Research - Stress Biology

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As an outgrowth of our success in providing management solutions to agricultural and ecological problems posed by arthropods, Entomology faculty have adopted Stress Biology as a signature program that provides a foundation for addressing fundamental ecological, evolutionary, and molecular questions related to stress interactions. An understanding of stress interactions at the molecular, phenotypic, and ecosystem levels not only advances our understanding of pathways elicited in response to stress but are also critical to ensuring environmental agricultural sustainability through the development of novel arthropod management strategies.

The discipline of Stress Biology is young but remarkable advances have been made along specific lines of inquiry, often with a disciplinary or topical focus. Stress biology necessarily involves a systems approach to uncover the key biotic and abiotic stressors that impact plant and arthropod health. Stress biology is at the intersection of applied and basic research and requires multidisciplinary methods ranging from "omic" approaches to applied ecology.


As a result of our emphasis in stress biology, we will be able to better respond to emerging and exotic biological stress agents and to complex issues arising from climate change, water shortage, sustainable bioenergy, global food security and safety.

Research Areas

  • Ecosystems
  • Molecular genetics
  • Molecular toxicology
  • Plant resistance to insects
  • Induced defenses
  • Insect effectors/elicitors - Chemical ecology
  • Resistance management
  • Vector-virus interaction
  • Pollinator health

Overall Approaches

  1. Animal stress biology is concerned with response of insects to toxins that are either intentionally applied to the environment or produced by host plants through genetic manipulation. Our work also focuses on insect effectors that modulate plant defense responses. These efforts complement work in plant stress biology by focusing on insect response to stress, with emphasis on phytophagous insects. A large component of this research involves investigating the impact of toxin exposure on behavioral and life history traits of target pest insects that may impact resistance evolution. The effect of toxin exposure at a molecular level in both target and non-target arthropods, such as beneficial natural enemies and pollinators, is also being investigated in an attempt to identify possible biomarkers of chemical stress. Our efforts in animal stress also incorporate host – parasite interactions.

    Animal Stress Biology Researchers and Fields:

  2. Environmental stress is another area of emphasis that that attributes to biological response to external factors including toxins/insecticides, weather/ecological changes, population density, food sources and nutrition quality. Environmental factors that affect pollinator foraging and reproductive capacity are a large component of this effort. Additionally, changes in population structure arising from selective pressures imposed by various pest management tactics is being investigated to better understand resistance evolution, and genetic variation and gene expression.

    Environmental Stress Researchers and Fields:

  3. Plant stress biology is largely focused on plant resistance and plant defense responses to insects and other stressors at a biochemical and molecular level. The ultimate goal is to develop plant varieties with comprehensive stress resistance that are part of a durable, health-plant system and to gain a better understanding of plant defense pathways that respond to insect feeding.

    Plant Stress Biology Researchers and Fields: