Meg Sanders defends thesis on detecting hemlock wooly adelgid with eDNA traps
Environmental Studies, Wildlife Biology, Cell and Molecular Biology
On November 22, 2021, graduate student Megan Sanders defended her thesis, titled "Developing novel molecular detection techniques for hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae)". Her thesis committee members included Dr. Charlyn Partridge, Dr. James McNair, and Dr. Alexandra Locher.
Meg’s thesis research focused on expanding detection techniques for an invasive forest pest that threatens hemlock trees, hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA). Early detection of this insect remains a key focus for management groups to employ rapid responses to control and stop the spread of HWA. Her research developed an affordable, easy-to-use trap compatible with airborne environmental DNA sampling techniques to assist land managers in detecting HWA. Environmental DNA (eDNA) refers to genetic material shed from organisms that is collected from the environment. Meg's research assessed trap efficiency as a monitoring tool for HWA, and she also tested the trap’s compatibility with molecular methods to confirm the presence of HWA from environmental material caught by a trap. She found that the eDNA traps are highly efficient at capturing HWA, and capture rates (i.e., the number of adelgids captured) were related to a trap’s distance to an infested hemlock tree. This suggests that the number of adelgids captured per trap may help pinpoint infested hemlock stands within an area. She also found that the molecular method could distinguish HWA from other adelgid species and be used to confirm the presence of HWA within environmental material caught by her developed trap. Incorporating eDNA analysis into current management efforts could help preserve valuable personnel and financial resources for HWA eradication efforts across its invasive range in eastern North America.
After finalizing her thesis submission, Meg is pursuing jobs focused on terrestrial ecology in northern WI.
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