NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center




NMSU new IPM specialist knows importance of landscaping to sustain pollinators

LOS LUNAS – A vibrant ecosystem of native plants and insects is critical for maintaining a healthy pollinator environment, whether it is in urban or rural landscaping.


Woman with black hair sitting at microscope.
New Mexico State University’s new urban farm integrated pest management specialist, Ashley Bennett, understands importance of using native plants to support pollinators and beneficial insects. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

New Mexico State University’s new urban and small farm integrated pest management specialist, Ashley Bennett, was drawn to study the intersection of native plants, landscaping and insects, while completing her undergraduate degree at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.

“We’re excited to have Dr. Bennett join the New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service,” said Natalie Goldberg, Extension plant sciences department head. Bennet will be stationed at NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas.

“She has an outstanding background in urban and small-acreage farm integrated pest management. She has a lot of experience working with pollinators, which is a big interest in our state,” Goldberg said.

While finishing her degrees in biology and chemistry, Bennett took a course in entomology and became interested in the world of insects.

“When I started thinking about what I wanted to do after graduation, I visited the entomology department at the University of Illinois and met with members of the Hanks Lab,” Bennett said. “The research in the Hanks Lab was focused on integrated pest management, in the urban landscape, and I found the intersection of beneficial insect conservation and landscape design really interesting.”

That visit set Bennett on the path of obtaining a master’s degree from the University of Illinois and a doctoral degree from the University of Wisconsin in entomology.

“During my master’s and doctoral studies, I took landscape architecture classes and obtained a minor emphasis in landscape architecture,” said the native of Windsor, Illinois.

After completing her graduate degrees, she accepted a postdoctoral research position at the University of Illinois, where she focused on pollinator conservation and the provision of services to urban agricultural sites in Chicago.

She expanded her study of pollinators during a second postdoctoral research position at Michigan State University, where she worked on a study of how different biofuel cropping systems would impact native bees.

Prior to arriving in New Mexico in May, Bennett worked in Greensboro, North Carolina, for an agricultural company as a research and development scientist, where she consulted on trial design and data analysis for greenhouse and field trials.

New to the Southwest, Bennett said she is quickly learning about the native plants and which type of beneficial insect – pollinator, parasitoid or predator – is attracted to each plant.

“I’m passionate about using native plants in the landscape to support native bees and beneficial insects, so I’m excited to learn about the native plants in New Mexico and how they can be used in the landscape, urban and rural, to provide ecosystem services such as pollination and natural pest suppression,” she said.

She plans to use a native plant garden established during the New Mexico Pollinator Project by Tessa Grasswitz, former NMSU entomologist, and David R. Dreesen, retired agronomist and horticulturalist. Both were researchers at NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas and the USDA-NRCS Los Lunas Plant Materials Center.

“I want to identify which plants attract different beneficial insects,” she said. “I hope to establish native plant mixes specifically for pollinators, as well as a native plant mixes specifically for predators and parasitoids.”

During her first month in Los Lunas, Bennett has been busy meeting farmers and learning what type of research they would like done.

Having worked with urban agriculture in Chicago, Bennett is reaching out to urban and small-acreage farmers in the Middle Rio Grande Valley to learn about their operations.

“Many of the farmers I’ve met with are practicing organic farming methods,” she said. “They seem to be interested in using beneficial insects for natural pest suppression on their farms and conserving native pollinators.”

She would like to partner with farmers to monitor the pollinators and insects in their fields.

“This summer I aim to start sampling urban farms and open spaces to see how the beneficial insects are impacted by local and landscape variables,” she said. “I have also involved Master Gardeners and citizen scientists in my research. During my graduate work, they helped me sample beneficial insects in their backyards, and during my postdoctoral work in Chicago, they helped sample pollinators on urban farms. I look forward to building partnerships with Master Gardeners and citizen scientists here in New Mexico, too.”

While conducting such studies, Bennett hopes to determine what type of research is needed in the Middle Rio Grande Valley to help the farmers and gardeners have healthy ecosystems for pollinators and other beneficial insects.