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NMSU students place in regional entomology contest

Five New Mexico State University students placed at the 66th Annual Meeting of Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America. The branch meeting, which takes place every year, was held in Albuquerque March 25-29. Research on entomology is presented by students and faculty from universities across New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico.

Group picture
Five New Mexico State University students placed at the 66th Annual Meeting of Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America. NMSU competed against universities in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico and left with an overall higher percentage of awards won by any university at the meeting. (Courtesy photo)

NMSU competed alongside teams from Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Each brought over 20 students to the competition, while NMSU had eight students, leaving the university with an overall higher percentage of awards won by any university at the meeting.

Danielle Lara, a master’s student, placed second in the Master’s Oral competition. Lara’s research covered taxonomy, life history and egg morphology of assassin bugs.

Scotty Bundy, professor of entomology at NMSU and Lara’s mentor, said he was happy with how well the students placed in the research competition.

“I love watching how well our students present themselves and their research. Danielle’s work advances our knowledge of an important, but understudied group of insects. Her research on its unique egg morphology has been particularly exciting. It is an interesting story to tell, and I greatly enjoyed watching her present it to the scientific community,” Bundy said.

Maria Gonzalez, a master’s student, placed first in the Master’s Oral competition. Gonzalez studied the involvement of detoxifying enzymes in insecticide resistance in bed bugs. Resistance has been said to be a big problem for the management of bed bugs in field conditions.

Alvaro Romero, assistant professor of urban entomology at NMSU, said he is proud of Gonzalez’s win and said the university’s wins show how students can compete against bigger universities with a long history of entomology.

“I am very proud. Maria is part of the Natural Resources Career Track Program, a USDA-funded project that supports minority students for graduate formation in the areas of agriculture and entomology,” Romero said. “These wins are also telling us that we are doing a good job recruiting outstanding students who can compete with students from other universities with a long tradition in entomology.”

Nubias Rivas, a senior biology major, placed first in the undergrad poster presentation. Rivas conducted research in the Stress Physiology Lab with assistant professor of animal physiology Giancarlo Lopez. The research looked at fruit fly models that have Parkinson’s disease symptoms and exposed them to tiny amounts of X-rays that were equivalent to CT scans or MRIs.

“Winning first place means that other people were able to recognize my hard work. It gives merit to the type of research you are conducting and reassures you that the type of work you are doing means something,” Rivas said.

Ramon Zepeda placed third in the undergrad oral with his presentation being focused on establishing a method to evaluate natural repellents aimed at controlling horn fly infestations on cattle. His research showed that he could successfully interpret product-specific performance under controlled environmental conditions, which utilized on-animal applications in the laboratory.

Diego Garcia placed first in the Master’s Poster contest with a focus on general control options for horn flies on cattle. Garcia’s project looked at maximizing synergistic effects of piperonyl butoxide used in combination with lambda-cyhalothrin, a common pyrethroid used for the control of horn flies on cattle. He evaluated various combinations of these compounds and identified the most effective ratios against permethrin resistant and susceptible horn flies.

Brandon Smythe, program manager of the Veterinary Entomology Research Laboratory at NMSU, mentored both Zepeda and Garcia and said both students made him proud and represented the university to the best of their abilities.

“I am extremely proud of both Ramon and Diego. Not only did they place in their respective competitions, but I received many compliments about the quality of their work and their presentations from other professionals in this field. They both did a fine job of representing NMSU and the College of ACES at this meeting,” Smythe said.