Steven Frank, 2013 Friends of IPM Award Winner
Future Leader

Steve Frank (r)Biological control of pests often depends on a variety of factors. Sometimes predators are successful at reducing pest populations; other times, pest populations outnumber them, or a species that has been introduced can’t thrive in its new environment. Steve Frank wanted to understand more about the ecology and dynamics behind biological control systems.

Currently an assistant professor at NC State University, Steve provides extension education to growers in the ornamental industry and runs the Insect Ecology lab. His goal is to help growers manage pests in the most effective, economical and environmentally acceptable way possible through research and education.

In front of the entire NCSU Entomology faculty and several graduate students, Steve was awarded the 2013 Friends of Southern IPM Future Leader award by the USDA-funded Southern IPM Center. The award was presented by Steve Toth, former Associate Director of the Center.

Ornamental plants are the second most valuable crop in the United States, valuing nearly $15 billion. In North Carolina, ornamental plants are the highest earning crop and rank third among all farm commodities. The high value of ornamental crops, coupled with a low tolerance for damage on the part of consumers, makes pest management for ornamental crops very challenging.

When Steve was a student, he was often frustrated over the inconsistency of biological control. Why would predators work in one part of the state but not the other? From his early graduate work until now, Steve studies not only how the biological control predator-prey relationship works, but also how the surrounding environment, climate conditions and other factors may influence the success of biological control.

His study of biological control tactics began when he was a Masters student, advised by Dr. Paula Shrewsbury at the University of Maryland. In a large, innovative project, Steve installed conservation strips on golf courses to increase predator abundance. The success of the project resulted in a well-cited journal article that linked conservation biological control to both increased predator abundance and decreased pest populations. Steve continued to evaluate native plant species for use in conservation biological control.

Steve continued his study of biological control after he began pursuing his Ph.D., also at the University of Maryland. Advised by Drs. Paula Shrewsbury and Robert Denno, Steve examined ecological interactions that influence biological control. In addition to field experiments that led to discoveries about how omnivore interactions with alternative food affect biological control by carabid beetles, Steve conducted investigations of aphids acting as beneficials in cotton by attracting natural enemies and inducing plant defenses of more damaging pests. The latter research, done when he was a postdoc at Texas A&M University, was funded by a USDA-NRI grant and co-directed by his advisor, Dr. Micky Eubanks.

In 2010, Steve published a review on banker plant systems that precipitated a flurry of banker plant research. Concerned about the overuse of pesticides in nurseries and landscapes, Steve has worked on ways to reduce effects of pesticides on non-target organisms and tried to educate people about how and when pesticide use is appropriate. In two separate blog posts about cicadas, one directed to homeowners and the other directed to the nursery industry, Steve tries to recommend ways of dealing with a temporary pest without the long-term effects of pesticide treatment.

As a university instructor and graduate student advisor, Steve encourages his graduate students to assume leadership roles. In fact, of the nine articles published in the past two years, five are co-authored with a graduate student who is first author. Two of his students received $10,000 USDA Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education Program (SARE) grants, while another received an EPA STAR Fellowship. Three of his undergraduates have presented research at professional meetings.
Extension agents throughout the state are familiar with Steve’s articles about ornamental plant insects in the North Carolina Pest News from May until September. Steve has contributed to the Pest News since he started his career at NCSU, and his articles--in addition to his blog posts on his Insect Ecology blog--provide valuable information on pests of ornamentals and how to treat them.

According to Dr. David Tarpy, NCSU Extension Apiculturist who submitted the nomination, Steve is not only “successful in standard academic measures, but he is an active and respected participant of the biological community. Steve will undoubtedly continue to have a positive impact on biological control science and practice through research, extension, mentoring and service.”