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Current Research Projects by Department

Department: Department of Environmental Conservation

The expansive growth of solar photovoltaics (PV) in Massachusetts has helped make the state a leader in renewable energy production, but there have been public concerns regarding the development of agricultural lands for solar PV electricity production. In response to these concerns, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) included provisions in the new state solar energy program which limit conventional ground-mounted solar arrays on farmland, while encouraging innovative "dual-use" technology. Under the new Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program, there is a significant financial incentive for dual-use systems which limit shading and obstructions, and require continued agricultural production on the land below and around solar arrays.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Your land is a part of your legacy. You have been a good steward of your land. Deciding what will happen to your land after you are gone is the next critical step of being a good steward. In fact it may be the most important step you can take as a landowner. Who will own your land and how will it be used? What will your legacy be?

Your land is likely one of your most valuable assets, especially if you have owned it for a long time and it has increased in value.  However, there is more to land than just its financial value. Because land can be connected to memories, experiences, and feelings, your land may also have significant personal value. Deciding what to do with your land brings with it the challenge of providing for both these financial and personal needs.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Should management actions for declining species, such as forest-dwelling songbirds, focus more on enhancing habitat, controlling predators, controlling basal resources, or combined approaches?  We aim to address this question by investigating two key hypotheses that may account for the so-called predation paradox. The outcomes of these two interconnected studies will provide information to assess whether actions to reduce predator densities would be an effective means of managing urbanizing forests for declining songbird species.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Forest conservation and management is already complex in New England.  Changes in temperature, precipitation, winter conditions and the timing of seasons have already been documented, and further changes are expected well into the future (Horton et al. 2014). Changes in forest conditions and the geographic distribution of forest types are likely to threaten some ecosystems more than others. Areal coverage of boreal forest and Northern hardwood forests are projected to decline based on model projections (Janowiak et al. 2018). This would affect those species of plants, animals, fungi and other organisms that depend on these ecosystems (Janowiak et al. 2018).
Ecosystems within forested environments, such as streams and wetlands, are also likely to undergo changes that will make it difficult to support viable populations of fish and wildlife and maintain forest biodiversity. For example, as air temperatures rise, corresponding increases in water temperature will further stress cold-water streams. As a result, cold-water stream habitats may disappear or become smaller and more fragmented (Preston 2006, Manomet Center 2013).
Landowners, foresters, conservation organizations, and municipal officials (forest decision- makers) need research-based information on potential impacts on forests and spatially explicit information to guide adaptation strategies and actions. Active conservation measures are necessary to: limit stream warming, identify and conserve potential cold-water refugia, strategically target land protection for refugia for threatened forest types, and ensure terrestrial and aquatic connectivity to maintain viable populations of species dependent on these threatened forest ecosystems. To increase resistance and resiliency to climate change, forest management practices will need to change to ensure species and structural diversity, and adjust to emerging threats, such as invasive species, pests and diseases. 

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

 Invasive plants are species introduced from another region (non-native) that have established self-sustaining populations and are spreading, often with substantial negative consequences.  Invasive plants have numerous detrimental effects on forest ecosystems.  Several forest understory invasive plants, such as oriental bittersweet, autumn olive, and honeysuckle outcompete or reduce growth of native vegetation. For example, glossy buckthorn grows in dense thickets that shade out native tree saplings and reduce their overall survival by up to 90%. Invasive plants also threaten forest regeneration by altering soil chemistry. For example, garlic mustard releases allelopathic chemicals that kill soil mycorrhizae and inhibit the establishment of native tree seedlings.  As a result of their vigorous growth, invasive plants are often able to dominate ecosystems following disturbance and impede forest succession.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Department: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

People depend on vegetables to provide major portions of the nutrition for healthy diets. For several years, the mineral nutrient elemental concentrations in vegetables has declined. The decline has been associated with the development of new cultivars of vegetables that have lower concentrations of nutrients than heirloom cultivars. Breeding of crops for accumulation of nutrients has potential for developing nutrient-rich vegetables but has not received much attention in genetic improvement of vegetables.  Cultural practices may give great and practical process for enhancing nutrient concentrations in vegetables, and cultural practices concerning fertilization to enhance nutrients in vegetables will be a priority in this project. Organic fertilization of crops is required for certification of organic produce. Producing equal yields and equal nutrient contents in organically fertilized vegetables compared to vegetables fertilized with chemicals are challenges. The research in this project will evaluate cultural methods that may be employed to enrich nutrient contents in vegetables through practices of fertilization organically or conventionally.This project includes a series of related experiments to assess nutrient accumulation in vegetables, primarily lettuce, in response to selection of cultivars of crops and management of fertilization. Organic fertilization will be compared to conventional practices of fertilization to determine growth and composition of lettuce in field plot and greenhouse investigations. Investigations concerning hydroponic production and modification of soil-based or peat-based media with organic or microbial amendents will be conducted to assess the effects of these amendments on productivity and nutrient composition of produce from vegetables.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Better knowledge of how to beneficially use residuals and reclaimed water is essential for environmental protection, soil quality, crop yield, food safety and human health. From this project, we will generate new and useful information on beneficial use
residuals and reclaimed water. We will examine the fate, processes and bioavailability of various contaminants (including antibiotics, nanoparticles, nanoplastics) in soils. Analytical methods for nanoparticles and microplastics will be developed, and these methods are expected to be used widely by students, scientists and professionals. In addition, we will modify biochars to make functional biochars to be used in soil improvement and remediation. Furthermore, we will provide the fundamental and useful data for developing nano-enabled technology for sustainable agricultural production.

 

Interest Area: Agriculture

It is known that legumes generally respond to existing N in the soil. When soil N is relatively high, legumes prefer to use soil N rather than to engage in symbiosis with rhizobia. However, the ecophysiological responses of legumes to existing soil-N level and the changing climate - including temperature changes and precipitation dynamics impact rhizobia nodulation - have not been studied in actual field conditions. This study seeks to understand these responses in order to improve N management, maximize the benefits of legumes, reduce off-farm inputs, and enhance soil health. Moreover, growth and N accumulation of legumes is heavily dependent upon the nitrogen-fixing performance of the microbial partner recruited by the host legume. Native rhizobia strains in the Northeast that associate with faba bean (Vicia faba) and sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea), two multi- purpose legumes newly introduced by the current project team to the area, have not been identified. In this project, native strains will be recovered from nodules, genetically sequenced, and their performance will be compared with elite strains maintained at USDA.
 

Interest Area: Agriculture

Non-point source pollution including excess nutrients, organic particles, fecal coliform bacteria, and additional pathogens is considered high risk at many animal operations, especially equine facilities. A common issue in these animal facilities is overgrazing which is the main cause of mud, resulting in serious threats to the environment as well as to animals and humans.  In addition, most equine facilities are regularly faced with a major challenge related to the large amount of manure produced by animals at the facility. Some of the challenges related to manure include 1) lack of manure storage 2) close proximity of manure pile(s) to nearby water bodies 3) animals' direct access to streams and other bodies of water, 4) undesirable characteristics of horse manure due to exceptionally high C:N ratio which makes the waste unusable for agriculture uses. In Massachusetts, there are estimated to be over 26,000 domesticated horses within the state. There are roughly 50,000 acres of land being used in MA for equine operations, therefore, there are about two horses for every acre of dedicated land- which is one fourth of the current recommended practice. It is estimated on average one 1,000 lb. horse will produce approximately 9 tons of manure. When including bedding, stall waste could be as much as 12 tons per horse per year. Managing this waste properly is a growing challenge for equine facilities, especially at places where land availability is limited, and the horses are kept in small acreage and stalls. Runoff from the stables to high traffic areas, manure piles, and unmanaged and overgrazed pastures are the main contributing factors to environmental degradation. Many horse owners do not have enough resources and background to make significant changes in their current practices including pasture, mud, and nutrient management. This provides opportunity for conducting research on various aspects of pasture management, manure management and provides information to remediate the negative impacts of equines on the environment.

Interest Area: Agriculture

This project addresses, via research and Extension, two important pests affecting tree-fruit and berry production in Massachusetts, the Plum Curculio and the Spotted Wing Drosophila.  The main goal of this project is to evaluate the attractiveness of aromatic compounds to overwintered plum curculio and to other early season pests.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Rootstocks are the most critical element in any orchard system.  It controls disease and insect susceptibility, tree vigor, treeproductivity and fruit quality and maturation.  Many new rootstocks become available annually, and our work evaluates those rootstocks under Massachusetts conditions.  Compiled with evaluations from across North america, we are able then to make very good recommendations regarding rootstock use in orchard systems.  Expected outcomes include increased orchard profitability and a general reduction in orchard canopy volume.  the latter results in lower pesticide requirements.  Further expected impacts include improved fruit quality. 

Interest Area: Agriculture

The project will employ established field and laboratory methods to measure litter decomposition, soil organic matter turnover, and nitrogen transformations. These methods could include isotope labeling and recovery, litter decomposition, quantifying soil organic matter, gross nitrification and nitrogen mineralization, potential net nitrification and net nitrogen mineralization, nitrous oxide production, carbon mineralization, and quantifying microbial biomass. These measurements are often collected from both
field equipment and laboratory microcosms. The results are analyzed using a variety of tools. Generally, graphing tools are first used to examine trends in the data. The data will then be statistically analyzed using linear mixed models and, potentially, model selection. The statistical output is combined with graphic trends and site background information to interpret data and produce study outcomes. This study will incorporate formal education programs. The research project will be the basis from which to train a graduate student on methods in soil biogeochemistry and incorporation of applied research into graduate study. The field sites and methods will be incorporated into formal laboratory instruction for undergraduates. Involving undergraduates provides both inclusion in primary research and evidence of how research outcomes can be incorporated by farmers. 

Project evaluation:
1. A key component of this work will be ensuring that the isotopes signals are detected in the study components (i.e. microbial biomass or nitrous oxide). This is especially true with nitrogen (15N) as the method itself is highly variable. Success will be                 measured as consistent results among replicates. Conducting a preliminary study on a subset of samples will ensure isotopes are within a range of detection and not limited by natural constraints (i.e. actual microbial uptake rates). This first evaluation step supports our first project outcome.
2. A second key component of this work will be consistently following mass loss in decomposing litters. This is dependent upon recovery of leaf material and removal of extraneous debris. Success will again be measured as consistent values among
replicates. This evaluation will be met through rigorous training of lab personnel. The litter used as travel bags (extra bags accounting for litter loss due to travel and experiment implementation) will serve as a quantitative assessment. This second evaluation step directly supports or second project outcome

Interest Area: Agriculture

Winegrape cultivar selection is among the most important components of vineyard and viticulture industry management. Prior to the turn of the 21st century, most U.S. states produced few to no winegrapes, primarily because of limitation in cold hardiness and disease resistance of the Vitis vinifera, the European winegrape species that comprises most commercial cultivars grown in the U.S. in traditional production regions. The introduction of new, interspecific hybrid cultivars has allowed for the development of grape industries in regions not previously considered possible. At the same time, continued evaluation of V. vinifera and hybrid cultivars and clones is critical to maintaining the winegrape industries in non-traditional regions. The major V. vinifera cultivars grown worldwide were selected over decades or even centuries for best suitability in European regions, and were then spread to California's and other arid western U.S. states. As new winegrape industries emerge, continued growth, and the economic impact that comes with it, is dependent on improving quality and quantity of grapes and wine produced. Continued discovery, development, and evaluation of winegrape cultivars and clones is critical for maintaining growth within this emerging agricultural sector.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Improving water management is of increasing importance in horticultural operations. A growing global population and changes in water availability will mean that less water will be available for ornamental plant production. There are also a growing number of federal and state regulations regarding water use and runoff from production areas. Better irrigation and fertilization management practices will help to limit the environmental impact of container plant production by limiting the runoff of water and nutrients from nurseries. It will help growers to meet regulations regarding nutrient management and runoff. Reductions in runoff will help improve quality in local ecosystems.

Interest Area: Agriculture

The public desires turfgrass that is well maintained with less chemical inputs, however, these expectations are difficult to reliably meet without a better understanding of the complex interactions between plants and the microbial community. The microbial communities that encompass the turfgrass system are vast and diverse. They include studying interactions between the pathogenic and beneficial microbes that reside on the surface of turfgrass, rhizosphere, rhizoplane, and root interim microbiome. These areas can be further investigated due to the recent technological advances/tools and can facilitate the development of environmentally sustainable management practices and inputs.

Interest Area: Commercial Horticulture

Due to regulatory changes, golf course superintendants have been left with no effective management for plant parasitic nematodes. This research will test commercially-available and experimental alternatives.

Interest Area: Commercial Horticulture

Development and spread of the insecticide resistant in annual bluegrass weevil populations and demands for sustainable and environmentally sound turfgrass insect pest management options highlighted a crucial need in the development and improvement of the microbial options for tufgrass insect management. The main goal of our study is to investigate potential of the enthomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium brunneum as a possible strategy for annual bluegrass weevil control. Particularly, we will focus on addressing the following issues: 1) compare efficacy of older conidia and newer Microsclerotia formulations against ABW adults and larvae; 2) determine potential of the M. brunneum for mananging pyrethroid resistant populations 3) determine potential synergistic effect of combining fungus and imidacloprid.

Interest Area: Commercial Horticulture

Bursaphelenchus antoniae, a species of nematode associated with pine weevils and maritime pine, was first described in 2006 in Leiria, north-western Portugal. The nematode has evolved with the pine weevil, and the pine weevil carries the nematode to dead and dying trees where the weevil lays its eggs. During egg laying, the nematode leaves the weevil and invades the tree where it feeds on fungi that have colonized the tree internally. Inoculations in Portugal with B. antoniae showed that this nematode was not pathogenic to maritime pine, a pine native to Portugal. Bursaphelenchus antoniae was discovered during surveys for Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, the pinewood nematode. Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, a native of North America was recently introduced into Portugal where it has devastated forests of maritime pine.
Bursaphelenchus antoniae was just discovered in the United States (Massachusetts) from white pine, and if this nematode was recently introduced into North America, our pines could be susceptible hosts. We propose to inoculate white pine, red pine, pitch pine and scots pine with B. antoniae to determine if it is pathogenic to any of these species. We include the non-native scots pine because it is very susceptible to B. xylophilus We are currently raising B. antoniae on fungal cultures in the laboratory.  Terminal shoots will be cut from 2 to 3-year-old potted trees and the nematodes pipetted onto the cut surface. The pathogenicity trial will be carried out twice. Positive results (pine wilt) will be retested on field grown trees. We will also trap pine weevils in various locations in southern New England and examine them for B. antoniae and other species of Bursaphelenchus, and this will help us understand the extent of distribution of the nematode. Forest service entomologists will initially help with collections and identifications.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

The concept of the current experiment is to study carbon storage and possible cycling in soils which alternate between saturation and nonsaturated conditions on an annual basis. To allow the data to be considered robust, or applicable to numerous locations and soil types it will be necessary to have multiple years of data, but to also have data that 'repeats' or replicates itself. Statisticians contend that replicate study areas are required, but it may be that the soil environment is different enough from one place to another that the least variability within the data will come from multiple or replicate data stations within a single area.

The goals and objectives of the project are: To better understand the hydrological, biogeochemical and pedological properties and processes that affect SOM decomposition, CO2 and CH4 greenhouse gas fluxes, and C sequestration in depressional wetland ecosystems, as expressed across geographical and climatic gradients. I also hope to determine the relationship between soil and air temperature and accumulated soil C stocks and fluxes in depressional wetland systems, to determine the relationship between hydroperiod (i.e. duration of saturation and inundation) and accumulated soil C stocks and fluxes in depressional wetlands. Finally, I will seek to develop morphological indices of the hydroperiod within depressional wetlands in order to estimate or predict C
stocks.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Department: Cranberry Station

In this project, we will focus on key pest and water management practices for large-fruited, high-yielding cranberry hybrid cultivars. Cranberry fruitworm (CFW) is the most damaging pest insect in MA cranberry and presents a significant hurdle to
maximizing yield. An understanding of pest-host dynamics is the key to managing this pest but has yet to be developed for new high-yielding cultivars, especially those most recently introduced. Weed management is critical to long-term sustainability and
profitability for cranberry growers since weeds primarily compete with cranberry vines for water, nutrients, and space (Patten and Wang 1994). Herbicides are an important and critical tool needed to ensure proper colonization and vine health during establishment and for the life of the bed. However, we have very little information on the susceptibility of new hybrid cultivars to currently registered herbicides. Fruit rot, a complex disease caused by at least 15 different fungal species, is responsible for a majority of grower losses ascribed to 'poor quality' and is often especially a problem on young beds. In recent years, chlorothalonil fungicide has been the backbone of management for this disease but changes in the European Union have eliminated its use on fruit destined for that market. Most of the alternative materials have specific modes of action that present a higher risk of developing fungicide resistant pathogen populations. A potential contributing factor to poor fruit quality (rot and
lack of firmness) is irrigation management both in regards to soil moisture and in its use for cooling the plants. The 2012 Farm Bill identified specialty crop production and research as priorities. This entire project addresses challenges to
the production of a specialty fruit crop. USDA priorities for specialty crops research include threats from pests and diseases. Climate change and water are priorities for NIFA programs. In addition, the research proposed is aligned with grower-identified priorities (Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, Cranberry Institute).
The primary beneficiaries of this research will be Massachusetts cranberry growers and the handlers who receive the fruit. Growers and handlers in other cranberry regions of the U. S. (Wisconsin, New Jersey, Pacific Northwest) will benefit to the extent that much of the knowledge gained in this project will be transferable to those regions.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Department: Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

 Despite the fact that plants are a rich source of novel molecules, valuable to both basic and applied sciences, only a fraction of the pathways and compounds in plants have been explored. The project proposed here seeks to discover novel plant-produced natural products with unique and valuable properties, as well as the genes and pathways involved in their synthesis. At the core of this effort is an extensive living Plant Cell Culture Library (PCCL) that was recently (2014) donated to UMass by Monsanto.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Plant diseases cause crop loss, reduce food production and threaten global food security (Savary et al., 2012). Focusing on two distinct pathosystems that cause Fusarium vascular wilts and the Basil downy mildew (BDM), respectively, we proposal to establish a pipeline to dissect host-pathogen interactions and provide novel means to develop disease resistant cultivars in order to manage plant diseases that threaten food security.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Natural products have a long history of providing novel compounds either directly or as lead compounds for human therapeutics, nutrition and agricultural applications. Fungal diversity has evolved over 900 million years and concurrent with this evolution in diversification of the natural product chemistry resulting in an impressive array of compounds known as specialized metabolites. In the organisms, natural products have biological activity to enable adaptation of the organism to its' ecological niche, ranging from profound effects of hormones to sometimes only the subtle effects observed under specific environmental conditions mediated by more specialized metabolites. In agricultural systems fungal metabolites can cause detrimental effects and large losses to agricultural crop yields, at the same time because of their biological activity these specialized metabolites can be translated for use as human therapeutics1-3. A significant renewed interest in mining fungi (and plants) for specialized metabolites is the availability of massive sequencing data and their potential for widespread use in agriculture, industry and as pharmaceutical agents.
 

Interest Area: Agriculture

Pollen grains germinate on the stigma, the receptive surface of the female organ pistil. Each pollen grain hydrates and extrudes a pollen tube whose function is to transport two sperm cells carried in its cytoplasm to the female gametophyte inside an ovule, usually located at some distance from the stigma. Recent research in plant reproduction has produced critical insights into how a pollen tube targets the female gametophyte (where the egg apparatus is located) through a female-guided process and how the pollen tube, once inside the female gametophyte, achieves sperm release to enable fertilization. Yet mechanisms that underlie the critical first pollen-pistil interactive steps on the stigma, i.e. adhesion of pollen grains on the stigma, pollen hydration, activation and extrusion of the pollen tube to penetrate the stigmatic tissue, remain unclear. The project utilizes the
model plant Arabidopsis to elucidate how these early events are orchestrated. In particular, we examine the contribution by three related receptor kinases (RKs) expressed in the stigma, FERONIA (FER), HERCULES1 (HERK1) and RK7.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Department: Department of Microbiology

The diverticulated crop organ of the common house fly, which is the major insect vector of numerous human food pathogens (e.g., Escherichia coli) is the major reservoir or storage area for this, and other, important food pathogens. It has also been demonstrated that this is where horizontal transmission of antibiotic resistance to E. coli occurs. Thus, the diverticulated crop organ is an essential component in the transmission cycle between pathogens and human foods/food crops. At the same time, the salivary glands of house fly are directly involved in vectoring pathogens and, are intimately involved in pathogen transmission. Almost nothing is known about the physiological factors involved in the regulation of both crop filling and emptying of the adult house fly. Even more concerning is that we know even less about the effect of various pathogens, either food pathogens or pathogens of the house fly vector, on salivary gland regulation. What effect does the salivary gland hypertrophy
virus have on normal crop organ function? A better understanding of how these two essential organ systems are regulated, will give researchers a better picture of how to use this information to explore novel, non-chemical control strategies that can be directed at interfering with the normal regulation of these two organ systems. Ultimately, non-traditional control strategies will be developed that rely on interfering with the function of these two organ systems, both of which are essential to the fly. It is the objective of this project to develop non-traditional control strategies, thus reducing fly resistance to insecticides. Thus, by compromised longevity of the vector, pathogen vectoring, and/or reproductive development of the flies can be interfered with resulting in death, abnormal flight ability, and or reduced fecundity.

Interest Area: Agriculture

The world fisheries production has levelled off and most of the main fishing areas have reached their maximum potential. In contrast, the global human population is increasing; thus, the demand for aquatic food products also increase. Global
aquaculture production attained 90.4 million tons in 2012, generating an incomes US$ 144.4 billion, and the production of food fish was 66.6 million tons. Epitheliocystis is a serious skin and gill disease in fish, believed to be caused by pathogenic
intracellular bacteria. The disease has been reported in at least 90 species of marine and freshwater fish in both the southern and northern hemisphere. It affects a number of commercially important aquaculture species, including salmon, kingfish, trout and bream. Infection in these fish species is characterized by the development of cysts, typically in the gill epithelia, promoting the fusion of gill lamellae. This condition is usually benign; however, sometimes it can be associated with a high mortality,
particularly in cultured fish. Infections can lead to respiratory distress and death, particularly in cultured and juvenile fish. While fish mortality data attributed to epitheliocystis is sparse, a remarkably broad range of 4%-100% observed mortality rates has
been reported. Even with the recent molecular advances in identifying the pathogens, the reservoirs and modes of transmission of the etiologic agent(s) of this disease remain largely unknown. Bacteria belonging to the order Chlamydiales are an extremely
important and diverse group of pathogens of vertebrates, which include respiratory diseases of fishes. Chlamydial infections of fish are emerging as an important cause of epitheliocystis in new and established aquaculture industries [6, 8]. However,
empirical data and direct evidence relating to the etiology, treatments and epidemiology remain limited, highlighting the need for more work to better characterize this disease across the different hosts and locales affected.  We hypothesize that Chlamydia-like organisms are an important etiologic agent of epitheliocystis. We believe that a better understanding of disease transmission, mechanism of disease process and host range will provide a basis for preventing this emerging disease in aquaculture. Upon successful completion of this project, we will (1) have a better understanding of the etiologic agent(s) of epitheliocystis; (2) have an understanding of how the disease is transmitted and possible reservoirs in the aquaculture setting for common fish species; (3) determine the treatment regimen most effective at preventing and eliminating epitheliocystis in commercial fisheries settings and (4) pilot an effective screening/diagnostic test for early detection and confirmation of epitheliocystis.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Department: Department of Biology

Current knowledge of the molecular mechanisms governing plant iron uptake and translocation is limited, as is our knowledge of how these processes are controlled at the molecular level. During this project, we will use molecular, biochemical, and physiological approaches to better understand mechanisms of nutrient (i.e., iron) uptake, a stated goal of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The focus of this proposal is on gene discovery, an engine for crop improvement in two important ways. Most obviously, understanding of the molecular mechanisms responsible for iron uptake and homeostasis is a requirement for genetic engineering approaches to crop improvement. Without knowledge of the genes involved, we cannot know what engineered approaches could be taken. However, public acceptance of engineering approaches is limited, and
partly because of this, breeding approaches have been extremely important in currently used efforts to enhance the iron concentration in the edible parts of plants. Many studies have identified quantitative trait loci (QTL) that have small effects. Discovery of additional genes will be essential in identifying the genes underlying these QTL and in understanding their function. At present, limited mechanistic knowledge limits our ability to understand these genes.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Many bee pollinators are in decline, and exposure to diseases has been implicated as one of the potential causes Novel work in my lab found that consuming sunflower pollen dramatically reduced bumble bee infection by a gut pathogen. These are excited results, but at this point we have established this effect only in the lab, with a single sunflower variety, one bumble bee species, and one pathogen species. The proposed work would expand upon these findings by (1) ascertaining how widespread the 'medicinal' effect is across sunflowers and related species, (2) determining whether feeding bees sunflower pollen can reduce infection by multiple pathogens in the field, and (3) ascertain how much sunflower pollen is needed in the diet to reduce pathogen infection. Combined, these data will provide comprehensive information that can be used to inform choices about coflowering plants near crops that could help manage bee disease, and may provide options for beekeepers of pollen dietary supplements that directly reduce disease loads.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Current agricultural practices on available arable land will not meet the nutritional needs of a population that will reach nine billion people by the middle of this century (Ray et al. 2013). In parallel, climate change will increase extreme weather events, including drought (Dai, 2011, Trenberth et al., 2014), and continued urbanization of farmland is eliminating arable land (Song et al. 2015). There is a clear need for sustainable agricultural innovations that can increase yields and provide food security without incurring environmental degradation. Soil microbes are known to form associations with plants and affect plant health, and in recent years, interest has grown in exploiting the beneficial associations that plants establish with microbes. The plant microbiome abounds with plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) that can help plants acquire more nutrients from the soil and tolerate stressors like drought (Barnawal et al. 2013, Bresson et al. 2014). PGPR can also control plant pathogens (Chowdhury et al. 2013), promote beneficial mycorrhizal colonization (Labbe et al. 2014), and produce potentially valuable secondary metabolites (Raaijmakers et al. 2012). Finding ways to harness these beneficial microbes to improve crop growth and yield has the potential to ameliorate the challenges imposed by the world's growing population and environmental degradation.

 

Interest Area: Agriculture

In maize and the grass family, programmed cell death has a particular role to play in floral development. Maize flowers are initially hermaphroditic, but become either male or female through differential organ abortion. In male flowers, the female floral organs (the carpels) stop growing after they have formed, and eventually undergo programmed cell death. Programmed cell death in the carpels of the male maize floret is partially under the control of the transcription factor grassy tillers1. In gt1 mutants, the carpels in male flowers do not abort completely (Whipple et al.; Bartlett et al., 2015). However, gt1 mutant flowers are not fully hermaphroditic, indicating the existence of other genes that act with gt1 to regulate carpel abortion and programmed cell death. Which other genes are involved in carpel abortion? How do they interact with known sex determination genes in maize?

We have designed a series of genetic experiments geared at answering these questions. We will use mutant analysis to investigate whether gt1 is part of known sex determination pathways in maize. In addition, we have isolated four maize mutants where the gt1 mutant phenotype is strongly enhanced and programmed cell death in male flowers is disrupted. Using genetic and genomic tools, we will identify the genes that have been disrupted in these mutants, and work to determine their precise roles in mediating growth repression and programmed cell death.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Armored scale insects (Hemiptera: Diaspididae) include many destructive pests of orchard crops, forestry, horticulture, and agriculture (Kennett et al., 1990), costing an estimated two billion dollars per year in the US (Miller & Davidson, 2005). They also have an extraordinary tendency to be invasive. As of 2005, the US had 132 species of diaspidids introduced from other countries (Miller et al., 2005), comprising fully 40% of the known US armored scale insect fauna. Of these, 85 (64%) were considered pests. About one new invasive diaspidid species is detected in the US every year (Miller et al., 2005). Here in Massachusetts, multiple species of armored scale insects are emerging as serious pests of cranberries (Averill & Sylvia, 2017). One specific target of this investigation will be the scale insect that have recently emerged as a threat to Massachusetts cranberry. Some armored scale insect pest species have been recorded from an enormous range of hosts. For instance there are 23 armored scale insect species that have each been found on over 50 different host plant families -- remarkable examples of extreme generalism (García Morales et al., 2016). It has been suggested that these are not true generalist species but instead are clouds of similar-looking specialist species (Loxdale et al., 2011). The goal of this project is to assess species boundaries within wide-ranging extreme-generalist armored scale insect pest complexes, in particular including the Chrysomphalus dictyospermi/pinnulifer complex, the Hemiberlesia palmae/cyanophylli complex, and the Selenaspidus articulatus complex. Each of these includes at least one globally invasive species, and for each we already have extensive samples from multiple hosts within the native range. We will sequence a sample of each insect's genome and using modern analytical methods to distinguish the species. We will assess the geographic range and host range of each species, and assess which are pests, which are potential invasive pests, and which are non-pests. We will seek morphological diagnostic characters and describe the new species in cases when it is practical to do so. We w ll publish our results in the peer-reviewed literature and present them at national and international entomology conferences. 

Interest Area: Agriculture

Eastern white pine has enormous economic value throughout its range. Over the region, the net volume of white pine saw logs is over 186 billion board feet (USDA Forest Service, Forest Inventory and Analysis). With a typical market price of $100/1,000 bd ft, the potential value of standing white pine is $18.6 billion. White pine attains the largest dimensions of any eastern tree serving as a critical habitat for many species of wildlife that depend on emergent crowns and large snags and downed woody debris. In addition, white pine serves as an important landscape ornamental and is widely planted in towns and cities across the eastern United States.  However,  in recent years White pines have experienced unprecedented damage due to native pests and pathogens that reduce growth, productivity and economic value.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Many bee pollinators are in decline, and exposure to diseases has been implicated as one of the potential causes. In my lab, we have already established that pollen from one domesticated sunflower source dramatically reduces Crithidia infection loads in the common eastern bumble bees in the laboratory, and that consumption of this pollen improves performance of healthy and infected bee microcolonies. We will expand this work by growing many sunflower cultivars and related taxa, collecting pollen, and repeating laboratory assays to establish how widespread this medicinal trait is across sunflower-related taxa.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Department: Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences

We have promising proof-of-concept results with a small cohort of mares and would like to conduct further studies with additional mares to address the safety and efficacy of this approach. This is a proof of concept project that addresses: a) potential harmful endocrine disruptors; and b) dangerous mare behavior patterns associated with estrus that put horse riders and handlers at risk; and c) the hypothesis that current inadequacies in equine estrus control need to be revisited. The objectives of this study are to continue to test and perfect a new SIUD that would suppress the expression of estrus behavior in
mares by extending the lifespan of corpora lutea. In addition, we will embed the devices with a i) progestogen, as a tool for estrus synchronization in embryo transfer programs, ii) copper, as a contraceptive and iii) test fertility in mares carrying a copper SIUD.
Methods
We will have mares of mixed breed, age and parity, and under the care of the Equine Management Program, UMass Amherst. This research will be in full compliance with UMass IACUC. Mares will be observed for change in behavior by a Massachusetts licensed rider instructor for handling, training and rideability: 1) no change; 2) change; 3) significant change. Progesterone will be assayed every other day or biweekly. Paired uterine biopsies will be taken immediately before or at the time of insertion and retrieval. Progesterone and biopsy samples will be independently assayed/interpreted in offsite
reference institutions.

Interest Area: Agriculture

The relationship between domesticated animals and humans is a close one, and has existed for at least ten thousand years. It is important to understand the immune defenses of many animals, in addition to the immune defenses of humans and mice. The goal of our project is is characterize the genetic diversity of a family of immune receptors in domesticated animals and use this information for selective breeding and the design of better vaccines.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Identify land-grant universities, the BLM and others entities involved in sustainable management of feral equids, to collaborate and find solutions for a balanced coexistance of feral and domestic populations.
Goals / Objectives
(1)
Integrate existing biological, ecological and economic data to make comprehensive science-based recommendations for the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board for sustainable management of wild and free-roaming horses and burros and the rangelands they inhabit.
(2)
Identify areas for future collaboration between land-grant universities and the BLM and others for sustainable management of wild and free-roaming horses and burros and the rangeland they inhabit.

Interest Area: Agriculture

There is a great need to provide women with evidence based advice on how they can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. Research has shown that compounds in fruits and vegetables have anti-cancer properties and most people agree that a diet rich in nutritious fruits and vegetables may help prevent breast cancer.  Because we want to look at changes directly in breast tissue of young women, we will study breastmilk and conduct a diet intervention study in women who are nursing their first born child.

Interest Area: Nutrition

 The purpose of this work is to determine if depolarizing insecticides, specifically the neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, cause insulin resistance (IR) in the obesity model insect D. melanogaster.  Employing field-realistic concentrations establishes this as a proof-of-principle experiment to develop the tools and strategy to study this process in the honeybee and its relationship to CCD. Nutritional factors are established major stressors involved in CCD. The reduced ability of bees to assimilate glucose due to IR would intensify the stress already caused by nutritional resources that are limited or of poor quality.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Department: Department of Resource Economics

We will develop a mathematical model that predicts how farmers (or firms) will make decisions when choosing between two markets. The markets we will study include a wholesale market, where farmer's products are no different from all other farmers, and a farm-to-school market where the farmer's products are differentiated (the farmer is known and the products are known to be locally produced). We will then design economic experiments that could be used to test the model's theoretical results. Plans for the design will focus on determining how farmers will allocate their products among the two markets given different levels of transaction costs and market power. We will also work on the design of a preliminary experiment to determine the social preferences of the "farmers." The choices of these "farmers" will then differ according to their social preferences, the transaction costs they face in marketing their products, and the amount of market power they possess and the school possesses.

Interest Area: Agriculture

The food industry is under transformation due to some important changes in consumer preferences. With a trend towards a healthier lifestyle, food quality, nutrition, and safety are increasingly important to consumers today. There is an increasing demand for more information about the nutritional content of food, for food considered healthy and health-enhancing. However, at the same time, obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise and so do health care costs as a result. There is significant interest in developing and implementing policies to address these problems and promote healthy eating. In this Hatch project, we examine the effects of two public policies aimed at improving consumer health outcomes.  More specifically, we propose estimating the welfare effects of a policy proposal that bans use of partially-hydrogenated oil in food products leading to a ban on trans fat. Partially hydrogenated oil as a source of trans fat, is a primary cause of deaths related to heart attack and obesity in the United States. However, use of partially-hydrogenated oil as an ingredient, even in small amounts, significantly decreases cost of production by providing longer storability and shelf stability. To evaluate welfare effects of this ban, taking into account the demand- and supply-side responses, we use the microwaveable popcorn market as a case study, use Nielsen retail scanner datasets, and estimate a consumer demand model for microwaveable popcorns. We recover consumer preferences as well as marginal cost of production. We propose estimating counterfactuals by allowing firms to endogenously choose prices as well as product portfolios. Using our model, we can simulate the expected product offerings in the market as well as the prices of those products, hence we can compute the total gain in welfare from both before and afterthe ban is imposed.

Interest Area: Nutrition

The food industry is being transformed by two important changes. It has recently been characterized by rising concentration, partly due to a number of large mergers since the beginning of the new millennium.[1]  In addition, the advent of the internet is affecting the source of advertising and the method of purchase for many food products. Firms in the industry must devise strategies to adapt to and capitalize on these changes that have the potential to affect market structure and performance. We propose research on the food industry with two related components that examine the effect of firms' strategies in pricing and advertising on market concentration and market performance.  The first component ("Concentration and Fragmentation in the Age of Digital Advertising") examines the effect of digital advertising on market concentration using beer sales data, which provides the advantage of observing two similar, but distinct markets - light and regular beers. The second component ("Market Reactions to Potential Entry") investigates the role of price variation in defending against market entry. For this component we use data on steak sauce sales. These data are particularly advantageous for this study because of the limited number of brands and the infrequent nature of consumer purchases in this market.

Interest Area: Community & Economic Vitality

The food industry is under transformation due to some important changes in consumer preferences. With a trend towards a healthier lifestyle, food quality, nutrition, and safety are increasingly important to consumers today. There is an increasing demand for more information about the nutritional content of food, for food considered healthy and health-enhancing. However, at the same time, obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise and so do health care costs as a result. There is significant interest in developing and implementing policies to address these problems and promote healthy eating. In this Hatch project, we examine the effects of two public policies aimed at improving consumer health outcomes.  More specifically, we propose estimating the welfare effects of a policy proposal that bans use of partially-hydrogenated oil in food products leading to a ban on trans fat. Partially hydrogenated oil as a source of trans fat, is a primary cause of deaths related to heart attack and obesity in the United States. However, use of partially-hydrogenated oil as an ingredient, even in small amounts, significantly decreases cost of production by providing longer storability and shelf stability. To evaluate welfare effects of this ban, taking into account the demand- and supply-side responses, we use the microwaveable popcorn market as a case study, use Nielsen retail scanner datasets, and estimate a consumer demand model for microwaveable popcorns. We recover consumer preferences as well as marginal cost of production. We propose estimating counterfactuals by allowing firms to endogenously choose prices as well as product portfolios. Using our model, we can simulate the expected product offerings in the market as well as the prices of those products, hence we can compute the total gain in welfare from both before and afterthe ban is imposed.

Interest Area: Community & Economic Vitality

Department:

Department: Department of Nutrition

 A major driver of food choice today among consumers is health promotion, which has resulted in ever-expanding research on bioactive food components and nutriceuticals. As each person's diet is a key contributor to health and disease risk, agriculture has been a core sector of economic viability and food production systems with the increasing recognition of the interface between nutrition and agriculture.

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated many health benefits of food-based bioactive components, suggesting that bioactive molecules in our diet can be effective in preventing or delaying the disease process.

Therefore it is important to identify the novel bioactive molecules...capable of preventing diseases...through cellular signaling and gene regulation.

 

Interest Area: Nutrition

Mounting epidemiological and experimental evidence consistently indicates that obesity is a robust risk factor for colorectal cancer. As obesity has reached an epidemic level and further increases are projected in the future, it is critical to understand the mechanism(s) responsible for the link between obesity and colon cancer risk. Novel observations from our two recent studies indicate that a specific bacterium, Turicibacter, and the bacterial metabolite butyrate may act as mediators linking high fat diet-induced obesity and intestinal cancer, but not for genetically-induced obesity and intestinal cancer. This project aims to define this innovative mechanism, and thereby to inform the development of dietary strategies for preventing dietary obesity related intestinal cancer.

Interest Area: Nutrition

Department: Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning

This research considers ways that "social infrastructure" and "green infrastructure" can mitigate the impact of climate change and severe climate emergencies on vulnerable populations in Springfield, Massachusetts and similar cities. While there is ample research on ways to protect vulnerable populations (elderly, low-income, and minority populations) from climate change, very little research addresses the role that social infrastructure and green infrastructure can play. Even less research addresses this
situation as it pertains to cities like Springfield, the small to mid-sized former manufacturing centers that comprise the country's "legacy cities," commonly known in Massachusetts as "Gateway Cities.". Springfield and other similar cities tend to have particular challenges that larger, richer cities do not experience to the same degree. Mid-sized legacy cities have relatively weak economies and have higher proportions of vulnerable residents (especially poor and elderly). With limited budgets, many of these cities have trouble meeting basic needs and lack the resources to invest in neighborhood parks and community infrastructure. Through community engagement, interviews, and surveys of neighborhood residents, our study may help demonstrate the importance of investing in these types of infrastructure. Our work may also be an important incentive for cities to implement capital projects or policies that give priority to investments in social and green infrastructure.
The proposed research has three main parts: 1. Assessment of the current situation in Springfield and similar mid-size cities - We will begin our research by gathering information about Springfield, its residents and the impact that climate change may have there or in similar cities. We will describe and identify the city's vulnerable populations: Where do they live, and what challenges do they face related to climate change? What data is needed to understand how these challenges might be addressed and how can that data be obtained?
2. Data collection and analysis - In order to reach marginalized and traditionally underrepresented residents (non-English speakers, people of color, and elderly), we will draw on our research team's longstanding connections to the Springfield community, using a "Community Based Participatory Research" model. Working closely with the community will allow us to collect in-depth data through personal interviews and community dialogues. The data we collect will increase our knowledge of Springfield, its neighborhoods and its most vulnerable residents. This information will allow us to better understand a range of issues that affect residents, especially as they pertain to social networks (demographics and cultural connections, housing types, equity) and climate change (public space, hazardous conditions, awareness).

Interest Area: Community & Economic Vitality

Municipalities worldwide are showing substantial interest in urban greening, defined here as the introduction or conservation of outdoor vegetation in cities. In many cases greening involves substantial tree planting, and across the United States cities have established ambitious canopy cover goals and major tree planting programs.  This study aims to assess longitudinal links between street tree vigor and neighborhood satisfaction and safety of recently planted urban trees. A "cohort" approach is especially relevant because trees are living organisms whose physical form changes substantially over time. Research on newly planted urban trees as a cohort across time is a relatively new line of scholarship that focuses primarily on tree survivorship and mortality; and to the best of our knowledge, no previous research has studied links between neighborhood satisfaction and safety, and urban tree plantings, as a longitudinal cohort. Neighborhood satisfaction and human safety are multidimensional phenomena that can be studied through a combination of objective and self-reported data. Four study areas will be determined based on a matrix of street tree health and recorded incidence of crime, which is one dimension of neighborhood satisfaction and safety. Residents on these streets will be incentivized to complete a neighborhood satisfaction survey which will include a prompt to communicate the places and features they perceive as safe/unsafe. In addition, urban design features and landscape characteristics will be documented for each study area. This combined set of data inventory and analysis will be conducted in the first year of the study (2018) and repeated in 2021. The data will be spatially and statistically analyzed to understand if street tree health and/ or changes in tree size/morphology contribute to neighborhood satisfaction and safety outcomes over time. This, in turn, may yield important insights about urban tree planting and management practice.

Interest Area: Community & Economic Vitality

Department: Department of Geosciences

Reliable, sustainable sources of clean water are increasingly hard to come by. But did you know that there are a lot of additional benefits from cultivating and protecting freshwater wetlands atthe source of some of these waters? Wetland ecosystem services
include, but are not limited to, providing verdant habitat and food supply for a large diversity of plant, animal and insect species, water filtration, slowing and spreading of floodwaters, limiting erosion, storage of carbon and other nutrients, temperature
buffering, pollinator habitat and forage lands, and water storage. One of the most basic, defining metrics of a wetland is, as the name implies, its wetness. The relative water content in the soil can be assessed in a variety of ways, and this quantity alone is
important for reasons beyond wetland function. Specifically, for a wetland to become established and remain functional independently, sufficient water must be present throughout the year to favor wetland plants and animals, which thrive in wet
environments but are unlikely to outcompete invasives or other species in drier regimes. We forsee a continued interest in wetland restoration in Massachusetts and predict that measurable metrics to assess the success of such restoration efforts are desired. Two recent developments support this: first, Massachusetts DER created a new Cranberry Bog Program in 2018 to facilitate exactly these types of restorations, and second, Living Observatory (LO) has begun a learning collaborative of scientists, artists, and wetland restoration practitioners to document the science and best practices of freshwater wetland restoration projects. Building on recent projects and successes, we propose to identify and establish a comprehensive catalog of metrics for measuring the success of freshwater wetlands that have been restored. We will continue our observations of soil moisture and subsurface thermal regimes, and add additional observations of weather and climate variables, phenological change, subsurface water levels, water chemistry, and microclimates and topographic influences of microtopography and other restoration practices. We will use established methods, and add emerging techniques including COSMOS (detects naturally produced cosmic rays that are altered by the presence of water) for measuring soil moisture. In addition, we will survey the site from the air with sensors mounted on small, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) to assess temperature (to sense water and it's source), microtopography, and the changing biomass on the surface. Because restoration projects tend to have extremely short duration or nonexistent monitoring, practitioners rarely know if the sites actually return to a wetland state or how long it might take them to get there. Herein lies our opportunity to deploy this project at a test bed location ideally suited for this work: two former peatland sites that were cranberry farms since the 1890's have been recently (2017), and will begin (end of 2019) restoration to freshwater wetland, will be preserved and managed in perpetuity by the Town of Plymouth, MA (Foothills Preserve, 60+ acres), and MassAudubon (Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary, 250+ acres).  The landowners are not only amenable to allowing us to access the site, they are also keenly interested in infusing the restoration design with sound and cutting edge science, ample scientific observation of the restoration process, and broad participation of learners in the observation of science-in-action, including K-12 students, college class visits, graduate student and faculty research projects. The Living Observatory will curate active participation in scientific research and climate change observation, the Town of Plymouth will manage and maintain Foothills Preserve as a public nature sanctuary, and MassAudubon will do the same at the adjacent Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary. Scientific inquiry, the restoration process, and the function of the changing wetland landscape will reach the public (and decision makers!) in novel and exciting ways including augmented reality, real-time data streams, and sensor networks. Our scientific observations and analyses will help boost the scientific impact of these public-facing interactive tools, and inspire other private landowners to engage in active stewardship
and protection of similar lands

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

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