Short-term Research Volunteer Opportunities

Pea aphids (Acrythosiphon pisum) attach to the leaves and stems of pea plants and other leguminous crops (beans, clovers, alfalfa, etc.). They are capable of growing at incredibly fast rates, and can transmit virus-borne plant diseases causing significant crop damage and loss. For these reasons, aphids are considered an important agricultural pest. We wish to explore options for managing this pest by first considering its interactions with local natural enemy populations. Ladybird beetles and fungi are predators and parasites of these aphids, providing a natural form of pest control for gardeners. We wish to understand what the status of the aphid populations in the Project Grow gardens are, and how might they change throughout the growing season. We also wish to know whether there are natural control agents that are limiting aphid spread and persistence, and if so, how do they interact with one another, and how are they distributed in the urban space of Ann Arbor.

To answer these questions, we will capture migrating aphids, rear them under lab conditions, and determine whether any natural enemies have infected them. When under stress, aphids produce wing-born offspring called alates, which are capable of dispersal flight. We are interested in tracking the dispersal of these alates as well as the dispersal of ladybird beetles and entomopathogenic fungi throughout all of the Project Grow gardens in Ann Arbor.

Project Grow is composed of 19 gardens dispersed throughout the city. Using a combination of field surveys and GIS mapping, we will compare how aphids, lady beetle predators, and aphid-attacking fungi disperse through our local urban environment.

If you are interested in our research but do not have the time to commit to a full-time schedule this summer, we will also be offering regular volunteer opportunities on special days throughout the summer. No experience necessary, just interest and willingness to learn! Please check out the following volunteer opportunities and let us know if you are interested, by filling out the form on the right side of this page.  We will contact you with further information on how to get involved!

Night-time ladybird beetle sampling

Come out and join us on one of our weekly ladybird beetle sampling nights! We use a black light insect trap at each of our project grow sites to census the number of beneficial predators we have in our gardens. We are hoping to observe the distribution of beetle predators and their aphid prey throughout Ann Arbor, and how this changes throughout the season. This volunteer opportunity will start at sunset, and typically last a few hours into the evening. We will set up the black lights, sample, and identify insect samples. Here are some friends we might encounter:

Harmonia axyridis - The Invasive Asian Ladybird Beetle

Hippomadia convergens- The Native Convergent Ladybird Beetle

Proplyea quatuordecimpunctata- The Invasive 14 Spotted Ladybird Beetle

Weekend crop diversity sampling

Join us on a spare weekend helping us to sample crop diversity at each of the project grow sites. We plan on visiting each of the sites through the course of the season to get a count of the type of crops planted at each location.We will also measure the size of the plots and distance to the nearest road and forest. This will help researchers quantify 
how biodiversity and landscape level factors affect the migration of pests and their natural enemies throughout the region. If you are a gardener with crop identifying expertise, you are encouraged to attend and help us train others! However, no experience is necessary and all are encouraged to join!

Pea plant hosting at PG garden site or urban home/apartment in Ann Arbor

Volunteer a small space to host 5 potted pea plants in your Project Grow garden space or
your urban home. We will place five 9-in diameter pots on a 4'' X 1.5'' yellow sheet anywhere in your garden or urban space. Students will come by to remove any aphids found on these plants M-F from 9a-12p in order to collect information on their distribution in the greater Ann Arbor region. Please consider volunteering your space, at the end of the season when the experiment is done, you can keep the pea crop! Here are pictures of the set up:

Urban Agroecology Research Interest