Graduate Student Spotlight – Megan Woltz

Name: J. Megan Woltz

Hometown: Afton, NC

Degree: Ph.D. Candidate in Entomology & Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior, Michigan State University

Dissertation advisor: Professor Doug Landis, Department of Entomology, MSU

Graduate Research Focus: As a landscape agroecologist, I am primarily interested in understanding how landscape heterogeneity influences the provision of ecosystem services in agroecosystems. In other words, I want to know how the way we design the landscapes around us affects things that we humans care about, such as clean water, wildlife habitat, and air quality. Specifically, for my dissertation, I’m focusing on “biocontrol” ecosystem services. Biocontrol is the capacity of ecosystems to regulate pests and diseases through the activities of predators and parasites. To do this, I have examined how the composition and configuration of land covers in agricultural landscapes influence the abundance and activity of natural enemies of crop pests and how this affects biocontrol services in commercial field crops. Using soybean aphid and its generalist predators as a model system, I showed that the abundance of non-crop habitats within an agricultural landscape had more influence on coccinellid abundance in soybean fields than the use of field-level manipulations specifically employed to benefit natural enemies, suggesting that management to increase biocontrol services will have to take place at the landscape level.

Activities: In addition to research, I enjoy engaging both the public and farmer groups through Extension talks and special educational events. I find mentoring undergraduate students to be very rewarding and have guided three of them through independent research projects. To help improve my teaching, I am participating in MSU’s Certification in College Teaching program. I am particularly interested in the use of active-learning exercises to increase student engagement in the classroom.

I spend my free time working out, reading, watching ACC basketball, hanging out with my kitties and going on long, long walks with my basset hound.

After graduation plans:  I’m pursuing a post-doctoral research position working in urban agroecosystems. I hope to apply many of the same landscape principles from my dissertation to understanding and improving biocontrol and pollination in urban community gardens. Shifting to urban agriculture appeals to me because I can continue to study the scientific phenomena that I find fascinating while having a greater opportunity for increased outreach to community groups in the areas of food security, nutrition education and scientific awareness.

Tomorrow Megan will be presenting at the LTER NSF Mini-Symposium in Washington D.C. This year’s event focuses on LTER international research. For info on the agenda and how to watch the live webcast check out today’s posting on our Facebook page: