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Student Feature Friday with Olivia Smith

Posted by | March 29, 2019
Olivia doing research in her lab
Olivia doing research in her lab

On the last Friday of each month we sit down with an Entomology graduate student to get to know more about them, how they became interested in Entomology, and what their role is in the department. This month, we sat down with Olivia Smith!

Q: Masters or Ph.D., and how far into your program are you?
A: I am in the third year of my PhD. I earned an MS in Fisheries and Wildlife from Ohio State in fall 2015.

Q: What is your research project? 
A: My research is largely focused on the net effects of wild birds in sustainable food systems, including their ability to control pest arthropods and to carry human food pathogens. The impacts of birds on crop production vary based on both landscape (e.g., if the area around a farm is a forest versus a city) and farm management (e.g., how diversified the farm is, including if farms grow both produce and livestock). We have a few main findings so far: integration of livestock into crop production can support more diverse and abundant wild bird communities, especially on farms which are in areas with little natural habitat left to support birds. Second, wild birds have stronger negative impacts on arthropod natural enemies (predators like lady beetles and parasitoids) compared to pest arthropods, and thus increase broccoli leaf damage. The effect was greatest on farms in highly agricultural landscapes where birds were more abundant in crop fields. Third, livestock integration may increase food pathogen prevalence in wild birds, though the overall prevalence is low, and this project is still too much in the early stages to make definitive conclusions.

Q: How did you become an entomologist?
A: I would say I stumbled upon entomology. I became passionate about conservation of birds during my bachelor’s degree through my bachelor’s thesis research which focused on improving captive breeding programs of the endangered bridled white-eye. I then took a master’s position where I focused on the impacts of agricultural intensification on threatened northern bobwhite quail, which directed my interests towards sustainable agriculture. I then took a position in the Owen and Snyder Labs at WSU after finding an advertisement seeking students for their grant studying the impacts of birds in organic agriculture, which was a great interdisciplinary project integrating conservation and sustainable food production.

Olivia working in the lab with samples
Olivia working in the lab with samples

Q: Why would you recommend entomology as a career? 
A: Entomology as a career has the potential to greatly benefit society through improving crop production.

Q: What are your future career plans after graduation?
A: My goal is to obtain a faculty job at a major land-grant university. I hope to obtain a position that includes a mixture of a strong research program focused on applied agricultural sustainability questions, grower extensions, and teaching 1-2 courses.

Q: What is your favorite insect?
A: Syrphid flies