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Katja Poveda

Katja Poveda

Associate Professor

4126 Comstock Hall
(607) 216-7880

In my lab we study plant-insect interactions in agro-ecosystems. We are interested in understanding these interactions at many different levels (from the plant to the landscape) to seek for more sustainable strategies to increase ecosystems services provided by insects such as pollination and natural enemies and to decrease dis-services mediated by herbivores to ultimately increase yield.

Research Focus

My research focuses on the ecology of plant-insect interactions in agricultural systems and their interface with natural systems. I focus on two main themes: 1) The effect of diversity at local and landscape scales on ecosystem (dis)services important for agricultural systems, including pollination, herbivory, biological control and ultimately yield, and 2) the ecological, physiological, and genetic mechanisms of plant tolerance and resistance traits in agricultural crops. We seek to improve our understanding of ecological phenomena in agroecosystems that can potentially inform management strategies important for more sustainable agricultural production. My research approach involves rigorously designed field experiments at farm- or landscape-scales, combined with greenhouse and laboratory experiments that provide insight into the mechanisms driving the field patterns. I feel very passionate about personalized mentoring and teaching students at all levels of education. My research is conducted in agro-ecosystems in Colombia, Kenya, Costa Rica and the US.

At the farm scale we have been focusing in developing crop management systems that reduce pest pressure and increase yield through the use of functionally important plants (trap plants for pests, repellent plants for pests and flowering plants attractive for natural enemies and pollinators). In addition we have been studying the responses of different varieties of crop plants to herbivores in order to harness their natural defense mechanisms (resistance and tolerance) in management practices or breeding processes that would lead to higher production with less reliance and chemical fertilizers and pesticide use. We are currently collaborating with an interdisciplinary team of Colombian and US-American researchers with expertise in applied economics and management, entomology, plant breeding, genetics and molecular biology to combine the push-pull technology to reduce pest pressure by the Guatemalan tuber moth with the use of the overcompensating potato variety to successfully develop a sustainable management practice that can have a long-term impact on Colombian agriculture.

At the landscape scale we are investigating how important the biodiversity surrounding a farm is for ecosystem services such as pollination, natural pest control and increased yields. Ongoing studies work with landscape scale effects on potato pests in Colombia and on strawberry pollinators, natural enemies in cabbage, apple pests and potato pests in upstate NY.

Teaching Focus

For this class our goal is to apply key ecological concepts to agricultural systems through readings, discussions and field trips. The biggest strength of this class is its broad approach, where at the beginning students learn basic ecological concepts and visit different farms that apply those concepts, while towards the end of the class we focus on the challenges we are facing in achieving food security and sustainability. To address the latter focus, we first examine the role of society in shaping agroecosystems through environmental and economic policies, markets, and cultural expectations.
Given the broad topic and the vast ways to approach them at the beginning of the course we let students write down the three most important topics they want to see covered in class. This allows us to tailor the class in some extent to the interest of the students.

I strongly advocate that the best way of learning is to get hands-on experience on a given subject. As a graduate student, I took an intensive OTS (Organization for Tropical Biology) course in Tropical Biology. This course strongly influenced the trajectory of my scientific career and, more importantly, the way I think about teaching. As a teacher of several OTS courses I have seen how fast students are able to learn a great variety of new concepts and ideas within a short period of time, simply through the direct exposure to field work. Teaching these types of courses has made me a passionate advocate for field and hands-on experiences. Given the relevance of experimental designs and statistics in biology my new course Applied Statistics: Biological Experiments in Practice provides hands-on experience in the design and analysis of basic experiments. Students learn how to develop a scientific question, formulate biological and statistical hypotheses, derive testable predictions, use different types of rigorous experimental designs, collect their own data, test the proposed hypotheses using appropriate statistical methods and finally interpret the statistic results within a broader conceptual framework. Although these skills are essential to a successful research career, they are seldom taught, which highlights the most important contribution this course is providing to the CALS curriculum.

Selected Publications

Journal Publications