Throughout North America the true armyworm (Mythimna unipuncta) occurs in sporadic large outbreaks. During these mass infestations their caterpillars cause considerable economical damage to cereal and forage crops such as barley, oats, corn, and alfalfa. Understanding the chemical ecology of the true armyworm will help develop naturally-derived agents and control this agronomical pest insect.
Dr. Sarah Koerte is a post doctoral research fellow in Dr. Kirk Hillier’s lab. In her research she wants to find out which plant odors attract the female moths to their hosts and how the moths synchronize their egg-laying behavior which leads to the mass outbreaks.
In order to understand the host attraction of true armyworm females she aims to identify the volatile compounds emitted by these plants which mediate attraction behaviour. For this she will be using electrophysiological techniques in which we study responses of neutrons in the olfactory system of the moths to host odours.
With Gas Chromatography- Mass Spectrometry Sarah will analyze armyworm egg clusters for possible chemical cues deposited by females which mark plants as suitable hosts to other moths. Furthermore, she will be testing candidate attractive volatiles in bioassays for their behavioural activity.