Welcome! We tackle a diverse blend of basic and applied research questions related to the trophic ecology of insects. As agroecologists, our goals are to address pest problems in crop production and provide management tools that reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. As basic ecologists, we seek to understand & predict some of the numerous ecological factors that control predator-prey dynamics. Based in beautiful Upstate South Carolina (check out our instagram feed for some views of the splendid Appalachian foothills), we combine field and lab-based experiments with on-farm sampling in collaboration with farmers across the Southeast.
Insect ecology art by Sabrina Judson (@prismatic_apothecary)
Carmen’s personal land grant mission statement:
Like many children from the Midwest, I come from farming families on both sides. My mother’s family managed pasture and grew soybeans and corn, alongside chickens and small herd of beef cattle in Northern Indiana. My father’s family raised chickens and national champion Berkshire pigs in Southern Indiana, and both families had large vegetable gardens that fed the family and supplemented their income as coal miners, loggers, telephone operators, and manufacturers. They sold meat and fresh fruits and vegetables to the local grocery store during summer to cover their winter food bills. Farming enabled my grandparents to achieve modest, comfortable livelihoods without college educations. Importantly, fresh, local food always abounded.
Now both my grandparents’ small farms have been sold and consolidated. Knowledge of how crops and animals feed each other through biogeochemical processes in the soil has become rare on the agricultural landscape as the number of farming families has crashed out. Natural fertilizers that feed the soil have been largely replaced with synthetic inputs that meet the nutritional needs of crops in the short-term, but impoverish agroecosystems and waterways over time. Locally produced food is now a relatively rare commodity– it’s often consumed as a novelty or luxury item. But I believe that access to healthy local produce is a basic human right, and that fuels my pursuit of strategies for farmers to leverage biodiversity and natural processes to nourish and protect their crops profitably while reducing the need for costly external inputs like fertilizers and pesticides.
Now that most of the food we depend on is grown thousands of miles away on huge factory farms, national food security is more vulnerable than ever, and rural communities have lost their core. Small farmers now face incredible challenges and nearly insurmountable barriers to financial stability– It should be possible for someone to start with nothing and live comfortably by producing food, but limited access to labor, land, and markets means that it is extremely difficult to earn a living by doing the noble work of farming at smaller scales. Many of these issues exceed my technical expertise as an insect ecologist, but I consider them every day as I learn from farmers and strive to confront their struggles in my teaching and research by collaborating with large teams of diverse scholars, educators, and farmers, to improve crop protection alongside economic sustainability.