Bugs and biofuels: Q&A with GLBRC entomologist Claudio Gratton

Entomologists have a long history in agriculture, offering expertise on biological control, insect-plant interactions, and integrated pest management. Now entomologists are being called upon to help design best practices in bioenergy crop systems.
 
On December 16, GLBRC entomology experts Claudio Gratton and Doug Landis led the Entomology and Bioenergy Symposium. A part of the National meeting of the Entomological Society of America, the session focused on both the general ideas behind bioenergy production as well as how entomology can help shape the biofuel landscape of the 21st century.
 
GLBRC Entomologist Claudio Gratton gave us some insight into the crossover between entomology and bioenergy.
 
GLBRC: How would you describe the role of entomology within bioenergy research?

Claudio Gratton: I think entomologists are and will be key partners in helping to develop sustainable biomass cropping systems. Our discipline’s rich history of work on pest management, vector-pathogen interactions, and biological control to mention a few, has the potential to significantly influence how bioenergy agriculture is practiced.

GLBRC: Why is entomology so important to biofuel sustainability?

CG: Anytime you work with crops (and biomass crops are no different), you need to think about how the crop itself is affected by insects and how the cropping system influences insects themselves. Some of the insects we study carry out important and useful functions in the landscape, such as pollination or pest-suppression (think ladybeetles and bees). Others are pests and consume or otherwise damage the crops we are interested in harvesting (herbivores and their pathogens). So insects will figure prominently in how we manage biomass crops in the future.
 
GLBRC: How does the Center’s approach to sustainability compare to other research in this area?

CG: GLBRC is unique among the biofuel research centers (both privately and federally-funded) in that we have a very diverse, strong and integrated team that is examining the sustainability of biofuel production. Several of us on the team are entomologists or work with insects. Sustainability will in part be determined by the arthropods that help us and hurt us, and entomologists need to play increasingly central roles in ensuring a sustainable bioenergy future.

Sustainable cropping systems