On any given day, Robin Rosetta might be looking for aphids on oak trees or updating her website with information on the azalea lace bug. Or, she might be teaching nursery workers about the boxwood blight fungus or tweeting about snails.
As an entomologist at Oregon State University’s research station in Aurora, her job is to help the nursery industry control insects and diseases in a way that has limited impact on the environment. She helps them use “good” bugs (like predatory mites) that prey on plant-damaging insects, and she educates them on practices (like sanitizing tools or selecting pest-resistant plants) that curb the need for chemicals.
She often gets her message out via her Twitter page to share what she calls her “shop of little horrors” in 140 characters or less. Her 300 followers can see pink slugs or learn the results of the World Snail Racing Championships, but more often than not they’ll get weather updates, notifications of upcoming workshops, and a heads-up on sightings of undesired insects. Rosetta also sends similar information to more than 500 subscribers on her pest alerts email list.
Additionally, she shares her knowledge with growers and the public via her Pacific Northwest Nursery IPM website, which often gets more than half a million page views a year, she said. A third are from people seeking information on slugs and snails. The site also includes tips on identifying and controlling insects and plant diseases.
As much as she has embraced the Internet, she hasn’t given up the face-to-face instruction. Every fall, she helps teach OktoberPest, a series of workshops on pest management for nurseries. In her classes, she’s known for her humor and says, “I’m not above talking about slug sex if it gets someone’s attention.”
Lately, her attention has been on testing the efficacy of a “smart sprayer,” a motorized pesticide applicator that uses computerized laser sensors to detect the size, density, and presence of trees and adjust the amount of spray accordingly. That way, pesticides are not being sprayed on empty spaces between the trees. Reduced volume of pesticides applied would be better for the environment and save growers money. Previously, Rosetta and her colleagues tested a similar sprayer that used ultrasonic sensors instead of lasers. They found that it cut the level of pesticides by up to 60 percent in some cases while controlling pests just as well as a conventional sprayer.