Many of our most delicious fruits and vegetables — squash, pumpkin, zucchini, gourds, cucumber, and melons — are all important crops in the same plant family, the Cucurbitaceae, or gourd family. These are some of the most widely planted and economically important vegetable crops in the United States, and throughout the world. Yet, we know little about the microbial and insect communities (both helpful and harmful) associated with these different crop plants. Here, we present two related projects. The first part of the project documents the species of insects (specifically beetles) that can damage these plants by eating the leaves, fruits and flowers. We are especially interested in understanding more about the beetles that carry a bacterial pathogen from plant to plant. This bacterial pathogen threatens pumpkins (great and small) and cucumbers throughout the northeastern United States and Canada, and has the potential to spread to a much wider area (or may have already spread, we don’t know). The second part of the project documents the beneficial insects that visit the big, lovely, sweet smelling flowers of pumpkins and, in doing so, carry pollen from male flowers to female flowers. While we have been studying these pollinators for years, much about their daily lives and geographic distribution remains mysterious.
Through participating in these projects, students will learn about beneficial bees and plant pollination, plant-insect-microbe interactions, where the food in our grocery stores come from, and how some insects and pathogens can harm plants (including the ones we also like to eat!). By learning about these topics, students can help us solve these mysteries about what species of insects and microbes associate with plants, and in what places (or at least help us solve these mysteries that we might move along to others–the mysteries never end).
Find out more! visit go.ncsu.edu/squash