and sheep, and administered vitamins like B-12 and gave them a de-wormer.

The experience started right off the bat, as Charlton said that the first day, she scrubbed in and was told that she was helping.

“I got to administer shots and I got to be an anesthesiologist, I got to practice sutures in surgery — it was very in depth,” said Charlton. “The first day I was very scared; I’m not going to lie. It was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but the doctor is helping you the whole time, of course, and the second day when I got to assist with surgery, I was ready to go, I felt comfortable, and I was eager to help them.”

As to her favorite part of the trip to Nicaragua, Charlton said it was seeing the owners’ reactions and their gratitude for what she and her group were doing for their animals.

“We also wanted to teach them how to better communicate with their animals and it was nice because we put a collar on their animal and we showed them that they are a part of their family, and they should love and care for them just as much as they do everyone else. Even though there was a language barrier, we all just had a common bond for the animals,” said Charlton.

UD animal science program

That learning experience working with animals is something that Charlton said she also got exposed to while at UD studying animal science.

“Compared to other colleges, we get a lot of hands-on learning right from the start in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences lab the first semester when you’re a freshman. I think that helps a lot of kids to decide right off the bat if they do want to pursue a career with animals or not,” Charlton said.

Charlton said she got interested in animal nutrition in a career development class taught by Mark Parcells, professor in the department.

“That class showed us options outside of vet school of what we can pursue with our major. With animal nutrition, I don’t know if I want to be a generalized but I could either specify in poultry nutrition or equine nutrition, and animal nutrition is an up and coming career,” Charlton said. “It’s getting more and more important. The animals have to eat every day so that’s the basis and the start. If they don’t have good nutrition and diet then their whole performance is going to be affected, so I want to learn more about that.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Emma Charlton

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Winner of Delaware’s 2016 Junior Duck Stamp competition announced

Iris Fang’s entry from the grades 4-6 division, an oil pastel rendering of a northern pintail duck titled “Joining the Flock,” was selected as the best in show and will move on to the national Federal Junior Duck Stamp Design ContestThe winning entry from Delaware for the Federal Junior Duck Stamp contest was selected on Tuesday, March 29, as artistic renderings of waterfowl and conservation messages from students in grades K-12 were judged at the New Castle County Cooperative Extension Building to determine which would represent the state in the national contest.

Participating competitors selected a waterfowl from a list of species on the official U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service webpage and drew a live portrayal of that species in its habitat demonstrating its natural behavior.

Iris Fang’s entry from the grades 4-6 division, an oil pastel rendering of a northern pintail duck titled “Joining the Flock,” was selected as the best in show and will move on to the national Federal Junior Duck Stamp Design Contest, where it will have the opportunity to be chosen as the Federal Junior Duck Stamp for 2016.

Rain Vasey’s conservation message — “a clean environment means clean wings over water” — was selected to move on to the national contest, as well. Vasey was also in the grades 4-6 division.

Autumn Starcher, Junior Duck Stamp Program state coordinator, said that there were 31 statewide entries this year spread out over four different age groups and that the competition was a great way to get students exposed to science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) curriculum.

“A lot of the coolest science stuff you can think of has a lot of art integrated in, and so integrating art into these science programs really helps foster creativity and innovation,” Starcher said. “It’s a good way to get kids who might not like science so much and are interested in art, or the kids who don’t like art and are interested in science, interested in other programs and see how they’re integrated together. I think that is probably my favorite part of the program.”

Starcher said those interested should participate next year.

“If you’re interested in getting your school or church group involved, you can reach out to me or the local 4-H office,” said Starcher.

The 4-H Junior Duck Stamp Program is an art and science based program that encourages wetland and waterfowl conservation through sharing and expression with art, and meets monthly in the fall and early winter.

For more information on the Delaware Junior Duck Stamp Program, visit the website or contact Starcher at starcher@udel.edu.

Division winners included:

Artwork

Haley Holderman — grades K-3;

Iris Fang — grades 4-6 (best of show);

Dorothy McCormick — grades 7-9;

Grace Helen Mitchell Winston – grades 7-9; and

Daniel Bryant Mitchell Winston — grades 10-12.

Conservation Message

Mason Merritt — grades k-3;

Rain Vasey — grades 4-6 (best of show);

Iris Fang — grades 4-6;

Kyle Merritt — grades 7-9;

Grace Helen Mitchell Winston — grades 7-9; and

Grace Cords — grades 10-12.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD faculty to lead international conference on impacts of extreme climate events

UD faculty to lead international conference on impacts of extreme climate eventsAn international conference on the impacts of extreme climate events on aquatic biogeochemical cycles and fluxes will be convened by a group that includes two faculty members in the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences from Jan. 22-27, 2017, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The special meeting — which is being organized in part by Shreeram Inamdar, professor of plant and soil sciences, and Thomas Parr, a postdoctoral scientist in the department — has been selected as an American Geophysical Union (AGU) Chapman Conference.

Chapman conferences are highly selective conferences that push the boundaries of science and advance current understanding. Other conveners include Bill McDowell of the University of New Hampshire, Elizabeth Minor of the University of Minnesota, James Shanley of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Vermont, and Ji-Hyung Park of the Ewha Womans University in South Korea.

The conference will bring together leading scientists from across the world to address the most challenging questions and concerns associated with extreme climate events — tropical storms and hurricanes, thunderstorms, heat waves, droughts, ice storms, snowstorms and/or northeasters, unexpected frost/freeze events, and tornadoes — and how they impact aquatic ecosystems worldwide.

A total of 100-125 selected scientists are expected to attend the meeting.

Inamdar was recently awarded a $50,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the meeting, funds that will be valuable for organization and travel support for the attendees. Additional funding is being sought.

Extreme climate events, or ECEs, have increased and are projected to further increase in intensity and frequency across the United States and the world.

Scientists and policy makers are extremely interested in determining how these events might impact streams, rivers, lakes, estuaries, bays and other vulnerable and valuable ecosystems. The recent problems that Hurricanes Irene (2011) and Sandy (2012) posed to the Mid-Atlantic and parts of coastal New Jersey and New York are excellent examples of these challenges.

Heat waves are also on the increase worldwide. July 2015 was the warmest month on record for the Earth dating back to January 1880 and the year 2015 was the warmest on record by a clear margin, surpassing the previous record set just the year before.

According to the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO), globally, 15 of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. In the United States, December 2015 was both the warmest and the wettest on record. These trends suggest that extreme climate events might be the new normal.

This meeting will be unique because participants will synthesize the current state of knowledge, develop conceptual and mechanistic models that will advance the science, explore new directions for experiments, measurements and modeling studies, and determine how science can help shape mitigation, management and restoration strategies for aquatic systems subject to ECEs.

Specifically, this special conference will focus on water-driven exports of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in particulate, dissolved and gaseous forms from terrestrial to aquatic ecosystems.

It will also focus on changes in biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in aquatic ecosystems during and following ECEs and changes in aquatic ecosystem functions and services as a result of extreme events.

The meeting will address several key questions such as how extreme weather events are defined, what has been learned from past extreme events, what the long-term consequences of extreme weather events are on aquatic ecosystems and how extreme events influence the export, transport and cycling (or transformation) of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus along the aquatic continuum extending from the source/headwaters to the sea.

The meeting will also address how extreme weather events alter ecosystem structure, functions and services, examine the coupled impact of land use (current and legacy) and extreme events, and consider if existing land management strategies and restoration paradigms work for extreme weather events.

These questions will be addressed through invited talks, presentations, discussions, and synthesis papers that will be generated from the meeting.

A field visit midway through the meeting will be planned for the Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory  located in Luquillo Mountains of northeastern Puerto Rico, about 35 kilometers east of the conference location in San Juan. The intent is to visit the sites impacted by hurricanes Hugo (1989) and Georges (1998) and learn about the changes in watershed and aquatic ecosystems following these extreme events.

Participants will also visit watershed and stream sites currently being studied by the critical zone observatory and investigate the sampling and monitoring strategies in place and how well these strategies are poised to capture the impact of any future hurricanes or other ECEs.

Student participation at the meeting will be especially encouraged and faculty and students from the University of Delaware who are interested in attending are encouraged to contact Inamdar at Inamdar@udel.edu for further information.  Travel funds may be available on a selected basis.

Additional information will soon be available on the conference pages on the AGU Chapman Conference website. Abstract submissions will be accepted and registration will be held this fall.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

First Step team removes barriers in community gardens for people with disabilities

Students work at the Luthern Community Service to provide wheelchair and disability access to the gardens at the center.A little hill. A community garden at Lutheran Community Services in Northwest Wilmington is perched on a little hill. It’s not much of a hill when you stand in front of it, but for someone in a wheelchair, it’s enough to keep them out of the garden.

After talking to community members, Spencer Hoernes, a student in the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, decided to investigate.

He discovered that 25 percent of people with a physical or visual disability live in poverty. This garden is located in the highest disabilities and food insecurity rates in Wilmington, so improvements would mean garden new community members could finally take part.

“After discussing my thoughts with Lutheran Community Services, we agreed that the garden needed wheelchair access,” said Hoernes. “I’m very interested in learning how gardening would impact the quality of life of a person with disabilities.”

So he created Green Inclusion to take on the challenge of converting the local plot into a disability-friendly garden.

Hoernes, a food science major, entered his team into First Step Grand Challenges, a UD competition that invites undergraduate students across disciplines to identify societal and environmental challenges. After identifying a problem, students are charged with developing novel solutions.

The undergraduates are tackling issues from CPR to veterans’ assistance to diversity.

While the competition is run by the College of Health Sciences and the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, First Step boasts students from all seven colleges — a true interdisciplinary competition.

Early in the fall semester, the teams began formulating their ideas. Each was given $500 to get their projects off the ground. Green Inclusion started off with a focus on creating a garden compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But, like many of the First Step teams, Green Inclusion’s project soared to something greater.

The group is planning multiple projects at the Wilmington garden — installation of a ramp, new raised beds for easier access, purchasing disability-friendly tools, incorporating a braille system for the visually impaired, and creating an open source site that would allow anyone in the country to pattern their own garden after that in Wilmington. This open source mindset illustrates the group’s desire to take this project beyond Delaware.

“If someone wants to recreate our garden, they will be able to find the schematics and step-by-step processes on our site for free,” Hoernes said. “That way, we are not only creating it for Wilmington, but for the entire world.”

In order to accomplish all of this, Hoernes needed someone with a background in disabilities studies, so First Step connected with Mariah Graham, a junior cognitive science major and disability studies minor.

“We didn’t realize how excited we were to tackle all of these projects,” said Graham. “It has become so much bigger than we imagined.”

And it’s not accessibility that’s the chief outcome, it’s the impact. For a person with disabilities who might otherwise never get a chance to grow food with their own hands, the act of gardening can improve self-worth and help eliminate depression.

“If they are included in this garden, they feel more included in the community. That’s how you raise people’s spirits,” said Graham.

After a yearlong competition, the First Step field was whittled down to Green Inclusion and 20 other teams. The competition culminates on Wednesday evening, April 6, at the STAR Health Sciences Complex when Hoernes, Graham and more than 90 other undergraduates compete at the poster presentation and awards dinner. The doors open at 6 p.m. with the poster session preceding spotlight presentations and an awards ceremony.

Students will pitch their ideas to judges from the professional, non-profit and academic arenas, who will focus on feasibility, societal and environmental impact. They will crown a champion that evening with $10,000 in awards on the line. The majority of the $1,000 third-place, $2,500 second place and $5,000 first-place prizes is allocated for project continuation, so students can further progress their innovative ideas and make the solutions come alive.

To ensure the projects live on, First Step’s creators established a rule that each team must have at least one non-senior.

“Our hope is to see members of the winning teams carry on and continue to develop their ideas,” says Sarah LaFave, program coordinator in the College of Health Sciences. “Students may choose to apply to First Step Grand Challenges again next year, a Horn Program opportunity like Hen Hatch, participate in undergraduate research or use some other means to take their project to the next level.”

So if Hoernes and Graham walk away with seed money, you can probably guess where they’re going to plant it.

“We want the garden to be a focal point for Northwest Wilmington — let it be an escape for daily life where people can be with nature,” said Hoernes. “It’s a place to relax, but also produces food for the community.”

Those who plan to attend the First Step Grand Challenge finals on Wednesday evening are asked to register in advance.

Article by Dante LaPenta

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

CANR to host annual community push lawn mower tune-up service

CANR to host annual community push lawn mower tune-up serviceOver the last 15 years, the University of Delaware’s Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity for agriculture and the Blue Hen Racing Club have serviced more than 7,500 lawn mowers at their annual push lawn mower tune-up.

Last year, the groups serviced over 500 mowers.

The lawn mower tune-up will be held once again this year on Friday, April 15, and Saturday, April 16, at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus with pickup on Saturday and Sunday, April 17.

The tune-up is provided by trained students and alumni members of the clubs and includes washing the mower, an oil change, spark plug replacement, air filter cleaning and blade sharpening.

Service performed is tune-up only; no repairs are performed and no riding mowers will be accepted.

The cost of the tune-up is $38. Payment in the form of cash or check may be made at drop-off. Checks should be made out to Alpha Gamma Rho.

Lawn mowers may be dropped off and picked up in the parking lot behind Worrilow and Townsend halls on UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus at 531 S. College Ave., just north of the Fred Rust Ice Arena.

For more information, contact Jason Morris at jcmorris@udel.edu or 302-388-7475.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Botanic Gardens to host spring plant sale preview, walk

UD Botanic Gardens to host spring plant sale preview, walkThe University of Delaware Botanic Gardens will hold a spring plant sale preview on April 7 and a guided walk on April 13 at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus on South College Avenue in Newark.

The benefit plant sale will be held April 29-30.

The plant sale preview will be held from 7-9 p.m., Wednesday, April 7, in the Townsend Hall Commons. Speakers will be John Frett, UDBG director, and Robert Lyons, retired professor of plant and soil sciences and a highly respected expert in horticulture.

They will present beautiful images, stunning specimens and a lively discussion of the extraordinary plants that will be available at the plant sale.

Frett will lead a guided walk through the UDBG grounds to see landscape-sized specimens of the plants that will be offered at the sale from 4:30-6 p.m., Wednesday, April 13. Participants will meet at the Fischer Greenhouse Entrance on Roger Martin Lane.

The cost for each event is $5 for UDBG Friends and $10 for nonmembers. Space is limited for the guided walk and those who plant to participate must pre-register. To reserve a spot for either or both of these events, call 302-831-2531 or email BotanicGardens@udel.edu.

Before joining the faculty at UD, Lyons held the JC Raulston Distinguished Professor Chair in Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University and served as the director of the renowned JC Raulston Arboretum. From 1981-98, he was professor of horticulture at Virginia Tech and co-founder and director of the university’s horticulture gardens.

Currently, Lyons is cultivating and enjoying his home garden and heads the advisory boards of UDBG and Rutgers University.

The UDBG plant sale catalog is available online.

UDBG Friends enjoy an exclusive day to shop at the sale from 3-6 p.m., Thursday, April 28.

Plant sale general admission is from 3-6 p.m., Friday, April 29, and from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 30, which also is Ag Day. Admission is free.

To enjoy other exclusive member benefits, join the UDBG Friends online, contact Melinda Zoehrer at 302-831-0153 or write to BotanicGardens@udel.edu.

Photo by Robert Lyons

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Outstanding Downtown Community Partner Award

Outstanding Downtown Community Partner AwardJules Bruck, associate professor of landscape architecture in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Ed Lewandowski, acting director of Delaware Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Service in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, received the Outstanding Downtown Community Partner Award at the Revitalize 2016 conference in Wilmington, Delaware, for their innovative project in Laurel, Delaware, to redevelop the town’s commercial district along the Broad Creek waterfront.

“Much of their time and commitment exceeds their regular work duties because of their vision for the town and belief in its potential,” wrote Brian Shannon from the Laurel Redevelopment Corporation in nominating Bruck and Lewandowski for the award.

Members of “Team Laurel,” including Bruck and Lewandowski, discussed the project during a TED-style talk delivered at the event, hosted by the Delaware Economic Development Office. They were recognized, along with Lee Ann Walling from Cedar Creek Planners, during the Excellence in Downtown Revitalization awards ceremony for their dedication and project leadership.

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UD researchers examine ways to break down, track synthetic compound in herbicides

UD researchers examine ways to break down, track synthetic compound in herbicidesTo examine the fate and persistence of glyphosate, one of the most common commercial herbicides used for agricultural and urban applications, and aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), a major byproduct of glyphosate, in soils and other environments, researchers at the University of Delaware have used isotopic signatures as a method of source tracking.

The research involves the use of manganese oxide minerals to break down glyphosate and to identify released phosphate and other byproducts such as AMPA. The researchers used oxygen isotopes of released phosphate from glyphosate and compared that from other phosphorous compounds present in soils and other environments with an aim to discriminate and track the sources.

The research findings were published recently in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry based on work conducted by Hui Li and Sunendra Joshi, both doctoral students working with Deb Jaisi in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

Glyphosate is integral to agricultural production but because of its widespread application — the United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that 283 million pounds were used in 2012 — there have been health-related concerns about the presence of the compound and AMPA in soils, streams and other environments.

Jaisi said the research is looking at the different mechanisms and pathways glyphosate can be degraded in the soil that are catalyzed either by the action of bacteria or minerals. The research team focused on the mineral-catalyzed (abiotic) degradation, and compared the degradation kinetics of glyphosate with AMPA.

“Eventually, we would like to see excess of these compounds after herbicidal action that may end up in soil and other environment degrade down sooner rather than later to minimize any potential environmental harm,” said Jaisi.

They found that manganese oxide, one of the inherent minerals in soil, is an efficient mineral that could break down glyphosate and AMPA. The research group synthesized manganese oxide in the laboratory and found that the half-life — or the amount of time required for the amount of glyphosate and AMPA to fall to half of its initial value — was around 3 and 48 hours for glyphosate and AMPA, respectively.

With regard to AMPA, Li said it is a major intermediate byproduct of glyphosate — formed after a particular bond in the glyphosate is broken down but before it eventually forms final inorganic products — that accumulates in the natural environment at a much higher rate than glyphosate itself because it degrades much more slowly than glyphosate. Some research indicates that it is more toxic than glyphosate.

“We want to figure out whether the mineral we were using can break down AMPA, as well as glyphosate. If it does break down to AMPA, the second question is can we trace the source of AMPA. This is important because AMPA is also a byproduct of other organic phosphorous compounds. Furthermore, glyphosate degrades through another pathway as well and that pathway does not generate AMPA,” said Li.

Jaisi said that because the experiment was entirely laboratory-based, it is too early to say how well the results can be extended to a real environment. A lot would depend on how much manganese oxide resides in the environment and how much it would be able to interact with glyphosate. Another challenge is methodological and involves the separation and purification of the two compounds from environmental samples, which they are going to address next in their research.

“There’s a lot of things in between to be resolved in a real environment, but at least we have something in the environment that can break it down, so that’s a good thing,” said Jaisi.

Source tracking

With regard to tracking the glyphosate, Li said that the most innovative aspect of the paper was “validating a novel method, oxygen isotope signature of the compound, to trace glyphosate sources in the environment and differentiate phosphate released from glyphosate from other sources of phosphates.”

Li added, “A natural extension of this research is to apply this tool in real field samples. So we also want to apply a series of advanced methods to address some very basic questions like what minerals in soils induce the degradation of glyphosate, or is there a way to bias reaction towards a relatively harmless product pathway, or catalyze faster degradation to minimize the potential environmental impact.”

Jaisi likened the source tracking to an identifying feature in humans, like a fingerprint or DNA. “Your DNA and my DNA is going to be different. Our expertise is on identification of sources of different phosphorus compounds and tracking them in the environment. For this, we need to know first the original isotope signature of the glyphosate that ends up in the environment,” said Jaisi. If it does remain in the environment for a good chunk of time, the method has the potential to identify its sources.

“The second question is, if more than one source of glyphosate ends up in soils, can we discriminate them? There is lot more research to be done in that direction but if we are successful in our objectives, it may allow tracking particular sources as they degrade in soils over time. Existing methodology is the lump sum measurement of the compound, but our ability to differentiate each product by isotope signature brings new insights not only to source identification of a particular product but also to identify accurate half-lives of these products,” said Jaisi.

For the study, the researchers used five different commercial herbicide brands from different companies to see if the different products had different fingerprints and are still different from other phosphate sources in the environment.

Joshi said the phosphate released from the breakdown of limited glyphosate products studied “has a unique isotopic signature than other phosphate in the environment we know so far. If we measure the isotopic signatures of all phosphate types in the natural environment and found one having a peculiar isotopic signature, then we would have reasonable certainty to say, ‘This phosphorous is coming from that particular source.’”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

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Second annual Farm-to-Table Recipe Contest set for Ag Day

Second annual Farm-to-Table Recipe Contest set for Ag DaySubmissions are now being accepted for the second annual Farm-to-Table Recipe Contest that is held in conjunction with the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Ag Day event, taking place this year from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, April 30, on the grounds of Townsend Hall.

The goal of this recipe contest is to develop recipes that offer delicious ways of creating healthy dishes using fresh ingredients that are preferably locally grown.

“We’re accepting submissions for recipes that are healthy and use as many fresh vegetables or fruits as possible,” said Christy Mannering, web developer at UD who is organizing this year’s recipe contest. “SustainAGbility is the theme of Ag Day 2016 and therefore we want the recipe contest to reflect how people can eat healthy with food grown locally.”

Judges from UD Cooperative Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences staff will be looking for recipes that offer delicious ways of creating fresh, healthy dishes. Judging will be based on completeness of the application — meaning all information must be included — appearance, simplicity of preparation and the use of a variety of fruits and/or vegetables as ingredients.

Prizes will be awarded to the first, second and third place winners. Those who are selected award winners must be on hand at Ag Day to receive their prizes.

Awards will include mixed vegetable gift baskets from UD Fresh to You, a jar of Dare to Bee Honey from the UD apiary and assorted items from the UDairy Creamery.

The mixed vegetable gift boxes from “UD Fresh to You” will be given to the winners in the form of an IOU ticket as the vegetables will not be ready on April 30. The winner will be given a ticket and the winner’s contact information will be shared with “UD Fresh to You” staff.

CANR faculty and staff are not eligible to enter the contest.

Each person may enter only once and the contest ends on Friday, April 15.

For more information, visit the Ag Day recipe contest website.

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UD Cooperative Extension releases disease management guide for field crops

UD Cooperative Extension releases disease management guide for field cropsUniversity of Delaware Cooperative Extension has released a Disease and Nematode Management in Field Crops guide to give growers and industry professionals recommendations for managing important diseases and nematodes in soybeans, corn, small grains and forage crops.

The guide is now available to growers in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia and was put together by Nathan Kleczewski, Extension plant pathologist at the University of Delaware, and Hillary Mehl, Extension plant pathologist at Virginia Tech Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Centers (AREC).

While Virginia Tech prints a field crops management guide every year, and the vegetable community in Delaware has multiple guides for disease management, it has been a long time since Delaware has had something for disease management for field crops.

“Hillary and I have been working together on the disease portion to come up with something that’s relevant not just to Virginia but also to Delaware,” said Kleczewski.

Kleczewski said that having a region specific guide is important because recommendations from other regions, such as the Midwest, do not translate to the Mid-Atlantic.

“We have different environmental conditions, diseases, genetic background of pathogens, crop cultivars, and cropping practices,” said Kleczewski.

As an example, he singled out the sudden death syndrome (SDS) disease – a huge issue in the Midwest, sometimes affecting 500-plus-acre fields – that would be a major feature of those guides. In the Mid-Atlantic, however, SDS is only found in small patches and the occurrence is sparse.

Kleczewski said that growers in the Mid-Atlantic should be looking into managing root knot nematode and soybean cyst nematode and not have SDS on the top of their list.

“The same can be said about barley yellow dwarf virus, which is spread by aphids to barley and wheat. Do we see it every now and then? Yes. Do we see it at the scale that it occurs in the deep South or out West, where a significant portion of fields are impacted each year? No.  Obviously the way they manage that disease is going to be significantly different from what we do here. For us, barley yellow dwarf management is about scouting, selecting the right varieties, and planting wheat and barley later in the season. This guide is written to inform the growers of the best way to manage threats in our region through integration of several methods,” said Kleczewski.

The guide includes information such as how to properly scout a field and look for diseases, when to look for diseases, and recommendations in terms of what chemicals to use or what cultural practices to use to manage diseases, among other topics.

“All that information is there so the growers or consultants can have something that they can carry in their truck and go to if they have questions,” said Kleczewski. “It’s set up to tell you when to look, what to look for, how to manage within the season, and what you can do to improve disease management season to season.”

The guide also contains information from collaborative plant pathology working groups in corn, soybeans and small grains in which field crop pathologists from across the country meet to discuss the effectiveness of products such as seed treatments and foliar fungicides for disease control.

“That’s really nice because in Delaware, I can only run a couple of trials on corn, wheat, and soybean in a year. The data are generally limited to the one or two diseases that may pop up in that year,” Kleczewski said. “But if you look across all the trials in the United States, we have a great data set each year. Somebody might have a disease that we did not have and we are able to rate products across the board, for a range of diseases. It is also from an unbiased source.”

The guide will be updated every year in order to stay on top of changes in the industry, such as a new disease that might pop up or products that either come on the market or lose registration.

“Varieties change constantly and there are always new products, formulations, etc., so that gets updated all the time,” said Kleczewski.

The guide is available at Extension offices in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties. Also,  Kleczewski hands them out at meetings and he is working on getting a field crops page set up on the Extension website.

He also has a Field Crops Disease Management blog where people can get up-to-date information on the latest diseases out in the fields.

“I try to write articles about things that I might see out in the field or important research or management things that a grower/consultant might want to consider. When you sign up for the blog and I write a new article, it sends you an email update. You can also search by subject, keyword, or whatever, and pull up different articles I have written in the past. I would encourage people to look at that, as well,” said Kleczewski.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD study abroad students learn about tribal life, wildlife conservation in Tanzania

UD study abroad students learn about tribal life, wildlife conservation in TanzaniaFor 30 days over Winter Session, 24 University of Delaware students trekked through Tanzania, learning about African cultures and wildlife conservation issues as part of the wildlife conservation study abroad program.

Led by Jake Bowman, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), the group departed from New Jersey and landed in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, on Jan. 7.

During the next month, the participants saw hundreds of birds and animals such as zebras, elephants, rhinos, gazelles and even a wildebeest migration. They also interacted with three local tribes — the Hadza, the Iraqw and the Maasai — and learned about their cultures.

Bowman said the program was important for the students as they “learned first-hand how other cultures handle wildlife conservation issues. These lessons will impact the decisions they make in their careers. They gained a greater understanding of how difficult conservation decisions can be.”

Laura Manser, a senior majoring in wildlife conservation with a minor in entomology, said she enjoyed “interacting with the tribes and learning how they did everything, and asking them questions just out of pure curiosity.”

Tribal interaction

From interacting with the Maasai, the students learned about how the tribe’s members are conserving dry season grasslands for their cattle and how those areas are important to wildlife that use the adjacent Tarangire National Park.

Through their interactions with the Iraqw, an agricultural society, the students learned how they are conserving the Nou Forest as a watershed that allows them to grow sustainable crops. The students focused on the economic and ecological value of forests such as the Nou to the Iraqw society.

One of the groups that stood out in particular for some of the students was the Hadza.

Dan Wilson, a junior majoring in wildlife conservation, said it was great to interact with one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer cultures in the world. “They don’t have permanent settlements and they were up for anything. They were fun. They sang and danced with us the last night we were with them. Just in general, they were really awesome people. All of them,” said Wilson.

Carley Gringer, a sophomore majoring in wildlife conservation, ecology and pre-veterinary and animal biosciences, echoed these sentiments, saying it was interesting to see the American students interact with the Hadza.

“They don’t have any material goods. They don’t collect wealth, which is why it’s so hard for them to continue living in this world. Beads are the one thing that they can have that’s theirs, and it was amazing because they made all the girls bracelets and they just gave them to us. I was amazed by that because they were so willing to give away the only thing that they had,” said Gringer.

Manser said it was interesting to learn how the Hadza tracked animals, adding that the students were able to make decorative arrows with the Hadza that they brought back home.

Birding in Tanzania

The students also did a fair amount of birding during their time in Tanzania, on one occasion getting to see the endangered Beesley’s lark at the Engikaret lark plains, the only place in the world where the lark is found.

“There are less than 100 in Tanzania and we saw two of them so it’s kind of cool we could say we saw 2 percent of their population,” said Manser.

They also learned about how community-based conservation is at work, as the local residents manage the area in order to conserve the Beesley’s lark.

Wilson pointed out that although he isn’t a birder, he found the experience enlightening and enjoyed seeing the variety of birds in Tanzania, specifically the giant marabou storks.

“They have a unique appearance. They’re big birds. They probably stand up to my shoulder almost. They’re not pretty birds but they’re memorable. We were in Ngorongoro Crater and when we got to camp, there were a couple dozen of them hanging out,” said Wilson.

The wildebeest migration also served as a great learning opportunity for the students as they focused on how the migration can be conserved and how much of the migration takes place outside of the Serengeti National Park.

“We were in the middle of their migration and that was really cool,” Gringer said. “There were literally hundreds of thousands of them and Prof. Bowman asked us to try to count them to try and get a sense of their population. But when I first saw them all, I thought it was a joke because there were just so many I was wondering, ‘How am I supposed to count this?’ But that was really cool and they’re beautiful animals.”

UD study abroad students learn about tribal life, wildlife conservation in TanzaniaNou Forest

The students also singled out the Nou Forest as a highlight, with Wilson and Manser both saying they enjoyed jogging through the forest.

Gringer said that using mist nets in the forest in order to catch birds was a great hands-on learning opportunity for the students.

“I was surprised because there were other kids on the journey who had taken ornithology and I hadn’t because I’m a sophomore, so I thought they would just be able to hold the birds and I wouldn’t. But Prof. Bowman taught me how to hold them and passed it to me and it was really cool,” said Gringer.

She also said that one of the most memorable aspects was being caught in a hailstorm in the Nou Forest.

“I was walking back with my one friends and we were laughing through the rain because there was nothing else to do. You can’t complain. You just have to keep walking, and we eventually got back to camp and we all had warm drinks and huddled around the fire. The hard times were really memorable; they’re the good stories,” said Gringer.

Through it all, the students said they felt that a closeness formed within the group.

Manser, who had also gone on a study abroad to Costa Rica, said she didn’t know many people on the Tanzania study abroad prior to leaving and that it was a great experience to bond with everyone.

“I went to Costa Rica last year and I knew everybody that was going, so this was a big change. I actually really liked it because everybody was so nice and I feel like because we were in such rough and hearty conditions, everybody felt the same way so we could bond over different types of experiences,” said Manser.

Gringer, who said she plans on going to Costa Rica next year as part of study abroad, said she was “impressed with the character of all the people who went. I honestly didn’t think there were that many people who would put up with those conditions and not complain and be so positive. Everyone was really great and there were times when everyone was down and we were all exhausted but everyone rallied really quickly and everyone was really supportive of each other.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Video by Nikki Laws

Photos by Andy Bale, Laura Manser and Carley Gringer

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Jing Qiu New Professor Profile

Jing Qiu New Professor ProfileCould you give a little background information about yourself? 

I did my undergrad in China at the University of Science and Technology of China but my degree was in information management and decision theory. When I came to the United States, I changed my major to statistics because I wanted to do something that can connect application with theory.  I think that statistics is such a field.

I got my Ph.D. in statistics at Cornell University in 2004. Then I got my first job and tenure at the Department of Statistics, University of Missouri. I was happy there but my family situation changed: my husband got a job on the east coast and I just had a baby. I took family leave for a year after my maternity leave so that the whole family could be together. I like the central location of Delaware and a friend who lived nearby informed me of the job opportunity at my current department. So I applied and got the job.

What are you teaching at UD? Is your role more teaching or research?

My position is tenure track and my title is Assistant Professor. So I will be going through the tenure process for a second time. My position is 60 percent research and 40 percent teaching. I taught survival analysis last semester and I am teaching biostatistics this semester. Next semester, I will be teaching advanced designed experiment, which will mostly cover a very useful class of statistical  models—mixed effects models.

My research interest lies in statistical modeling of genomics data. I have two recent publications: one is about Bayesian modeling of DNA methylation data, published in BMC Bioinformatics, and the second paper, which is published in Statistical Applications in Genetics and Molecular Biology, is discussing some problems in current practice of modeling RNA-seq data. I am still working with one of my former colleagues at Missouri and her Ph.D. students on Bayesian modelling of genomics data.

When I was at Missouri, my position was a joint position in that I also provided statistical consulting to the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources there.

I enjoy working with biologists on their real data and often this motivates my statistical research work to improve the current methods of analyzing genomics data.

Even though I don’t have consulting component for my current job, I am still interested in exploring interdisciplinary collaboration across the college or campus. Last semester, I had assisted a postdoc of Dr. Pam Green in plant science on analyzing their degradome sequencing data (also called PARE data). The results are promising. We are hoping to collaborate on a paper together.

What’s been your impression of the Department and the College as a whole?

The Department has been very friendly. I am very impressed with the internship opportunities our master’s students can get here. Before I applied to the job here, I had heard good things about the department in that they place their masters’ students well in the market.

Now being here as a faculty, I realize that there is a good reason that our MS program runs well. Our graduate curriculum is very practical and provides solid trainings for our students. Also the department has built good relationships with local companies such as  DuPont and Chase over the years. Our department chair Dr. Thomas Ilvento has done a great job in this regard.

I am glad that now I can play a role in supervising Masters’ students and teaching graduate courses as well.

I also helped to set up the department statistics seminar. I think seminars are an important component of a department’s scholarly activities. It provides an opportunity for research faculty to exchange research ideas and also helps the students to learn about the active research topics that statisticians are working on.

The college has kindly provided a faculty mentoring series to  new faculty members to get us oriented. This is very helpful.

Could you speak to the importance of interdisciplinary research?

I think these days, scientists are producing a lot of high dimensional data, which definitely require sophisticated methods to analyze them.  Many scientists, although are very good in their science work, don’t necessarily have enough training in analyzing large data sets. Although some information can be drawn using simple methods, a lot more information can be explored if well-trained statisticians are also involved in the data analysis.

I just went to a bioinformatics conference in San Francisco in January.  A lot of statisticians, computer scientists and biologists came to attend the same conference because they know they need each other.

Anything I haven’t asked that you want to make sure gets included?

I am also an affiliated faculty in the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB) in the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI). Last semester, several Ph.D. students in the bioinformatics program  consulted with me on their Ph.D. projects including Dr. Cathy Wu’s lab.

Any interesting hobbies that you have outside of class?

I like music, gardening and hiking. I like to be close to the nature. There is a lot of things I can take my kid to do here in Delaware: go to beach in the south, watch the snow geese in middle creek, PA, dolphin watch in Cape May. Botanic garden and zoos are fun places to visit too.

I also participate in a voluntary Bible education work and as a beneficiary of the bible education myself, it is rewarding to see how the Bible can help others to improve their lives and give them hope and comfort at the time of distress.

Article by Adam Thomas

UD graduate studies soil moisture levels as a geologist in Texas

UD graduate studies soil moisture levels as a geologist in TexasEven as a little kid, Chelsea Halley knew that she wanted to be a geologist. Now, as the 2012 University of Delaware graduate gets set to receive her master’s degree in geology from the University of Texas, the goal she set when she was younger is becoming a reality as she embarks on a career as a geologist for an environmental consulting company in Austin.

“This sounds so nerdy but really, since I was young I wanted to be a geologist. I was always very into science,” said Halley.

Halley will start her new job in June, and her path began at UD where she majored in natural resource management (NRM) in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and was exposed to a wide range of environmental topics.

“I loved the NRM major. I think it’s a great balance. It’s interdisciplinary so I really got to take a lot of classes from multiple disciplines,” said Halley. “In the major, you had to take a wildlife class and you had to take a biology class but you had choices under those headings. So I got to choose, did I want to take a wildlife conservation class? Did I want to take a bird class? An entomology class? I felt like you had enough leeway to where you really got to cater the degree to your interests, which was great.”

After graduating from UD, Halley landed a job with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), where she worked for the Site Investigation and Restoration Section as an environmental scientist doing remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater.

“I was basically taking soil samples, groundwater samples, seeing if it’s contaminated, and then making the plan of if it needs to be cleaned up, why it needs to be cleaned up. These were inactive sites, like an old gas station that had closed down or a site that previously had a dry cleaner,” said Halley. “We would clean up those inactive sites and turn them into useful land. So we would clean up a contaminated gas station to acceptable safe levels and then maybe someone would buy it and turn it into something else, like a restaurant or a shopping mall.”

Halley said she loved her time at DNREC and after working there from 2012-14, she decided to go back to school to get her master’s degree.

At the University of Texas, Halley is focused on the environmental side of geology, specifically on the soil moisture deficit in the state.

“Texas is a drought state, which is so different from when I was working in Delaware where we wanted to focus on the quality of water in Delaware — and water quality is an issue everywhere — but there was never a quantity issue, like, ‘Oh where is the water coming from? Will we have enough water?’ And that’s all anyone ever talks about in Texas,” said Halley.

Researching at a field site in Fredericksburg, Texas, which is about two hours from Austin, Halley uses soil moisture probes that have been installed in the ground that constantly measure the soil moisture.

“My research is helping to calibrate those probes so that it’s a more soil-specific calibration that’s more specific to each type of soil throughout the site instead of a factory-supplied calibration which is not very accurate. So it’s a small piece of a large project that is measuring soil moisture throughout a specific network,” said Halley.

Halley said that soil moisture is important to know for many different factors such as irrigation scheduling and how to best manage water resources in general.

“It’s a small piece of the water budget as a whole but it’s really crucial and it’s the most difficult to quantify, so there’s a lot of work now, especially to quantify that soil moisture so you know how much water you have for other aspects,” said Halley.

As for her time at UD, Halley said that she really wanted to stress how much she enjoyed her time studying NRM and the benefits of taking such an interdisciplinary major.

“You take a couple of economics classes and a couple of policy classes in addition to the science classes. Science and policy are very closely connected, and I saw that when I worked at DNREC. I was a scientist but for a government agency and not only did I have to understand how to interpret the regulations but I was part of helping to write guidelines for the people using those regulations,” Halley said. “So the major allowed me to see all aspects of natural resource management meaning the business portion which would be economics, the science which were my basic chemistry and biology classes and then the policy which were the natural resource policy classes, wildlife conservation policy classes, just branching all of those disciplines made me very well rounded when I went to look for a job.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD Botanic Gardens to host presentation by author Ruth Clausen

UD Botanic Gardens to host presentation by author Ruth ClausenThe University of Delaware Botanic Gardens will host an illustrated presentation, “Give Your Yard Panache With Perennials,” by garden expert and author Ruth Clausen from 7-8 p.m., Tuesday, March 22, the Townsend Hall Commons on UD’s South Campus.

The cost is $15 for UDBG Friends and $20 for nonmembers.

Clausen advocates for selecting treasures based on the form, color and texture of foliage, as well as the flowers and cultural needs, to complement a garden’s design.

The maintenance and cultural needs of species and selections will be examined and potential pest and disease problems, especially with deer, will be explained.

Clausen’s latest books, Essential Perennials and 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants, will be available for sale and signing. Call 302-831-2531 or email BotanicGardens@udel.edu to reserve a spot.

Clausen, trained in horticulture in the United Kingdom, has been gardening more than 50 years and was horticulture editor for Country Living Gardenerfor over seven years.

She has written several garden books. In 1989, Random House published Perennials for American Gardens; Hearst Books published Dreamscaping in 2003; and 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants from Timber Press was published in 2011.

In 2015, Timber Press released her latest book with Thomas Christopher, Essential Perennials.

The UD Botanic Gardens are open year round to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll. UDBG contributes to an understanding of the relationships between plants and people through education, research, cooperative extension and community support.

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Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit features natural beauty of scenic trail

2016 Flower Show theme is National Parks and UD has partnered with Delaware Nature Society to promote trail hiking. Students prepare the show during class at 124 Worrilow Hall Univeristy of DelawareThe Pacific Crest Trail, a West Coast counterpart to the Appalachian Trail, stretches 2,600 miles from the Mexican to the Canadian border, spanning terrain that ranges from deserts to snow-topped mountains, bare lava fields to thick evergreen forests.

Hikers might spend half a year covering its length, but a group of University of Delaware students is hard at work on a different kind of challenge — distilling the essence of the trail into a 23-by-33-foot exhibit that visitors to the Philadelphia Flower Show can experience in just a few minutes.

“Our goal is to give everyone the sense of actually walking along the Pacific Crest Trail, so with all the variety on the trail, there are a lot of things for us to think about and try to include,” said Greg Heiner, a junior majoring in criminal justice who’s the project manager for the exhibit’s construction. “We’re partnering this year with the Delaware Nature Society, and they’re giving us help with the best way to spread the message of appreciating nature.”

The end result will be on display for the duration of the Flower Show, March 5-13, in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. For more about visiting the show, including hours and ticket information, see the website.

On a recent evening in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Worrilow Hall, Heiner and some two dozen other students were busy sawing and painting plywood for the exhibit’s walls, mounting poster-size photographs depicting scenic views of the trail and making papier-mâché boulders. Some walls were being covered with green chalkboard paint to encourage exhibit visitors to leave a personal message sharing their thoughts about the experience.

Student involved in the project represent a diverse assortment of majors from nearly every one of UD’s seven colleges. Some are working on the exhibit as part of the Design Process Practicum class, taught by Jules Bruck, associate professor of landscape design in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, while others are members of the Design and Agriculture student organization.

“Everyone is so engaged in creating this project and wanting it to be a great experience for the people who will come to the Flower Show,” Bruck said. “I see students who aren’t even taking the class for credit — they’re members of the club — but they come to class just because they’re so enthusiastic about it.”

This will be the sixth consecutive year that an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students is contributing an exhibit to the show, which is the oldest and largest indoor flower show in the world. The show’s theme this year, inspired by the centennial of the National Park Service, is “Explore America.”

At UD, students in Bruck’s class last year came up with the design concept for the 2016 exhibit once the Flower Show announced its theme encouraging exhibitors to draw inspiration from the nation’s parks.

Students chose the Pacific Crest Trail, a designated National Scenic Trail, and made drawings and models of their proposed exhibit, which will be UD’s first walk-through entry in the Flower Show. Bruck’s current class dived into the construction work as soon as spring semester began.

2016 Flower Show theme is National Parks and UD has partnered with Delaware Nature Society to promote trail hiking. Students prepare the show during class at 124 Worrilow Hall Univeristy of DelawareBecause the exhibit must be partially disassembled, trucked to Center City Philadelphia, and then reassembled inside the convention center, the class got some expert help from a faculty member accustomed to that kind of process. Stefanie Hansen, associate professor of theatre, has been working with the students to help them construct the kinds of modular, lightweight pieces that are used in set design.

“This is a more interactive exhibit than the ones they’ve done in the past,” Hansen said. “Everything we do in theatre work is built like this, in manageable pieces so it can be moved around and reassembled, so I was able to help them with that process.”

In fact, she said, she hopes more theatre minors get involved in future Flower Show projects at UD because the skills involved are so similar to those used in stage-set design.

As construction proceeds in Worrilow Hall, another key part of the project is flourishing in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ nearby greenhouse. The exhibit’s plant manager, senior horticulture and design major Sarah Morales, has been ordering and caring for the succulents, moss, evergreens and other vegetation that will complete the display.

“This is a flower show, after all, so the plants are the most important part of the exhibit and a major element in how the judges will evaluate us,” Bruck said. “All the plants are sustainably grown, and we want to be able to reuse them after the show closes, so they’re representative of what you’d find on the Pacific Crest Trail but they’re not the exact plants that grow there. We’re using ones that are native to our area, so they can be planted here after the show.”

Morales said she and the team of students working with her have researched the plant life found on the trail and view it as “a source of inspiration” for their choices. They’ve taken that inspiration and used it to develop their own creative ideas for the exhibit.

Like others working on the exhibit, Morales said the project has been time-consuming but highly enjoyable and rewarding.

“It’s such a large event that ends up making an impact on a significant amount of people, and being able to help create that impact is incredible,” Morales said of the Flower Show. “Plus, I’ve made a lot of great friends outside of the College [of Agriculture and Natural Resources] that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

Just as the students come from a variety of colleges and majors, faculty assistance with the project, primarily Bruck and Hansen, has been interdisciplinary as well. Anthony Middlebrooks, associate professor of leadership in the School of Public Policy and Administration, and Jon Cox, assistant professor of art and design, worked closely with Bruck on previous years’ Flower Show exhibits, although they were less involved in this year’s project.

Middlebrooks called the project “an amazing opportunity for students” and one that is valuable every year in engaging his leadership students.

This year’s team will transport the exhibit to Philadelphia and set it up to be ready for a special preview show for Pennsylvania Horticultural Society members on Friday, March 4. Students will staff the exhibit throughout the show and, after closing time each night, will water and care for the plants.

When the show ends, the team will bring materials back to campus, and Bruck’s class will continue to meet as students immediately begin planning next year’s exhibit.

“Long-term projects like this encourage and promote interdisciplinary learning among faculty, students and the community,” Cox said. “We all stand to benefit from the unique perspectives presented from the various disciplines involved in this massive undertaking.”

Article by Ann Manser

Photos by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Consortium publishes fully sequenced genome of seagrass Zostera marina

Consortium publishes fully sequenced genome of seagrass Zostera marinaThe University of Delaware’s Pamela Green is part of an international consortium of researchers from 35 laboratories that have published the genome of the seagrass Zostera marina. It is believed to be the first marine angiosperm to be fully sequenced.

The study, titled “The Genome of the Seagrass Zostera marina Reveals Angiosperm Adaptation to the Sea,” was published in the scientific journal Nature and is featured on the cover of the print edition.

Seagrasses evolved from marine algae, the ancestors of land plants, and are the only flowering plants to have returned to the sea. In the marine environment, they provide a habitat and nursery ground for young fish and other marine organisms. Like their terrestrial counterparts, seagrasses are comprised of leaves, root systems, conductive tissue, flowers and seeds.

Seagrass meadows are part of soft-sediment, coastal ecosystems of all continents except Antarctica. They serve an important role in protecting the coastline from erosion and maintaining water clarity, while acting as a carbon sink by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Yet, seagrass meadows are threatened worldwide, and to date, many initiatives to restore degraded seagrass meadows have had limited success.

According to the researchers, a fully sequenced Z. marina genome is a valuable resource that can markedly advance and support a wide range of research, from work aimed at understanding the adaptation of marine ecosystems under climate warming and its role in carbon sequestration to unraveling the mechanisms of salt tolerance that may further inform assisted breeding of crop plants.

Green’s contribution to the study involved investigating microRNAs (miRNAs) of Z. marina, in collaboration with Emanuele De Paoli, an assistant professor of genetics at University of Udine (Italy) and former postdoctoral researcher at UD.

MicroRNAs are a class of regulatory RNAs, molecules found in virtually all plants and animals that regulate gene expression and serve functions in numerous cellular pathways.

Although miRNAs can be studied by deeply sequencing the small RNAs themselves, as De Paoli, Green and collaborators had already done, a genome sequence provides an extremely valuable advantage, according to Green.

The Z. marina genome made it easier to distinguish bona fide miRNAs from other classes of small RNAs because it allowed for identification and characterization of miRNA-encoding genes, both those that were expected and those previously unknown. This new analysis clearly demonstrated that Z. marina lacks several miRNA genes that arose in related terrestrial species.

In contrast, it retained the oldest known miRNA specific to the important group of monocot plants to which Z. marina and several crop species, such as cereals, belong.

Zostera marina or its direct ancestors appeared in evolution right after the entire monocot branch originated. Inspecting its genome can reveal genetic features, like the birth of a miRNA gene, which arose approximately around that important period of evolution and could have played a crucial role in determining biological innovation. We have identified one such event and it is very rewarding,” said De Paoli, who is an expert in the computational analysis of miRNA genes, epigenetics, genome structure and evolution using next generation sequencing data.

“This study also opened new doors for future study by identifying the target genes which miRNAs could regulate. The hints are that some Z. marina miRNA-target associations could reveal novel regulatory mechanisms involved in development and other fundamental processes,” said Green, the Unidel Crawford H. Greenewalt Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Green is also a member of the faculty in the School of Marine Science and Policy in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at UD, and holds joint appointments in the departments of Biological Sciences and Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“It was wonderful to participate in this consortium which gleaned many exciting insights from the first marine flowering plant to have its genome sequenced,” she said.

Research in Green’s laboratory at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) focuses on post-transcriptional mechanisms that regulate the expression of genes in plants, marine organisms and human cells. She is particularly interested in the fate of mRNA molecules, which play a pivotal role in the gene expression process.

Zostera marina, also called eelgrass, is the most widely distributed seagrass throughout the northern hemisphere of the Pacific and Atlantic, ranging from the warm waters of southern Portugal to the frigid temperatures of northern Norway. Eelgrass has adapted to the salty conditions of seawater, making it a useful vehicle for studying the relationship between the complex gene networks affecting temperature and salt tolerance.

The consortium researchers, led by Jeanine Olsen of the University of Groningen (Netherlands), first set out to produce and annotate a high quality genome sequence in order to better understand the genetic networks and the interaction of ecology and evolution in these plants.

What they learned was that in its evolution from a terrestrial to marine plant — its “return to the sea” — eelgrass made a host of unique adaptations.

For example, eelgrass no longer has stomata, microscopic pores that land plants use to breath, or any of the genes involved in development of the specialized cells of these structures. This means that Z. marina is bound to the sea. Additionally, the cell walls of eelgrass no longer resemble normal plant cell walls, rather, they are more like that of seaweeds or algae.

Plant signaling and defense are also different. Genes in land plants that produce volatile compounds have also disappeared from the Z. marina genome. Pollination of the seagrass flower occurs entirely underwater, where there are no insects to help. As for predators, however, there are still plenty of small grazers that scrape algae off the leaves.

An overarching question for the international research team is how fast eelgrass can adapt to rapid climate change. The fact that Z. marina grows along the coastline from Portugal to Scandinavia is being used as a natural experiment to investigate adaptation to warmer or colder water, as well as to salinity, ocean acidification and light.

Additionally, learning more about eco-evolutionary interactions is relevant to the development of genomics-based, early-warning indicators that may foreshadow seagrass ecosystem shifts and tipping points, the researchers said.

Adapted with permission by Karen B. Roberts

Photo of meadow in Archipelago Sea, Finland, by C. Boström

Photo of meadow in Balsfjord, northern Norway, by Frithjof Moy

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources announces Ag Day date

Ag Day, an annual tradition of the University of Delaware's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources featuring informational displays and exhibitions, will be held on Saturday, April 30.
Ag Day, an annual tradition of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources featuring informational displays and exhibitions, will be held on Saturday, April 30.

Ag Day, an annual tradition of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) at the University of Delaware, will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 30.

The theme of Ag Day 2016 is “SustainAGbility: Doing What Nature Would Do.”

Members of the campus community and the surrounding community are encouraged to join the college for a day filled with music, exhibitors, great food and fun on UD’s South Campus.

Celebrating all that the college has to offer, visitors can experience everything from bird shows to bee demonstrations, livestock exhibits, 4-H arts and crafts, farm tours, plant sales, and much more.

At this year’s Ag Day, the UDairy Creamery will also be celebrating its fifth birthday.

The event will be held at CANR’s Townsend Hall, located at 531 South College Avenue in Newark. Both admission and parking are free and the event is open to the public.

The Food Bank of Delaware will also be on hand accepting donations of non-perishable food items.

Ag Day is family friendly, however, for the safety of the live animal demonstrations, organizers ask that all pets be left at home.

Registration for exhibitors and vendors is now open and runs until March 21. Registration is available on the Ag Day website.

The website also features additional information, announcements, and schedules, and will be updated as the event approaches.

AGcelerate to host college wide photo contest

AGcelerate to host college wide photo contestThe University of Delaware’s AGcelerate Enrichment Program will host a photo contest for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff members in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

The theme of the contest is diversity and with CANR representing a diverse array of people and cultures, ecologies and educational fields, the college-wide contest challenges participants to capture the essence and diversity of the CANR community.

There are three categories to enter: people and cultural diversity, ecological and animal diversity, and diverse fields of study. All photography skill levels are acceptable and photos can be taken from smart phones or any type of camera.

To enter the contest, participants must submit photos to the AGcelerate website.

Eligible photos must have a minimum resolution of 1980 X 2340 and must be original, unedited work taken within the past year.

Voting will take place April 5-11 through an online ballot sent to all CANR students, faculty and staff members. The online voting form will display the photos from each category asking voters to nominate a first, second and third place photo from each category.

The first, second and third placer winners from each category will be announced following the voting. Selected photos will be enlarged and placed throughout Townsend Hall.

About AGcelerate

The AGcelerate Enrichment Program provides a supportive environment to promote the academic success, leadership development, and career preparedness for students in all majors of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Participants develop a broad skill set and a close network of friends and mentors to ensure success both during and following their time at the University of Delaware.

The AGcelerate Enrichment Program offers tailored support for academic and professional success of students through:

  • Academic development and support
  • Math and chemistry tutoring on South Campus
  • Faculty and peer mentoring
  • Career and internship exploration
  • Social and service learning activities

For more information, visit the AGcelerate website.

UD researchers examine combinations of lamps, dimmer switches for poultry houses

Udaily story focused on their studying lighting technologies for poultry houses Newton Building College of Agricuture and Natural Ressources Univeristy of Delaware.

When it comes to broiler chicken houses, one of the most important parts of the operation is the lighting in the house, which can prove to be a sizeable investment.

A problem growers run into when trying to decide which lamps to purchase is knowing what lamps (commonly referred to as bulbs) and dimmers (equipment that controls lamp light output and switches lamps on and off) work best together for their particular operation.

Now, thanks to a study from researchers at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), growers can determine the best sets of lights for their houses along with the best dimmers to pair with those particular lights by using an online selection tool.

The research team that developed the selection tool includes Sarah Morrissey, an Honors Program senior majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences; Eric Benson, a professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS); Bob Alphin, instructor in ANFS and manager of the University’s Charles C. Allen Jr. Biotechnology Laboratory; Dan Hougentogler, a research associate in the department; and Bill Brown, a Cooperative Extension agent.

Lamps and switches

Beginning a few years ago when looking at the durability of alternative lights in poultry houses, Benson said they found that many lights that were supposed to last for thousands of hours were failing well before their advertised time of use.

Coupled with an evolving market that has introduced new lamps at a fast clip – which leads to growers wanting to adopt new technologies but unsure of how to go about doing that – the team members decided they wanted to get some baseline data to help growers determine how to best make their lighting selections.

Complicating the issue was the fact that the lamps run with a dimmer switch and are not simply run at full intensity all of the time.

“In poultry lighting, we don’t just put them in and turn the lights on. There’s a dimmer or two in the house, and it turns out that there’s a pretty significant interaction between the dimmer and the lamp and how it controls the lamp. Some lamps work really well with a given dimmer, some don’t,” said Benson.

Morrissey said there can be 80 to 100 lamps per house, and with the Delmarva region averaging two and a half poultry houses per farm, with some farms having up to 10 houses, the investment is significant, as lamps can cost up to $40 each.

Udaily story focused on their studying lighting technologies for poultry houses Newton Building College of Agricuture and Natural Ressources Univeristy of Delaware.

Morrissey began working on the project during Winter Session 2015 and looked at lights from 17 particular lamps — 15 LED lamps, one incandescent lamp and one cold cathode fluorescent lamp. She also looked at eight dimmers with 21 different dimmer profiles that made them more or less compatible with different technologies, and used a spectrometer to measure five aspects of the lights per test.

Those five tests included measuring voltage; the milliamps, which is the current; the Kelvin temperature; the luminous flux, which is the light intensity; and the re-fire.

Benson said they looked at the re-fire because in a poultry house with 100 lamps, “the re-fire determines the lowest point that the dimmer and the lamp will work together and in a lot of cases, when they’re out in a big house, they don’t all go on at the same point. Instead of all 100 lamps going on at the same point, two might go on at one point and six at another, which makes it difficult for growers to program their lights.”

Sometimes, the lights don’t start and stop at the same point.

“If the lamps go all the way down to 10 percent, some of those same exact combinations that can go down to 10 percent during the dimming won’t come back on to produce light until 25 percent just because of the interactions between the dimmer and the lamp,” said Morrissey.

The group ended up performing over 3,000 tests and they did not find an ideal lamp that worked best with all the dimmer profiles, and no dimmer profile that worked best with all the lamps. That was one of the reasons the group decided to create the online selection tool.

Selection tool

The selection tool is a website that anyone, including poultry growers, can access and find the results of the research. Greg Keane, a database administrator for CANR, and Christy Mannering, a web developer for CANR, helped with the development of the website.

“People can see the results for the different combinations tested to see which lamp works well with which dimmer and vice versa,” said Morrissey.

Benson added that growers can also ask, “‘I have a dimmer, I have a lamp, what’s the best profile?’ There’s some different ways that they can use this to try to optimize what they’re doing.”

While the group didn’t find a “one-size-fits-all” solution to the problem, they did find some combinations that didn’t work well together, which can be just as useful to the growers.

“Initial investments-wise, if you have all these lamps, it may make more sense to consider buying a different dimmer that’s more compatible with those lamps because a dimmer could be $200-$300 depending on the technology but the lamp investment, say you’re getting $40 lamps and 100 total, that adds up,” said Morrissey.

Morrissey was able to present the research as part of Delaware Ag Week, which she said was a great experience.

As for if she ever envisioned herself studying poultry lighting and using that research as part of her senior honors thesis when she entered CANR as a freshman, Morrissey said definitely not.

“I knew I wanted to get involved in research but I hadn’t quite narrowed it down. I was keeping myself open to different options and then they needed some help and I made my way into this and became more and more interested in it. I wouldn’t stop talking about my light bulbs over the summer,” said Morrissey

Extension outreach

The group also had the help from Cooperative Extension as Brown helped the group realize how important it is for poultry growers to have the correct lighting in their houses and how it has been an ongoing issue for the industry.

“Besides Sarah doing an excellent job with this, I think this type of project is ideal because we’re involving an undergraduate in research and there’s an applied side where it’s dealing with a real world problem that she’s helped in answering, and we’re fulfilling our land grant outreach,” said Alphin.

Alphin said that they support the poultry industry through research conducted in the department and work closely with Extension agents like Brown to get that information to growers.

“We’re trying to help the broiler industry and with this project, we’re seeing a problem, we’re seeing research that is coming up with some answers and helping with a possible solution for the problem and we’re involving undergraduate students in the process. I just think that kind of says it all.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan

UD Cooperative Extension accepts applications for Extension Scholars program

Applications are being accepted for 2016 Extension ScholarsApplications are now being accepted for those interested in becoming 2016 University of Delaware Cooperative Extension scholars.

Now in its 12th year, the Extension Scholars program offers UD students a unique, hands-on 10-week summer experiential learning environment under the guidance of Extension agents or specialists.

During this summer internship, students will follow Cooperative Extension’s service learning model, implemented through one of Extension’s four program areas: 4-H youth development, family and consumer sciences, lawn and garden, and agriculture and natural resources.

Any current undergraduate, in the summer following sophomore year and beyond, or graduate students at UD are eligible to participate and opportunities are available in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties.

Interns will work summer semester from June 6-Aug. 12, 40 hours per week. Some flexibility in dates/hours may be required.

Interns will be expected to provide their own transportation, and mileage to and from work is at the intern’s expense. All interns will be expected to participate in the orientation on June 6 and the Service Learning Symposium in August.

The deadline to register for the Extension Scholars program is Tuesday, March 1.

To register to become an Extension Scholar, visit the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Internships page and click on the Extension Scholars: Application.

About Cooperative Extension

Cooperative Extension connects the public with university knowledge, research and resources to address youth, family, community and agricultural needs.

The goal of Cooperative Extension is to help individuals, families and communities make informed decisions that can enhance their lives. In so doing, the organization generates and disseminates research-based information, provides focused educational opportunities and builds relationships that create effective solutions.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Lesa Griffiths named T.A. Baker Professor in College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Lesa Griffiths named T.A. Baker Professor in College of Agriculture and Natural ResourcesLesa Griffiths has been named the T.A. Baker Professor in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). Griffiths assumed the role on Jan. 16, succeeding Tom Sims, who retired on Jan. 15.

The T.A. Baker Professorship, named for Thomas A. Baker, a highly respected and appreciated faculty member in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS) from 1919 until 1958, is awarded for a five-year term based on clear and substantial evidence of impact in teaching, research or extension.

A five-person committee composed of endowed chairs from across the University reviewed applications for the professorship.

Griffiths, who has been at UD for 29 years and has interacted with thousands of undergraduate students, said she hopes that she has “impacted and will continue to impact the thousands of students and colleagues that I have taught and mentored in a way that is meaningful and lasting, and in a manner that truly honors Prof. Baker.”

After receiving her bachelor of science degree in animal science from Cornell University — of which Baker also was a graduate — and her master’s degree and doctorate in animal nutrition from Purdue University, Griffiths came to UD and served one term as associate dean for academic programs for CANR, followed by two terms as associate provost for international programs and director of the University’s Institute for Global Studies (IGS).

Under Griffiths’ leadership, participation in study abroad increased over 60 percent, ranking UD consistently among the top public institutions in the United States for study abroad.

Griffiths teaches a number of required courses and labs, including the Introduction to Animal Science and Animal Nutrition courses and the hands-on, laboratory-based capstone courses on beef cattle, sheep and swine. She developed the University’s first study abroad program to New Zealand and has accompanied over 200 students on study abroad programs focused on international agriculture.

Griffiths has been recognized with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Award for Teaching Excellence, the UD Excellence-in-Teaching Award, the CANR Outstanding Teaching Award, and the UD On-line Teaching Award.

Purdue University recognized Griffiths with its Distinguished Alumni Award and she has also been acknowledged for her work with students and is the recipient of two YoUDee Leadership Awards for outstanding adviser of a registered student organization, the Equestrian Team, and the Agricultural College Council (AgCC) Advising Award.

Griffiths is the author of a variety of publications on pedagogical topics including problem-based learning and the impact of study abroad on students.

In his nomination letter, Limin Kung, the S. Hallock du Pont Professor of Animal and Food Sciences and interim chair for the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, said that Griffiths has an impact on people that is “long-term and wide-reaching,” noting that she teaches a large freshman course that enrolls over 200 students as well as the senior capstone course for more than half of the department’s graduating seniors.

“Her influence on freshmen ANFS students is impactful as it is the first experience that incoming students have to our major. It is not uncommon to hear students praise her for making classes informative, challenging and fun,” said Kung, who added that the impact of the capstone course Griffiths teaches “extends far beyond the in-depth animal experience that students receive under her guidance. Lesa makes herself available to students 24/7 during these courses.”

Kung added, “It is Lesa’s personal impact on students — including some of the most challenging students — that is most powerful and profound. She truly understands the challenges that students face and she helps guide them through the University with unyielding support.”

In her letter of nomination, Susan Garey, extension agent for animal science and state 4-H animal science program coordinator, said she was writing “on behalf of the thousands of students [Griffiths] has touched during her career at the University of Delaware. We were fortunate to encounter Dr. Griffiths when we enrolled as undergraduates in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UD.

“Dr. Griffiths has fulfilled many roles in our lives during her nearly 30-year career at UD. As undergraduates, she fulfilled the traditional roles of professor, academic adviser and club adviser; after graduation, she became a role model, mentor and wise friend. Through these roles, she has had a tremendous and lasting impact on students’ lives, not only during our time at UD but in our professional careers, as well.”

James Magee, Judge Hugh M. Morris Professor of Political Science and International Relations, said in his nomination of Griffiths, “Through her contributions to many of the missions of the University, internationalizing the campus and especially in the area of teaching and mentoring, both students and faculty, Lesa’s performance at UD can accurately be described as excellent. Her contributions from her work as a teacher, mentor, and senior administrator have truly been incredible.”

About Thomas A. Baker

The professorship that bears his name was created by his wife, Ruth Baker, through a bequest made for “a purpose which will advance the aims of the University of Delaware and appropriately honor the name of Prof. T.A. Baker.”

The Board of Trustees of the University formally established the professorship on Dec. 19, 2001, as the T.A. Baker Professorship in Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The T.A. Baker Professorship is a college-specific award that can be bestowed on a faculty member in any discipline within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD graduate Susan Mitchell prepares the next generation of agricultural leaders

UD graduate Susan Mitchell prepares the next generation of agricultural leadersGrowing up, University of Delaware graduate Susan Mitchell always swore that she would never be a teacher. Luckily for her and her students — the future generation of agricultural leaders that she teaches every day at Millsboro Middle School — she had a change of heart when she was in high school and got exposed to agriculture through her involvement with FFA.

“My entire family are teachers so I would always say, ‘I’m not doing this.’ I just wasn’t going to do it because my mom did it, but I ate my words pretty quickly,” said Mitchell, who now works in the same school district as most of her family members and was recently recognized as one of a select group of agriculture teachers nationwide who received the 2015 Teachers Turn the Key professional development scholarship.

As a scholarship recipient, Mitchell attended the National Association of Agricultural Educators annual convention in New Orleans last November, an experience that she called “one of the coolest things that I’ve done in my professional career. I learned a lot and I brought back a lot. I picked up awesome skills and techniques that really helped me, specifically in class. I appreciate them for sending me.”

Time at UD 

After initially heading to UD with the goal of becoming a veterinarian, Mitchell majored in animal and food sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, but soon realized that she was drawn to the educational aspects of agriculture and added agricultural education in her junior year.

“I liked the fun, hands-on stuff because that’s what got me into it. I didn’t think I wanted to be in a school. Originally, I wanted to work at a zoo but after student teaching, I knew I wanted to be in the classroom and I knew I wanted to be in Delaware, which has a tight-knit agriculture community,” said Mitchell.

At Millsboro Middle, Mitchell got to start her own agriculture education program, which she has run for the past three years, establishing an FFA chapter in the process.

Mitchell, who is also a member of the Delaware Association for Agriscience Educators (DAAE) – the organization that nominated her for the Teachers Turn the Key scholarship – teaches two classes a day of each sixth, seventh and eighth graders. She gets 42 minutes with each group to try to provide them insight into agricultural issues and prepare them for studies at Sussex Central High School, which is Millsboro Middle’s feeder school.

“They start out with an introduction to agriculture and FFA as a sixth graders. It’s a lot of history and early agricultural practices and what agriculture is, and a lot of FFA leadership information,” said Mitchell.

The seventh grade class does an embryology project where they work in groups to hatch their own poultry eggs, a project that is set up like an agricultural science fair project.

“They weigh them every day, candle for a peek inside the shell to determine development and record the change in weight of the egg throughout the incubation period,” said Mitchell. “Is it going to increase, decrease or stay the same? That’s one part of the poultry unit, then they move onto plants, learning propagation techniques, flower anatomy, plant anatomy, and then we do some really cool food labs with them.”

The eighth graders learn about animal science, with goats and pigs brought in for live demonstrations and to teach the students about showmanship if they want to show an animal at the Delaware State Fair. They study cows during their dairy unit to learn about milk and ice cream, and they also evaluate the dairy cattle to determine the strongest and weakest in the group.

“The students can strut their stuff when they actually know the anatomy, and they can explain and choose the best dairy cow in the group,” said Mitchell.

Educating non-agricultural students

Some of the students have an agricultural background but not all, and Mitchell said there are fewer than she anticipated.

“A lot of them have goats but they’ve never participated at the fair, so that’s a whole new thing for them. I really try to get them into it because summer activities are part of what makes FFA so cool. It’s not just any September to June club. It’s way more. It’s definitely a lifestyle,” said Mitchell.

The importance of having agricultural education teachers for the next generation cannot be understated, Mitchell said, explaining that she gets to disseminate information from growers to those who are not as familiar with agriculture.

“I think it’s probably one of the most important careers right now because people don’t know where their food comes from in a time where there’s a lot of controversy over a lot of agriculture issues,” Mitchell said. “Agriculture educators are the middlemen. We bridge that gap where we can educate people without being super technical.”

She added it is important to do an outstanding job as an agricultural educator because “the generation that I teach are the ones who are going to come up with the new food laws and with the better technology and the better practices for agriculture.”

Offering advice to current undergraduates considering careers in teaching, Mitchell said it is important that they find a support system, which for her is DAAE and fellow agricultural educators.

“Don’t get discouraged. It can be stressful. Kids can be different every day and your attitude can be different every day, so you just need to remember the good days and plug through the bad ones,” she said. “It’s just like anything else you do. Sometimes it’s awesome and sometimes it’s not, but you just need to remember on those bad days why you love it.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Antonette Todd receives doctorate after being co-advised by UD, DSU professors

Antonette Todd receives doctorate after being co-advised by UD, DSU professorsAfter the University of Delaware’s doctoral hooding ceremony on Dec. 18, Antonette Todd spoke with her two advisers, Nicole Donofrio and Venu (Kal) Kalavacharla, which is not unusual after receiving such a prestigious honor. What was unique about the situation, however, is that the professors came from two different universities, UD and Delaware State University.

Todd had previously completed her master’s degree at Delaware State with Kalavacharla – director of the Center for Integrated Biological and Environmental Research (CIBER) and professor of molecular genetics and epigenomics at Delaware State who holds an adjunct appointment in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) – and went on to work as a research technician in his laboratory.

Knowing that Todd wanted to go on to get a doctorate, but also aware that no such program existed in plant science at Delaware State, Kalavacharla reached out to Donofrio, associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, to see if she would be able to assist.

Donofrio and Kalavacharla had worked together on a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant and when they needed someone to continue working on the project, Kalavacharla suggested Todd.

Rust fungus research

Todd’s doctoral research interest was in plant pathology, specifically studying the interaction between the common bean and fungal rust, carrying over the work she did for her master’s degree but looking at it from a different angle.

“The ultimate goal is to find a resistance gene in the common bean,” said Todd.

Rust fungus is a major problem worldwide and while there is some genetic resistance, the pathogen eventually finds a way to overcome the resistance, leaving the researchers back at square one.

The fungus is also difficult to work with as it can only be cultured on actual plants and not on petri dishes.

Todd’s project had to do with trying to figure out the underlying basis of cryptic resistance regions of the bean genome, working with plants that Kalavacharla had found during his doctoral research to understand what genes play a role and the location of important genes involved in the rust resistance response of the common bean.

Along with Kalavacharla and Donofrio, she was guided by UD committee members Randy Wisser, associate professor of plant genetics; Tom Evans, professor of plant and soil sciences; and Adam Marsh, associate professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE), who provided support and valuable mentoring along the way.

Todd used next generation sequencing and bioinformatics to try and determine what those genes were and got pretty close, narrowing it down to one well-defined region with a number of genes that look promising. Her work will allow a future student to come in and do their research around figuring out and identifying the magic gene.

“She was successful in pinpointing the region of one of those genes to a base region in the bean genome by a combination of genetics, molecular biology, genomics, and bioinformatics,” said Kalavacharla.

Family, career, doctorate

Todd not only worked at pursuing her doctorate, she also retained her job as a technician in Kalavacharla’s lab and had three children at home to care for, one born during her pursuit of her doctorate, and with a fourth due shortly after completion of her degree work.

“The great thing about the fact that Antonette had a successful Ph.D. experience is that we’ve demonstrated that you can do this even if you have a growing family or a young family – you can maintain your employment status and still get a Ph.D. You just have to be really determined about it and dig your heels in, and that’s exactly what she did,” said Donofrio.

Todd said that she has a “super family” and that as a research technician, her responsibilities include “everything from helping the post-docs out with their research, to mentoring our undergraduate and graduate students. We have a lot of students that work in our lab so it’s taking them through the process and holding their hands sometimes.”

Kalavacharla said Todd is a “wonderful person to work with and is calm and has a great sense of humor. She is very passionate about genetics, molecular biology, and agriculture. She is a very talented and intelligent person who has made it her mission to be a great mentor and a teacher. She strives to bring about the best in the people that she has mentored in research, be they graduate or undergraduate students. She has mentored many undergraduate and graduate students at DSU.”

Future collaboration

Of working with Donofrio, Todd said she is “awesome. She’s very supportive. I like her laid back style, which makes her very approachable. Her wealth of knowledge on plant-pathogen interactions is immeasurable.”

She also said that being co-advised by people at both universities was the best of both worlds. “Kal (Kalavacharla) has played an enormous role in my success not only a graduate adviser, but also by providing mentorship for real life issues such as managing family, school, and work.”

“I think I’m the first, at least from the College of Agriculture and Related Sciences at DSU – I’m not sure if they’ve done it at any of the other colleges from Delaware State but definitely from this college it was the first collaboration between DSU and UD for a Ph.D.,” said Todd.

Donofrio said she is hopeful that UD and Delaware State can have more such collaborations in the future and that it shows that individuals who really want to get their doctorate but still want to keep their jobs can do both.

“We demonstrated that people, if they’re determined about it and if they really want it, we can pave a way for them to keep their employment and get a Ph.D. That Kal and I were able to successfully co-advise her to completion was a good thing,” said Donofrio.

Kalavacharla said that Donofrio “is a very good friend and a respected colleague. It has been a wonderful partnership. Nicole and I share a common passion of training students and the next generation in biology and agriculture. We also recognize that although the University of Delaware and Delaware State University are two different institutions with distinct missions, there is common ground that can help serve the state of Delaware. Educating students and bringing about the best in individuals such as Dr. Antonette Todd is a wonderful outcome of this shared interest.”

Todd said that for anyone out there looking to get their Ph.D., the biggest piece of advice is to have patience.

“Have patience with yourself and have perseverance. Keep your eye on the goal, that’s the biggest thing,” said Todd.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

AgVISE determining best way to set cost-share rates for farmers’ conservation work

AgVISE determining best way to set cost-share rates for farmers' conservation workImagine if Priceline or eBay took over U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and farmers could set their own prices for conservation efforts. Four hundred farmers had the chance to do just that in 2014 through the University of Delaware’s Agricultural Values, Innovation, and Stewardship Enhancement (AgVISE) project.

AgVISE is a research project that gives farmers the opportunity to set their own cost-share amounts for voluntary nutrient management practices rather than the government setting what they should pay.

The project was a great success, researchers said, and is being replicated this year with an available payout of $100,000, more than double the original study’s funding. Most Delaware agricultural landowners are invited to participate, and landowners earn at least $50 just by completing a short survey.

In most conservation programs, government administrators set the cost-share amounts. The AgVISE project, funded by the USDA, will determine if letting farmers set their own cost-share may be a better way to manage federal conservation payouts.

AgVISE participants will learn about possible nutrient management practices they could implement on their farms, including: riparian buffers; phosphorus filters; and poultry house removal.

After evaluating the costs, participants name the amount they would be willing to contribute in order to receive complementary funding from the government. For example, one Delaware farmer removed an abandoned poultry house on his property for a fraction of the overall cost by bidding on his potential contribution.

The study’s associated survey will gauge the desirability of various land management practices.   Survey responses will help better inform policy makers on farmers’ preferences and ensure future “name-your-price” opportunities include the most popular practices.

The AgVISE project runs through March 31. To participate and earn at least $50, Delaware agricultural landowners can call 302-533-8285. Participation in AgVISE is voluntary and landowner responses and personal information will be confidential

For more information, contact Kent Messer, professor and Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment in the University of Delaware’s College of Agricultural and Natural Resources, at 302-533-8285.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

In Memoriam: Rhonda Martell

In Memoriam: Rhonda MartellRhonda Kay Martell, a University of Delaware extension agent with the Delaware Military 4-H program, died on Jan. 24, after a courageous three-and-a-half year battle with cancer. She was 54.

Ms. Martell’s passion for service resulted in her decision to pursue a career in serving youth through Delaware 4-H, to which she devoted the last 16 years of her life. She directed several 4-H youth programs in Kent and Sussex counties. Her proudest achievement was building the Delaware Operation: Military Kids Program within the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, for which she was recognized several times nationally and named a Delmarvalous Woman in 2011.

Ms. Martell was born on Aug. 23, 1961 in Milford, and, at an early age, began a life of service through her involvement in the Houston Cardinals 4-H Club, where she won several county and state awards. Her mother served as a 4-H leader, which inspired her to commit her life’s work to the Delaware 4-H Program.

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of UD Cooperative Extension, said that Ms. Martell was “a passionate extension educator who was dedicated and hardworking and always looking to the future. The 4-H military program has a great legacy that she leaves and she will be greatly missed.”

Doug Crouse, state program leader for 4-H, said, “Rhonda Martell was an amazing person, and very dedicated to her work with the Delaware 4-H Program through Delaware Cooperative Extension. She provided outstanding leadership to the 4-H Military Program, receiving numerous awards and recognition for her work with this initiative. Her work ethic was second to none, and the impacts that she has made, and the youth she has touched in the 4-H program, will be remembered for many years to come.”

Ms. Martell was a member of the Milford High School class of 1979, where she graduated one year early to begin her bachelor’s degree studies. She ultimately obtained her bachelor’s degree in human resource management from Wilmington University.

In addition to 4-H, she worked with organizations such as the Diamond Dance Company, Junior Achievement, Girl Scouts and the Miss Delaware Scholarship Organization, as well as the Kent County Links and the Kent County Leaders Association where she served as a former president.

She is survived by her husband of 35 years, Raymond Ronald Martell; her daughter, Kayla Martell, and her husband Kevin Gillis Jr.; her siblings, Richard Herbert Kenton Jr., and Regina Kenton Farnsworth and their spouses; as well as aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, many cousins and all of her 4-H family.

A private funeral service and interment have been scheduled for the family. A public Celebration of Life Memorial Service will be scheduled in the coming weeks. For details, check social media and the Rogers Funeral Home Website for details.

Online condolences may be left at this website.

CBEAR awards $300,000 to fund 12 behavioral science projects

CBEAR awards $300,000 to fund 12 behavioral science projectsCBEAR – the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research, which is operated jointly by the University of Delaware and Johns Hopkins University – is awarding more than $300,000 to 12 behavioral science projects that will examine the performance of various public policy approaches to agricultural-environmental problems.

The center completed its request-for-proposals process in September 2015. The selected projects aim to explain the complex human responses to agri-environmental policies implemented by government, with the goal of helping to design better public programs.

Kent Messer, co-director of CBEAR and the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment at the University of Delaware, said, “In these outstanding proposals, the overriding question asked, and answered, is ‘What works?’ For example, does an existing subsidy for conservation of land actually result in a larger amount of land being preserved? If not, why not? What kind of incentive might work better?”

Paul Ferraro, co-director of CBEAR and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School and Whiting School of Engineering, added, “The results of these funded research projects will be available within two years and can directly affect how agri-environmental programs are designed in the U.S. and globally.”

Many of the nation’s most pressing problems — climate change, droughts, floods, fires, polluted air and water, endangered species, shrinking agricultural and natural lands — have direct links to the intersection of agriculture and the environment.

The way governments tackle these problems is changing. In 2013, the Office of Management and Budget (Memo M-13-17) called for evidence-based policy design that relies on behavioral science and experimental techniques. Last September, an Executive Order by President Barack Obama noted that “a growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights — research findings from fields such as behavioral economics… — can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people.”

CBEAR is leading efforts to use this new approach to solve the nation’s agricultural and environmental challenges. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, CBEAR supports science-based research nationwide and translates these results into useful guidance for administrators and policymakers to craft more effective programs.

To enrich the studies, the researchers are working with collaborators that include farming groups, local water conservation districts, nonprofit environmental organizations, and agencies such as the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Ferraro said, “CBEAR is excited to work with this talented group of researchers and their partners from across the country to address important agricultural and environmental problems using the best of the behavioral sciences and rigorous experimental designs.”

CBEAR, which was launched in 2014, is housed in the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

To view a full list of funded projects, visit the CBEAR website.

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

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New Castle, Sussex counties announce spring Master Gardener workshops

New Castle, Sussex counties announce spring Master Gardener workshopsDelaware Cooperative Extension has announced Master Gardener workshops for the winter and spring in New Castle and Sussex counties.

New Castle County will offer workshops for the home gardener with topics ranging from beginning vegetable gardening, beneficial insects and their role in the garden, a child-friendly bee house building workshop, as well as hummingbird gardening in Delaware, landscape weed identification and a session on growing crape myrtles, camellias and magnolias.

Most workshops, unless otherwise noted with the individual description, are held at the New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, 461 Wyoming Road, Newark, on the University of Delaware campus.

For a complete list of New Castle County offerings, visit the New Castle County Master Gardener website.

For more information, contact Carrie Murphy at cjmurphy@udel.edu or 302-831-COOP.

Sussex County will offer a wide variety of topics and will host a presentation and book signing in March with Arthur Tucker, internationally renowned botanist and herb expert, who will introduce his new book The Culinary Herbal.

Classes are free unless otherwise specified, and all will be held at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown, Delaware.

Pre-register for workshops by contacting Tammy Schirmer at 302-856-2585, ext. 544, or via email at tammys@udel.edu.

To register online, visit the Sussex County Master Gardener website.

About Master Gardeners

Master Gardeners are working volunteers and are supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University Extension offices. It is Delaware Cooperative Extension’s policy that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran or handicap status. Those who have special needs that must be accommodated should contact the office two weeks prior to the event.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Delaware Junior Duck Stamp Program to host art and conservation competition

Delaware Junior Duck Stamp Program to host art and conservation competitionThe Delaware Junior Duck Stamp Program will host an art and conservation statement competition, a national art competition that is held each spring to select the design for the next Federal Junior Duck Stamp.

Each state will submit its best of show artwork and statement for the national competition.

Competitors that participate will choose a waterfowl from a list of species on the official U.S. Fish and Wildlife webpage and draw a live portrayal of that species in its habitat demonstrating its natural behavior.

“For the judging process they’re not looking for just the waterfowl but its surroundings and behaviors, as well, because that’s the driver in conservation for the program, and showing that they learned something,” said Autumn Starcher, Junior Duck Stamp Program state coordinator.

Submissions must be post-marked to the state 4-H office no later than March 15. The judging event will be held on March 29 at the New Castle County 4-H office.

The 4-H Junior Duck Stamp Program is an art and science based program that encourages wetland and waterfowl conservation through sharing and expression with art.

“Some kids might not be interested in science but they might really like art, so it engages the artistic kids in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and helps the science-oriented kids to be more creative,” said Starcher.

Each submission will be checked for plagiarism and put into groups based on age. This year there will be four groups: Group I (grades K-3), Group II (grades 4-6), Group III (grades 7-9) and Group IV (grades 10-12).

Those who submit artwork work are encouraged, but not required, to write a conservation message that expresses what the child has learned through research and planning for their Duck Stamp entries.

The Junior Duck Stamp Club is a national conservation effort supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Delaware 4-H Foundation.

K-12 youth who are U.S. citizens are encouraged to participate in the statewide art competition.

For more information on the Delaware Junior Duck Stamp Program or registration for the competition, see the website or contact Starcher at starcher@udel.edu.

Article by Jackie Arpie

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Anna Wik New Professor Profile

_EK36611Could you give a little background information about yourself?

I’m a professor of landscape horticulture and design and I teach courses within that field. I have an interest in a lot of different things: plants, the built environment, the process of design,  urban spaces, and place-making that’s inclusive for lots of different types of people.

Fall 2015 was my second semester at UD. I started in January of that year. This has been somewhat of a career change for me, as I have been a practicing landscape architect for the last 10 years. I was most recently working for the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, with a focus on urban public parks, and worked on many collaborative projects with the Philadelphia Water Department and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. I have a strong interest in urban design and community engagement.

What made you make the transition to academia?

I have always been interested in teaching. When I was in graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, I also completed a certificate program through the Sheridan Center at Brown University in teaching at the university level. I always envisioned myself taking that path as a long term career goal. While I was practicing as a landscape architect, I taught a couple of courses at Temple University as well as taught one-off courses at Morris Arboretum and through a local herb school up in Philadelphia. I was interested in moving into a full time faculty position, in order to more effectively explore all my interests instead of just being pigeonholed into being behind a computer all day and doing design work. I get a great deal of enjoyment and stimulation from engaging with students and people who are just getting exposed to these ideas for the first time.

What kind of classes do you teach?

I teach a lot of classes as my appointment at UD is primarily teaching. I teach computer-aided design (CAD) for site design, which is a course that covers AutoCAD, Photoshop, and other programs useful for representing design, from concept through construction documents. This course is geared towards landscape designers as well as civil engineers; basically anyone who is going to be using the computer to create plans for the built environment. I also teach history of landscape design where we cover landscapes from pre-history up to the present. That’s a really fun survey course and that fulfills breadth requirements. In addition, I teach bidding and estimating, herbaceous plants and construction materials. I also teach an advanced urban design studio in the spring.

What do you like most about landscape design?

I love that it’s a generalist field: you get to learn a lot about a lot of different things! I never get bored. As you can probably discern, based on the range of courses that I teach, there’s lots of different parts of the world of landscape design to explore: historic precedents and theory,  how things are actually put together, how to represent ideas, and ultimately how to look at spaces in new ways. I also love that it’s a very collaborative field, in that you get to work with a lot of different practitioners and other disciplines.

What made you come to UD?

I actually grew up in Old New Castle, so my folks are not far away and I am familiar with the area. I was particularly interested in coming to UD because this is a landscape design program that’s housed within a plant and soil sciences department, rather than in an architecture department. I earned my degree at a place where the landscape architecture department was within the school of architecture and that lead to a lot of wonderful theoretical ideas and understandings of the interface of buildings and the environment. The fact that this is a plant and soil science department means that this program’s curriculum is filled with a lot of practical knowledge, and develops a hands on understanding of how things actually grow and how plants can actually be used as a design material. This department and CANR overall also provide this awesome opportunity to interface with really innovative researchers and scientists in new developments and discoveries that are happening with plants and other natural resources. It’s really an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of how we can use plants as a tool in design for big issues.

What have been your impressions of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences?

It’s been a really great first few semesters. People have been really encouraging and welcoming and helped me with questions that I’ve had in getting adjusted to a lifestyle of academia. I love that it’s a supportive department where there’s a lot of people that have young families, which is important to me. I just hope to see more collaboration within the department as my time goes along.

Favorite part of your time here?

Seeing my students really grasp a concept or get excited about a new idea is the thing that makes me the most pleased and feel like I really made the right choice in making this transition.

Why do you feel that landscape design is important?

We are all continuously interacting with our environment and if we don’t have beautifully designed and functional spaces to interact with, then there is the potential to lose out on the recognition of natural processes. In addition to visiting local gardens, which are clearly designed, I take my history of landscape design students on a walk around campus and point out that UD is a designed space. It is amazing to me that people often don’t realize that they’re in designed spaces all the time, every day, as they are walking around. Every place can be made better by conscientious design decisions. Landscape design also has the ability to address major issues that we’re facing at this time such as climate change, sea level rise, and urban food deserts, as well to make life more equitable for everyone. Everyone can enjoy being in a space, it’s not reserved for the elite.

Any interesting hobbies outside of work?

I really enjoy hiking in the woods with my family and our three dogs. We like to identify birds and wildflowers. I am better at recognizing flowers than birds, but still enjoy it! I garden, and grow and use herbs in cooking and as natural medicine. I also have a Permaculture Design Certificate, and love to read about permaculture practices, especially food forests and plant guilds.

Article by Adam Thomas

UD postdoctoral researcher receives USDA grant to study arsenic uptake by rice

Matt Limmer, a UD postdoctoral researcher, receives USDA grant to study arsenic uptake by riceThe University of Delaware’s Matt Limmer has been awarded a two-year United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Post Doctoral Fellowship to study uptake of organic forms of arsenic in rice.

Limmer is a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

He said working with Seyfferth is a great benefit because she previously has examined inorganic forms of arsenic, while his interest is in the organic forms.

“Arsenic exists in a few chemical species. Inorganic forms include arsenite and arsenate. The prevalence of each species depends on the system redox [reduction-oxidation reaction] chemistry,” said Limmer.

The inorganic forms of arsenic have an arsenic atom surrounded by oxygen atoms while the organic forms replace one or more of the oxygen atom(s) with a methyl group.

“It’s similar to mercury and methyl mercury. You might remember in high school playing with liquid mercury metal. Mercury metal isn’t all that dangerous, but the methylated form is quite a bit more dangerous. A small amount of methyl mercury would easily be absorbed through your skin, potentially with lethal effects,” said Limmer. “Arsenic is a little bit different. The inorganic forms are quite a bit more toxic than the organic forms and so it’s useful to know what’s happening with these different species of arsenic because they have different toxicities.”

It is also important to distinguish between the organic and the inorganic forms of arsenic to understand the form of arsenic that is present in foods like rice.

“Right now, if you ask people how much arsenic is in their rice, they’ll just give you the total, which isn’t all that useful because you don’t know if it’s a ‘good’ form of arsenic or a ‘bad’ form,” Limmer said. “It’s been only recently that people have started to study in more detail how the organic forms and inorganic forms get into the plants and where they go and how to measure them.”

Limmer noted that even the good form of arsenic is still not “good” in the traditional sense. “It’s the lesser of two evils, or three evils, or four evils,” he said.

Using the rice paddies at the college’s Rice Investigation, Communication and Education (RICE) Facility, as well as growing plants in a greenhouse, Limmer will investigate if silicon, which has been studied to see if it can slow down the inorganic forms of arsenic from getting into the rice, can also slow down the organic forms of arsenic that may use some of the same transporters as their inorganic counterparts.

“Part of the proposal was, ‘Does silicon also affect the uptake of these organic arsenic species?’ And we’ve done some preliminary experiments and that seems pretty promising,” said Limmer.

Limmer, who did his undergraduate work in mechanical engineering with a minor in horticulture at Ohio State University and went on to get his master’s and doctorate in environmental engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, said he was interested in finding a post-doctoral program that was food-oriented but also allowed him to work with plants and contaminants. That’s how he came across Seyfferth’s lab.

“Food is the new cool thing to be studying, given the potential for chemical contaminants. Arsenic in rice is an important topic and Angelia is someone with extensive expertise in the field,” said Limmer.

Limmer hopes to one day become a faculty member himself and said that working with Seyfferth has been a great learning experience.

“She is super friendly and helpful and encouraging, and those are all qualities you want in an adviser,” he said.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

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Delaware Ag Week big on attendance and state’s global future

Delaware Ag Week big on attendance and state's global futureThe 11th annual Delaware Agriculture Week concluded Jan. 14 after a four-day run, with Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee calling the event “the biggest Ag Week ever.”

The event, held at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, is co-sponsored by the University of Delaware, the Delaware Department of Agriculture and Delaware State University.

The final day wrapped up an intensive schedule that offered a wide array of sessions reflective of the First State’s broad agriculture output.

It also included a visit from Gov. Jack Markell, who expressed gratitude to those involved with the industry for “making Delaware agriculture so strong.”

Markell praised local farmers for meeting environmental challenges. “We know very well farmers are really our first environmentalists,” Markell said, referring to the Delaware Nutrient Management Program, which began during the administration of then-governor Thomas R. Carper.

“Collectively you have done a lot of important work in this area over the last couple of decades. It has an impact in Delaware and impact more broadly in the Chesapeake Bay region,” Markell said. “Some of the numbers we’re seeing certainly reflect the progress that has been made. We are particularly grateful to you for how you are handling your nutrients more efficiently and for being good stewards of our land and water.”

Markell joined Kee in recognizing Delaware’s newest Century Farm, owned and operated by Robert C. Thompson of Hartley. The Century Farm program honors families who have farmed the same land for 100 or more years.

The Jan. 14 session also included a panel discussion on successes and challenges of agricultural production that featured Kee; his predecessor, Michael Scuse, who is now serving as under secretary of agriculture for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); Douglas Fisher, New Jersey secretary of agriculture; Steve Connelly, Maryland assistant secretary of agriculture; and Hamish Gow, agriculture professor at Massey University in New Zealand, who provided insight on emerging global opportunities for Delaware farmers.

An 11-year tradition reaps a large following

Farmers from Delaware and neighboring states view Delaware Ag Week as a valuable tradition. As co-sponsors, the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA), UD and DSU assure that the topics and speakers are timely, research-based, and reflect changing regulations and innovations.

“We try to assure our sessions offer new and timely information. Presenting new and different research is key to keeping Ag Week relevant and offering something different to farmers each year,” said James Adkins, an irrigation specialist for UD Cooperative Extension and a member of Delaware Ag Week’s planning committee.

Twenty agriculture experts from UD joined partners from DSU and DDA, and invited guest experts to present on a variety of topics and emerging issues of interest to agriculture stakeholders.

Sessions covered commercial and backyard flock poultry, beef cattle, small ruminants, and equine topics, as well as hay and pasture, woodland management, processing fruits and vegetables, fresh market fruits and vegetables, wheat quality, marketing, urban gardening and food production, and risk management.

Richard Wilkins, a third-generation grain farmer and vegetable producer, has attended Delaware Ag Week since the beginning and sees the event as an opportunity to keep abreast of best practices.

“In food production systems today, farmers are employing the most modern technology, the best science available in order to provide consumers with safe, abundant and nutritious amounts of food,” said Wilkins.

The sessions meet farmers’ need to know the many different productions practices in place today in order to appeal to specific consumer tastes.

Wilkins, citing his travels abroad, said that the “Cooperative Extension System in this state is part of what has made our agriculture system the most efficient role model for countries around the world. Their farmers look to Cooperative Extension as a role model for how to improve food production and standards.”

Bob Voorhees, a retired dairyman who currently produces hay and small grains four miles outside Harrington and also rescues horses, attended all four days and said he values the networking and learning opportunities the event provides. “The biggest thing is keeping up on the trends and updates on the amount of government regulations coming down the pike,” he said.

George Whitehead and his wife Lynda, small cattle farmers from Townsend, attended sessions on pasture, forage and beef cattle, and sought out the risk management session on farm succession in particular.

Whitehead estimates he’s attended Delaware Ag Week for at least nine years, and over that time has learned how things can be improved on his farm.

With a son, daughter-in-law and grandson involved in the family farm on a daily basis, Whitehead said he was keen to hear advice from experts on preserving his farm for future generations, specifically in the risk management and farm succession planning sessions on Wednesday.

“This session was very eye opening,” he said.

Referencing a session on estate planning, Whitehead learned an important distinction between the definition of “fair” and “equal” as they refer to matters of estate inheritance. “They’re not the same thing. This session tonight requires me to reevaluate my plan. We intend to proceed with what we learned here today,” he said.

Whitehead learned about the session from Dan Severson, New Castle County Extension agent. “He’s been super in helping us and our farm operation,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said his relationship with Extension has made all the difference in his farm operation. He advises fellow farmers to take the time to become acquainted with their Extension agent.

“The benefit to a small mom and pop farm like ours is just absolutely, well, you can’t go out and buy it. The dedication of Extension folks is just unbelievable. They are always there to help. They’re just super,” said Whitehead.

Presenting big ideas

In one of the sessions, Gow elaborated on the opportunity for Delaware farmers to understand their role in a rapidly changing global market. Trends indicate a global demographic shift to Asia, Gow said, adding that the fastest growing middle-class consumer sector is in Asia and the key to capturing that market is understanding consumer attitudes and preferences.

Gow said that 62 percent of Chinese consumers share their food experience on social networks. “Big Brother today is the consumer, and they are watching you wherever you are,” said Gow.

Holding up his smart phone, Gow said mobile devices now transform farm operations. Farmers need to connect what they are doing on the farm with the rest of the world and to those interested in buying farm products and learning more about the farm.

In New Zealand, Gow works with a clothing manufacturer aware of a consumer’s need for connection. Labels include a scannable code where the consumer can see where the wool on a shirt or sweater came from and learn about that particular farm.

Global interest in American agricultural is high, Gow said, but foreign markets are tuned into authenticity and ethics.

“Delaware has a huge opportunity to be a global local farmer,” Gow said.

Wayne Carmean, a corn and soybean farmer from Millsboro, hasn’t missed an Ag Week in 11 years, said that he found what Gow had to say about the preferences of the global consumers “very interesting.”

Article and photos by Michele Walfred

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UD students, faculty honored at annual meeting

University of Delaware students and faculty were honored at the Northeastern Branch of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America (NEBCSA) annual meeting in Philadelphia last week as part of the Northeastern Plant, Pests and Soils Conference.

Zhixuan Qin, a doctoral student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), took second place in the Graduate Student Oral Paper Competition for her presentation on “Trends in Soil Test Phosphorus Dynamics Following Long-term Application of Poultry Litter and Commercial Fertilizers.”

Katie Clark, a master’s student in CANR, was awarded third place in the same competition for her presentation on “Using Electrical Resistivity Imaging to Characterize Subsurface Phosphorus Movement to Drainage Ditches.”

Tom Sims, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Richard Taylor, an extension specialist for agronomy, were given Outstanding Career Service Awards that recognize those individuals who, during their careers, have not only distinguished themselves through contributions and service to the discipline and/or industry but have also contributed to improve the effectiveness of plant and soil science professionals within the Northeast by providing avenues for interaction among research, teaching and extension faculty, graduate students and industry personnel, one of the major objectives of the NEBCSA.

Cathy Olsen, a lab coordinator for the Soil Testing Program in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, received an Outstanding Support Staff Award that recognizes the excellent contributions made by professional research, Cooperative Extension, and support staff.

The awards conferred by the NEBCSA represent the highest in personal achievement in recognition of exceptional contributions to the agronomic, crop or soil sciences, education, and/or service.

UD to host seventh North American Duck Symposium in Annapolis

UD to host seventh North American Duck Symposium in AnnapolisThe University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology will host the seventh North American Duck Symposium from Monday, Feb. 1, to Friday, Feb. 5, at the Westin Annapolis Hotel in Annapolis, Maryland.

The conference is held every three years and this will mark the first time the symposium has been held in the Atlantic Flyway, one of four primary North American bird migration routes.

“It’s a huge honor to bring this conference to the Atlantic Flyway for the first time,” said Chris Williams, associate professor of wildlife ecology and leader of the Waterfowl and Upland Gamebird Program. Williams won the bid to host the conference on the Atlantic Flyway and is giving the opening remarks and, along with graduate students, presenting multiple papers at the conference.

“About 350 waterfowl and wetland biologists from throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and even Europe and Asia will attend to talk about the state of waterfowl ecology and management. Additionally, by hosting the conference here, it will bring attention to the Atlantic Flyway’s waterfowl conservation and management issues,” Williams said, adding, “It’s a big deal for our region and the University of Delaware.”

The conference will bring together academic researchers and students, government officials, non-government conservation organizations, and industry representatives to address shared priorities for waterfowl and wetland conservation and management.

Morning plenary speakers will be followed by concurrent sessions on key topics such as a 100-year retrospective look at waterfowl management and research, better connecting waterfowl research to successful management, integrating modern population estimation into management decisions, and implementing the 2012 North American Waterfowl Management Plan for successful conservation into the future.

Also, there will be sessions dedicated to breeding biology, migration ecology, winter ecology, foraging, physiology, diseases and contaminants.

Other conference sessions will examine techniques for determining population status and trends, population dynamics, survival and recruitment, migratory pathways, critical habitats and management options.

The conference will also feature two evening poster sessions, workshops and special sessions in response to a call for proposals.

A field trip is planned to view the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge Research Center waterfowl colony where multiple research efforts are conducted, including one by Jake McPherson, a UD graduate student who is estimating the energetic expenditure of multiple behaviors of American black duck and lesser scaup.

There will also be a forum at which students will present their research in oral and poster formats, gain professional experience, and network with professionals from around the world.

To register for the symposium, visit the North American Duck Symposium website.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD partnership with Mt. Cuba aims to make ‘eco-friendly’ a selling point for modern gardeners

UD partnership with Mt. Cuba aims to make 'eco-friendly' a selling point for modern gardenersSome plants are known for just plain looking good. These are the beauty queens of the horticultural world, the dahlias and orchids and lilies, turning their pretty faces toward the sun as if they’re aching to be adored.

Other plants are more highly regarded for their ability to do good—to sustain the species that rely on them and to improve the environment they inhabit. Not always as showy, and sometimes even a little awkward and drab, they tend to be ignored despite their inner charm by home gardeners intent on creating an enviable landscape.

The elusive horticultural holy grail in this equation has been the plant that looks good and does good – after all, a plant with noble qualities does little good if no one wants to plant it.

So for the past year and a half, the Mt. Cuba Center and its partners at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) have been busy searching for varieties of native plants that will charm the customer, but also benefit the environment.

As part of the search, they are taking cues from the true judges of a plant’s beneficial nature — the bees, butterflies and other insects that gather (or not) on the flowers and leaves of the plants that gardeners cultivate.

Through funding from Mt. Cuba, the researchers have set up beehives at Mt. Cuba and on CANR’s campus in Newark and have been collecting and testing pollen that insects have collected as a way of determining which plants are favored, and which pollens and nectars have the greatest nutritional value to the insects.

Ultimately, they hope to compile a “digital pollen library” of flowering plants (and their genetically modified “cultivars”) in the Mid-Atlantic.

They’re also keeping a close eye on the insects for clues about the potential impacts that genetic modifications may have had on certain cultivars’ ability to be eco-beneficial — whether, for example, a genetic modification that causes a purple leaf might actually make a plant less palatable to a hungry bug.

In the end, they hope to get information into the hands of gardeners to help them select the beneficial-and-beautiful. But they also aspire to nurture the growth of a philosophical change among gardeners, convincing more of them that bugs (and buggy gardens) are indeed a good thing — not just for the sake of crops, but also for the survival of all plants and other members of the ecosystem.

It’s an effort that’s remarkable in its willingness to explore that “nebulous area where horticulture and ecology intersect,” says Jeff Downing, executive director at Mt. Cuba, a plant research center near Hockessin, Delaware, that is already well-regarded for its studies of native plants and their role in a healthy local ecosystem.

It’s also an effort that seems likely to boost and enhance Mt. Cuba’s growing reputation as a champion of native plants, taking it further than ever into the increasingly lucrative market for bio-beneficial plants.

The UD partnership, in which Mt. Cuba and UD researchers hope to make “eco-friendly” a selling point of certain cultivars, is rare in the world of horticultural product development.

It also aligns nicely with the shifting preferences of today’s gardeners. For decades, home gardeners lined up to buy plants that were marketed mainly for their color and beauty, says Eileen Boyle, Mt. Cuba’s director of education and research. But they seem increasingly likely today to also be attracted to a plant that is marketed as having the “best nectar for butterflies,” or the “best pollen for bees,” she has found.

DKQ_3724“In the past, gardeners and landscape experts tended to treat plants like decorations, and ignored their ecological roles,” says Doug Tallamy, the professor in UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology who is helping lead the current studies, along with assistant professor Deborah Delaney. “Their priority was beauty for beauty’s sake, and insects weren’t too welcome in the garden.”

When the insects have plenty of “nature” around them to choose from, the bug-shunning inclinations of some gardeners aren’t such a problem, Tallamy says.

The trouble is, today’s overdeveloped East Coast landscape has diminished insects’ feeding grounds to such an extent that “the geographic separation of humans and nature is no longer ecologically viable,” in Tallamy’s view.

Even before the UD partnership began, Mt. Cuba had been working to help consumers choose varieties of popular plants that were best suited to the region.

Earlier in 2015, the center’s resident research horticulturalist published a guide summarizing the center’s research on a popular — but occasionally temperamental — plant called coreopsis.

That was preceded in the past few years by Mid-Atlantic guides to asters, coneflowers and heuchera, all summarizing which native cultivars “worked best.”

With the UD researchers now on board, that mission seems likely to gain greater momentum in the months ahead as research results become practical advice, working its way through the online networks of devoted home gardeners.

Originally, the UD researchers hoped to wrap up their studies at the end of summer 2015, but lower-than-expected caterpillar activity over the summer prompted them to extend their experiments through September.

In the meantime, Mt. Cuba will be continuing its efforts to draw the public even more deeply into its mission, through its twice-weekly guided garden tours, ongoing horticultural classes, and even an Ecological Gardening Certificate.

“We want people to realize that you don’t have to have an ugly garden to enjoy nature,” Boyle says. “Native plants are beautiful.”

Article by Eric Ruth

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Leah H. Palm-Forster New Professor Profile

Leah H. Palm-Forster new professor profileCould you give a little background information about yourself?

I got my bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech where I started as an animal science major and then quickly discovered I was really enjoying all the agricultural economics courses so I decided to get a dual degree in both majors. I stayed at Virginia Tech for my master’s in Agricultural and Applied Economics with a concentration in international development. The goal of my thesis research was to identify strategies to cost-effectively disseminate information about integrated pest management (IPM) to farmers in South Asia.

Could you talk a little bit about that work?

We designed a project to analyze how the federal extension budget in Bangladesh could be reallocated to disseminate IPM information more cost-effectively by reaching more farmers and increasing adoption of different IPM technology packages. I did field work in Bangladesh for eight weeks during the summer to interview agricultural and extension experts. I stayed with a host family while I was in Bangladesh and it was a great experience.

After my M.S. at Virginia Tech, I went to Michigan State University for a PhD in agricultural, food and resource economics. I shifted my research focus from international development to domestic agri-environmental challenges.

Did you do any research at Michigan State with regards to that topic?

I did. My research examined how to design programs and policies to enhance ecosystem services and environmental benefits in agricultural landscapes. In my research, I used experimental conservation auctions and also designed two real conservation auctions.

In conservation auctions, farmers submit bids for the amount of money they would require to use different best management practices (BMPs). Bids are evaluated using different types of models to predict the amount of environmental benefit that would be generated by those BMPs. For example, benefits could be measured as the amount of reduced phosphorus runoff or the amount of sediment reduction. Bid evaluation considers both the amount of money being requested and also the benefits that would be generated by those projects. There are a number of different metrics you can use to evaluate the bids, but the basic idea is that you can select and fund the most cost-effective bids.

Sometimes these auctions are called reverse auctions because instead of farmers bidding to buy something, they’re actually the sellers of an environmental good and then the buyer is an agency, the government or a non-governmental organization (NGO).

I conducted the experimental auctions in a watershed that feeds into the western basin of Lake Erie. Lake Erie has been a poster child of poor water quality recently because of harmful algal blooms (HABs) that are fueled by too much phosphorous, primarily from agricultural sources.

When you’re in Ohio and Michigan, everyone talks about these algal blooms because, in addition to being a nuisance, they’re also toxic. In 2014, they contaminated the water supply for half a million people near Toledo so it was a really timely project, which was great as a graduate student because I felt like my research actually could make an impact in the area.

During the second half of my PhD, I actually designed two real auctions. In the experimental auctions, farmers were in a hypothetical scenario. But in the real auctions, farmers submitted bids and we paid some of them to adopt various practices like cover crops and filter strips.

And you came to UD after that?

I came directly here from Michigan State and I started in August of 2015. I defended my dissertation over the summer and then moved to Delaware. It was a whirlwind, but it was also very exciting.

What’s the main focus of your work here at UD?

My focus is still on this intersection between agriculture and the environment and thinking about how we can design agri-environmental programs that engage more farmers and are more cost-effective. We need to find ways to maintain agricultural production that we rely on in the United States and globally, but also to improve environmental conditions instead of having the kinds of the negative impacts that are sometimes associated with agriculture.

What made you decide to come to UD?

I was attracted to UD because of the work that’s being done in this department, Applied Economics and Statistics. Our faculty have published a lot of excellent research examining land use policy, and water quality issues associated with agricultural production. The Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) is a great resource in the department, and I’m also honored to be a research fellow with the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-environmental Research (C-BEAR). Research priorities within the department seem to align well with my personal interests so I am eager to find opportunities for collaboration.

When I visited UD for my interview, I felt like people were really energized and motivated. We’ve had several new hires in statistics within our department so it seemed like there could also be opportunities to collaborate with them. I met with graduate students and undergraduate students and everyone seemed excited. It felt like it would be both a fun and productive place to work.

Has that been your impression since you’ve been here?

It has. I think because of the strong foundation that’s already here, I’ve been able to hit the ground running and this first semester I’ve designed an economic experiment to look at how different policies could impact water quality. I’ve enjoyed working with some faculty in the department as well as graduate and undergraduate students.

What are you most looking forward to? Is it the collaboration and the research?

Yes, I’m really looking forward to that. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the research that I do here to have impact both in the agricultural community and also for people who aren’t involved in agriculture but who value the environmental resources in the area. The Chesapeake Bay is an important resource in this region and a lot of the work I did at Michigan State transfers here. My research is moving from one watershed to another, but the water quality challenges are similar and a lot of the issues stem from how we produce agricultural goods. I think there are opportunities to conduct research that could really improve agri-environmental policy.

Any interesting hobbies outside of work?

I like trail running and practicing yoga. My husband and I love this area – we trail run on the Fair Hill Nature Reserve with our two dogs. I also horseback ride and I knew about all of the great resources here. I’m originally from Virginia, so this area feels like home.

Anything else?

I am excited to begin teaching next semester (Spring 2016). I’ll teach two undergraduate courses. One is Resource Economics and the other is Ag and Natural Resource Policy.

Article by Adam Thomas

UD researcher Jaclyn Smolinsky uses weather radar to find migratory bird hot spots

UD researcher Jaclyn Smolinsky uses weather radar to find migratory bird hot spotsWorking at a bird banding station in Louisiana catching birds coming across the Gulf of Mexico, Jaclyn Smolinsky remembers one day leaving a site where they caught 300 to 400 birds and looking up at a tree where birds had chosen to rest and thinking that it looked like a Christmas tree.

“There was a red bird in it, a blue bird, a yellow bird, a green bird – all these different colored birds – and I just thought, ‘This is so cool that these birds just arrived from a flight that probably took about 17 to 37 hours. This is so amazing.’ From that point on, I wanted to study migratory birds in any capacity,” said Smolinsky.

Now a research associate in the aeroecology laboratory of Jeff Buler, assistant professor in the University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC), Smolinsky has gone from tracking migratory songbirds at stopover sites in the field to following their activity and departures at stopover sites using weather radar.

“It’s staying with the same birds and using the radar technology so it’s really related to what I used to do except I don’t see the birds and put little tags on them any more, I just use the radar to study them. It’s sort of transitioned from actual birds to dots on a screen. But they’re still birds,” said Smolinsky. “I’m drawn to this side of it because there are so many cool technologies available now.”

In Buler’s lab, Smolinsky explained that they are using weather radar to identify areas that birds are consistently using – areas in high densities during their migration that would be targets for conservation.

“We’re trying to identify these areas that birds are consistently using in to be able to say, ‘Hey, this is an important place,’” said Smolinsky.

Sometimes on their migration south, however, birds will just take what they can get with regard to habitat, as evidenced by an area like Central Park in New York City.

“Whether or not it’s necessarily good habitat is a whole other story. In New York City, there’s a ton of birds that use Central Park. That might not necessarily be because it’s such great habitat but because all around it there’s nothing else for them to use. There can be these sorts of migrant traps, so to speak, that concentrate birds but don’t really provide great resources,” said Smolinsky.

This leads to an interesting phenomena of birds that are flying south for the winter actually making detours north and inland, which Smolinsky said could be to look for better foraging grounds.

Interestingly, Smolinsky said, a bird departing southern Alabama might head north on Oct. 1 but be found in the Yucatan six days later.

One bird in particular that has been tracked doing this is the red-eyed vireo, which will go north to a bottomland hardwood forest location to forage and then fly south.

Paper publication

The red-eyed vireo research was featured in a recent paper on which Smolinsky was a co-author published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper was titled “How Fat, Weather and Date Affect Migratory Songbirds’ Departure Decisions, Routes, and the Time It Takes to Cross the Gulf of Mexico.”

The research was led by Jill Deppe, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Eastern Illinois University, and Smolinsky’s role in the study came when she did her master’s work at the University of Southern Mississippi with Robb Diehl and was a part of Frank Moore’s Migratory Bird Research Group.

Looking at three species of songbirds – red-eyed vireo, Swainson’s thrush and wood thrush – the research team used automated radio telemetry to track the species from coastal Alabama to the north Yucatan Peninsula during their fall migration to investigate the birds’ decisions made when navigating the Gulf of Mexico and the consequences, which had been virtually unknown to that point.

The results of the paper determined that large fat reserves built up in the birds and low humidity, which indicates beneficial weather patterns, made for a more favorable journey southward across the Gulf of Mexico.

Smolinsky said that the fat reserves are hugely important for birds to make a successful crossing.

“There’s no island oasis in the Gulf of Mexico to refuel so once they fly south and they’re doing it, they kind of have no choice and it’s a risk. If they hit a rainstorm or something like that, a lot of birds will land on oil or natural gas platforms that are out there, and they use them to rest. Sometimes they don’t make it if they don’t have enough fat,” said Smolinsky.

The researchers also found that age was not related to departure behavior, arrival or travel time and that vireos negotiated the Gulf of Mexico differently than thrushes, which the paper noted could be attributed to defense of wintering territories by thrushes and not by foraging habits.

Article by Adam Thomas

UD’s Hong Li looks at how adding amendments to poultry litter lowers ammonia, greenhouse gas emissions

UD's Hong Li looks at how adding amendments to poultry litter lowers ammonia, greenhouse gas emissionsThe University of Delaware’s Hong Li is part of a research team looking at how adding alum as an amendment to poultry litter reduces ammonia and greenhouse gas concentrations and emissions, specifically carbon dioxide, in poultry houses.

Li partnered with researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Tennessee and Oklahoma State University for the project and the results of the research were recently published in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

Li, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS) in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that the project is ongoing and that the main challenge for the poultry industry is controlling nutrient emissions from poultry houses and conserving energy while also providing for the welfare of the birds inside the houses.

Acid-based chemical compounds, alum and PLT – another amendment – that are added to the bedding material in poultry houses prior to the birds entering have proven to be a very effective tool in controlling ammonia emissions.

“In the poultry industry, ammonia is a major concern. Ammonia during the growth period is high, especially during the wintertime. Ammonia can do a lot of damage to the animal, especially the respiratory system, and can effect overall animal health and welfare,” said Li.

Also, if ammonia is emitted to the air from the poultry house, it is a precursor of fine particles and there are national Clean Air Act regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency that have strict guidelines for controlling emissions.

“We need to control the ammonia, not only for the animal health but also for the public health. That’s why I’m doing the research, to reduce the ammonia emissions and improve the animal health and the public air quality, especially for the rural areas, to make sure our agriculture is sustainable,” said Li.

Li said that there are several products on the market to control ammonia in poultry houses and alum is the preferred product for growers in Arkansas, where the study was conducted.

While adding alum to poultry litter is known to reduce ammonia concentration in poultry houses, its effects on greenhouse gas emissions had been unknown.

Li’s role in the study was on the engineering side and he helped Philip Moore, one of the authors of the paper and a pioneer researcher on alum in poultry production with the USDA, develop an automatic air sampling system to evaluate the emissions reduction by using alum in the broiler house.

“We not only looked at ammonia reduction, we also looked at the whole environmental footprint – how the alum could potentially impact the greenhouse emissions – and the results showed that we reduced quite a bit of carbon dioxide emissions,” said Li.

Carbon dioxide reduction

The carbon dioxide was reduced in two ways.

First, because alum is an acidic product, it reduces microbial activity in the litter and reduces the ammonia emissions.

Ammonia comes from uric acid being broken down by bacteria and enzymes. Once the uric acid is broken down, two products are created – one is ammonia and one is carbon dioxide.

“By reducing the bacterial activity, we reduce ammonia and also we reduce the carbon dioxide; that’s one aspect of how we reduce carbon dioxide,” said Li.

Second, by using acid-based litter amendments in poultry litter, growers can reduce the ventilation rate and reduce fuel used for heating the poultry houses, especially during the winter.

“In the broiler industry, we want to control ammonia to improve animal health and welfare. They have to keep the bird comfortable with optimum temperatures. However, if you want to have lower ammonia, you have to bring in more fresh air, remove more of the ammonia-laden air. As a result, you have to over ventilate the house,” Li said.

“That means you have to burn more fuel to keep the house warm. By using the acid-based litter amendments, we can reduce the ventilation rate and the fuel use, which reduces the carbon dioxide emission from the house through the heating process. Basically, if we reduce the microbial activity and also reduce the heating, we can generate lower carbon dioxide emissions.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Keep up with our winter study abroad session

Be sure to keep up with the University of Delaware students studying abroad this winter in New Zealand by checking out the new study abroad blog!

Hear first hand from the students currently in New Zealand who are studying issues facing agriculture in the country, which is full of beautiful scenery, friendly people and innovative farmers. New Zealand is one of the most agriculturally diverse and efficient countries in the world and during their time in New Zealand, students will enjoy the natural beauty of the Canterbury Plains, beaches, Southern Alps, glaciers, hot springs, mountain lakes and temperate rain forest.

Based at Lincoln University on the South Island of New Zealand, just outside of the city of Christchurch on the Canterbury Plains, students meet farmers, entrepreneurs and agricultural professionals. They also learn about the history and settlement of New Zealand through excursions to historic stations, farms, the Canterbury Museum and the Arts Centre.

For more information, visit www.udnz14.blogspot.com

11th annual Delaware Agriculture Week to be held at fairgrounds in Harrington

11th annual Delaware Agriculture Week to be held at fairgrounds in Harrington Jan. 11-14Approximately 2,000 agriculture stakeholders will learn best practices and new technologies, network with leading industry vendors and experts and meet with other agricultural producers at the 11th annual Delaware Agriculture Week to be held from Monday, Jan. 11, to Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, Delaware.

“We are again looking forward to this year’s Delaware Ag Week. Individual session chairs have done a great job pulling session topics and speakers together,” said Cory Whaley, University of Delaware agriculture Extension agent and Delaware Ag Week chair. “This is a great event where attendees can get continuing education credits, visit with friends, and interact with local vendors.”

The four-day event provides numerous sessions that cover a wide array of topics including small fruits, fresh market and processing vegetables, small flock and commercial poultry, grain crops – with wheat quality and marketing being this year’s focus in a special evening agronomic session – hay and pasture, beef cattle, irrigation, and marketing.

A risk management session on retirement and succession planning will be featured. Nutrient management, pesticide and certified crop adviser continuing education credits will be offered.

Also as part of Delaware Ag Week, the Delaware Urban Farm and Food Coalition will host Meredith Lathbury Girard, a senior program officer with the Town Creek Foundation, who will give a talk on “A Regional Strategy for the Mid-Atlantic Food System” from 6-8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Delaware Center for Horticulture in Wilmington. Networking and refreshments will begin at 5:30 p.m.

The event is free, but registration is required. For more information, visit this website or contact Carrie Murphy at 302-831-COOP.

Delaware Ag Week is sponsored by the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Delaware State University Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture is an $8 billion industry in Delaware according to a 2010 University of Delaware report that factors in agriculture jobs and related production, goods and services that support the largest industry in the First State.

As with last year’s event, the main meeting area will be located in the Exhibit Hall, with additional meetings in the Exhibit Board Room and Commodities Building. A trade show, with more than 80 exhibitors, will take place in the Dover Building.

The Delaware Ag Week website features a listing of daily sessions as well as the 2016 program book, available for download.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Isaacs, VanSant receive awards from Delaware Farm Bureau

UD's Isaacs, VanSant receive awards from Delaware Farm BureauThe University of Delaware’s Mark Isaacs and Ryan VanSant were presented statewide honors from the Delaware Farm Bureau during a ceremony held in December.

Isaacs received the 2015 Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award and VanSant was named the bureau’s Youth Ambassador.

Mark Isaacs

Isaacs, the director of the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center and an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said he was honored and humbled to receive the award.

“It’s pretty special to me coming from that particular group, our state Farm Bureau, because I’ve always felt that what I did here was really connected to our state’s agriculture system and it’s important to me that those people at that level feel like we’ve done a good job,” Isaacs said. “It’s pretty special just because of who it came from and the importance of the Farm Bureau to Delaware agriculture.”

Isaacs, who also received the Sussex County Farm Bureau’s 2015 Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award, has been at UD for almost 30 years and said that he is proud of the way the 344-acre Carvel Research and Education Center campus has developed over the years and of the staff that the center has assembled.

“I feel really good that we’ve set our facility up here to meet the future needs of agriculture for the state, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in,” he said. “We positioned ourselves to make sure that agriculture stays number one in the state because we’ve been blessed in having some great staff. Being a part of hiring them and watching them develop and lead tremendous research and extension programs is really great.”

In addition to his service to the state’s agriculture through his work at UD, Isaacs has also worked with members of the General Assembly on governor-appointed boards to enhance Delaware agriculture.

He also has worked with students at the high school level, having served on agricultural advisory boards at Indian River, Woodbridge and Sussex Tech, and also having served on the school boards for the Indian River and Sussex Tech districts.

Isaacs said that reaching the next generation of Delaware growers is of the upmost importance to him.

“Being director here, we’ve tried to make opportunities for high school students to work here through summer jobs and internships to try to help them and also to recruit students into agriculture by making them aware of the diversity of career opportunities out there,” said Isaacs. “I love talking about the great things that Delaware agriculture does with our younger generation and I love seeing them get involved in agriculture. It’s pretty cool when you see you’re opening career opportunities for them when you talk to them.”

Isaacs, who was born and raised on a poultry, grain and hog farm and is the fourth generation of his family to farm, also teaches at UD. Last year he developed a course on “Understanding Delaware Agriculture,” which exposed students to all the different facets of the unique agricultural enterprises in the state.

Isaacs still farms grain and said that work is very important to him in keeping his roots tied to Delaware agriculture. “I think that in working with a lot of the clientele, when we talk about different things they feel my love for Delaware agriculture because I’ve spent my entire life in it — from a kid all the way to my professional career.”

As for his favorite part of his job, Isaacs said that it would have to be the teaching and the interactions he has with members of the industry.

“I really enjoy the one-on-one interactions, working with the clientele in the industry and having the opportunity to help them move their individual enterprises forward whether it be helping them look at different production options and communicating the research that’s out there and trying to help them enhance their operations,” said Isaacs.

Ryan VanSant

VanSant, a freshman majoring in animal science and French, has close ties to Delaware agriculture, having grown up on a family dairy farm in Middletown.

His family has been heavily involved with the Delaware Farm Bureau over the years, with his sister and older cousins having served as Farm Bureau Youth Ambassadors and his grandfather and uncle having served on the boards for the New Castle County and statewide Farm Bureau.

“When my mother was around my age, she was named Delaware Farm Bureau Queen, so we’ve been pretty involved in this organization for a long time,” said VanSant.

Being named Youth Ambassador is “honestly amazing,” VanSant said. “I had to interview against a couple other extremely qualified individuals for the position, and having been selected as a representative for such a prestigious organization and for an organization that I believe in is truly an honor. I have so much belief in the agriculture industries and the Delaware Farm Bureau and what this organization can do for Delaware agriculture. It’s an honor to be able to represent the organization that I love.”

VanSant said that his duties will include serving as a representative for the bureau, attending state functions and going to classrooms to teach younger students about agriculture and the different aspects of agricultural education.

He also will do representative work at the Delaware State Fair and attend meetings and banquets to represent the organization.

VanSant, who was recently named a finalist in a national competition for job interview skills through FFA, said it is important for the next generation to study agriculture because of the challenges facing the world to feed a growing global populace.

“When we look at the world as a whole and you see where the world is going in terms of climate change, and when you think about it terms of creating more food for the growing population, the only answer is agricultural education,” VanSant said. “We have to have individuals — whether it be agricultural teachers, or representatives of different organizations, or just people who are advocating for agriculture – who can spread the knowledge and the necessity of the agricultural industries, all those different aspects of why we need agriculture,” said VanSant.

Isaacs, who had VanSant as a student in his “Understanding Delaware Agriculture” class, said that with students like VanSant interested in agriculture, he knows the future is bright.

“He really is a fabulous young man. He’s got a lot going on. He’s a freshman and I would like to get him in the field of agriculture because he is a sharp student who shows great promise as a future leader in agriculture,” said Isaacs.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Michelle Rodgers recognized with two national Extension leadership roles

Delbert Foster, chair of the national Extension Committee on Organization and Policy for 2014-15, hands the gavel to UD's Michelle Rodgers.Michelle Rodgers, associate dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of UD Cooperative Extension, has received two national Extension honors.

Rodgers was named chair of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) and elected as a trustee on the National 4-H Council.

Rodgers said her position as ECOP chair is a major responsibility and that she looks forward to representing a diverse group of leaders with different opinions on Extension decisions made on a national scale.

“I’m very cognizant of those who may think differently than I and I want to reflect on all the interests of Extension directors from across the country,” said Rodgers. “It’s a good challenge for any leader of a group to reflect the diversity of the thoughts and opinions of the group but also to bring some consensus and decision making to move forward on the items.”

The executive committee has set forth many national goals for Cooperative Extension for the coming year, among them figuring out best practices for Extension programming in urban areas, focusing on innovation, and professional development.

Officials also are looking at the core values for Cooperative Extension on a national scale.

Rodgers said that providing a framework for a national Extension system is a challenge because each state is staffed and funded differently.

“A topic I talked about recently in Washington, D.C., was pesticide safety education. In Delaware we have no one individual assigned to pesticide safety education, whereas Texas has eight or nine people,” Rodgers said. “Extension is staffed from a statewide perspective but when we talk about doing things nationally, what does that look like and how can we speak as a national system when we’re still based in a state, funded in part by state dollars, and have expectations from our state legislators? What are the common things around the national focus that we can agree on and work with?”

Rodgers said that an example of a successful national program came about last year when Extension developed common training and curriculum for agents across the country with regard to farm risk management education.

“In our state, Laurie Wolinski and Dan Severson were the key leaders. They attended national trainings and then provided education to producers here in our state in combination with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA). All states used the same evaluation instrument and we were able to compile data and tell a wonderful story about the impact that Extension made nationally as a result of the effort across the states,” Rodgers said.

“We have the capability to work locally but on a national scale and that really helps to show the impact of our national system and why people should continue to invest and fund and support Cooperative Extension,” Rodgers added. “It’s more than a state system; it’s really bringing our collective pieces together on key issues at a national level.”

National 4-H Council

As a trustee on the National 4-H Council, Rodgers will have a role in providing leadership for fund development, marketing and promotion for 4-H nationally.

“We’re getting ready to launch a national marketing campaign across the country about 4-H and, again, instead of each state having to do their own individual marketing, we’re working with professional partners,” Rodgers said. “We’re getting ready to launch a national marketing campaign with some national spokespersons this spring. About 10 people are lined up, great people who are 4-H alums and who will speak to that.”

Rodgers is an alumna and a product of the 4-H program and her parents met in 4-H.

“I wouldn’t be here if my parents hadn’t met in 4-H, and 4-H was a major factor in my career choice,” said Rodgers, who got her first job working with a family and consumer science educator who had been her mentor while in 4-H.

“I have 35 years of work in Cooperative Extension as a direct result of having been a 4-Her and having been opened up to the career opportunities through 4-H. I also think it had a lot to do with my success in my college years in terms of my abilities to organize, make presentations and to work with others. I think it had a major impact on my capabilities to be a good scholar because I had skill sets that I had learned in 4-H.”

Rodgers said she thinks 4-H is one of the best youth-serving organizations in the country, with great adult mentorship for young people and important life skill development, and singled out all that Delaware 4-H has to offer.

“I’m very proud that Delaware has a wonderful menu of ways to be involved in 4-H. We have in-school, after-school, community clubs, we have camps, we have self determined projects that you can do — there’s many ways that you can be a 4-Her in this state depending on what works and what your interests are,” she said.

As to the future, Rodgers said that, much like institutions of higher education are reaching out to first generation college students, she would like to try and reach more first generation 4-Hers.

“I’m a product of the program, but what about the kids who haven’t had the opportunity to be a product of the program? How do we reach out to the first generation of 4-Hers who may or may not have had exposure to 4-H? I think there’s a great opportunity for us to expand our program by focusing on the diversity of young people who are first generation 4-Hers. And I think we do some of this, but I also think we could do more,” said Rodgers.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD research may lead to new control for devastating rice disease

UD research may lead to new control for devastating rice diseaseIn a “clash of the microbes,” University of Delaware plant scientists are uncovering more clues critical to disarming a fungus that is the number one killer of rice plants.

The findings, published in December in Frontiers in Plant Science and in Current Opinion in Plant Biology, may lead to a more effective control for Magnaporthe oryzae, the fungus that causes rice blast disease.

The studies were led by the laboratory of Harsh Bais, associate professor of plant and soil sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The first author of both research articles was graduate student Carla Spence. The co-authors included postdoctoral researcher Venkatachalam Laksmanan and Nicole Donofrio, associate professor of plant and soil sciences, in addition to Bais.

“Rice is a food the world relies on — it accounts for about one-fifth of all the calories humans consume,” says Bais. “So it’s critical to find ways to reduce the impact of rice blast disease, especially as global population is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, and the need for more food increases.”

Previously, Bais and his research team isolated Pseudomonas chlororaphis EA105, a bacterium that lives in the soil around the roots of rice plants and found that this beneficial microbe can trigger a system-wide defense against the rice blast fungus.

Now, they have identified a stress hormone that appears to play a crucial role in increasing the virulence of the fungus.

When little water is available, rice plants make more abscisic acid in their roots. This stress hormone travels up to the plant leaves to close off tiny pores, halting the evaporation of water from the plant to the atmosphere.

Bais and his team have shown that when the rice blast fungus invades a rice plant, an increase in abscisic acid occurs. But rather than boosting the plant’s defense mechanisms, the abscisic acid actually suppresses them, making the pathogen even more potent.

“It’s like a double-edged sword,” Bais says. “Abscisic acid can save the plant during drought. But when a pathogen is present, this same molecule blocks the plant’s innate defense response.”

In studies at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute at UD, Bais and his team treated spores of the rice blast fungus with abscisic acid. In 10 hours, 84 percent of these spores had germinated and formed a specialized infection structure called the appressorium, which acts like a battering ram, exerting pressure on a rice leaf until the fungus punches through the surface.

However, when spores of the fungus were treated with both the beneficial bacterium EA105 and abscisic acid, only about 23 percent of the spores formed this attack machinery.

“The rice blast fungus uses abscisic acid to its own advantage, which is absolutely wild,” Bais says. “People have been struggling to find targets for controlling rice blast, and now we have one, with abscisic acid. It’s one of those classic holy grails because this fungus affects not only rice, but also barley and wheat.”

Although abscisic acid may be responsible for virulence in the rice blast fungus, the molecule itself is not a feasible target for fungicides because of its crucial roles in plants, from seed development to its modulating effect during temperature extremes and high salinity, to its well-studied role in drought tolerance.

However, targeting specific genes in the fungus that biosynthesize abscisic acid could deliver the real knockout punch.

“Plants and their microbial neighbors have this beautifully complex and intricate system of communicating through chemical signals, with each trying to manipulate the situation to maximize their own fitness,” Bais says. “We want to be able to manage some of these interactions, too, to enhance food security.”

The research is supported by the National Science Foundation.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

Research images courtesy of Bais Laboratory/University of Delaware

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Botanic Gardens to present series on regional native trees, shrubs

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens will present a four-part winter mini-series on “Regional Native Trees and Shrubs” in January.

Led by John Frett, UDBG director, the series will focus on the cultural and aesthetic attributes of the region’s native woodlands and how they may fit into the home landscape.

There will be three lectures from 6:30-8:30 p.m., Wednesdays, Jan. 13-27, in 132 Townsend Hall on UD’s South Campus in Newark.

The Jan. 13 lecture will consider canopy trees, the Jan. 20 lecture understory trees and the Jan. 27 lecture shrubs. In the event of snow, lectures will be held Thursday evening.

There also will be an outdoor laboratory, a guided walk through White Clay Creek Preserve from 9-11 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 23, that will provide an opportunity to see specimens in the wild and discuss their identification more fully.

Meeting location for the White Clay Creek walk will be provided when people register.

Registration and prepayment are required, and those who register for three days will get the fourth free. The cost is $25 per day or $75 for the series for UDBG Friends and $35 per day or $105 for the series for nonmembers.

Email botanicgardens@udel.edu or contact Sue Biddle at 302-831-2531.

The gardens are open year round to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll.

UDBG contributes to an understanding of the relationships between plants and people through education, research, Cooperative Extension and community support.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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