Interview with Marcos Kogan on the International Congresses of Entomology

Dr. Marcos Kogan is a professor and director emeritus at Oregon State University’s Integrated Plant Protection Center. In 1976, the last time an International Congress of Entomology was held in the U.S., he was one of the main speakers. In the year 2000 in Brazil, he delivered the ICE Plenary Lecture on “Sustainable Development and Integrated Pest Management.” That year, he also delivered the Founders’ Memorial presentation in honor of Leo Dale Newsom at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America.

Dr. Marcos Kogan

Richard Levine, editor of Entomology Today, conducted the following interview with him.

Richard Levine: How many International Congresses of Entomology have you been to?

Dr. Marcos Kogan: I have five on record. In 1976 I presented an invited paper entitled “The Role of Chemical Factors in Insect/Plant Interactions” at the XV Congress in Washington, D.C., and in 1980 presented an invited paper called “Soybean Defenses Against Herbivorous Arthropods” in Japan. In 1992 I was an organizer and moderator of a symposium called “Ecological Foundations of Integrated Pest Management Systems for major Crops” in Beijing, and in the year 2000 I delivered the plenary lecture, “Sustainable Agriculture and Integrated Pest Management,” at the XXI Congress in Brazil. I also attended the 1996 Congress in Florence Italy, but did not present anything — I just enjoyed the very rich program and the glorious venue of the Congress.

RL: Besides speaking at the Congresses, have you had any other roles as an organizer or leader?

I joined the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in 1967 while still a graduate student at the University of California, Riverside. Since then I attended virtually every annual meeting of the Society and most Branch meetings — North Central while at the University of Illinois, and the Pacific Branch after moving to Oregon — until my retirement from Oregon State University in 2002. Since then, I was able to attend the 2009 ESA meeting in Indianapolis, where I gave an invited paper entitled “History of Integrated Control and IPM” during a symposium called “Celebrating Stern et al. (1959): The Past, Present, and Future of IPM,” and I also attended the 2014 meeting in Portland, OR.

During those 48 years of ESA membership, many of my graduate students and I presented papers and posters in regular sessions and participated in numerous symposia. Perhaps the most significant was a 1984 joint former Section C and F program symposium that I co-organized with Don Herzog, then Section F Chair (I was Chair of Section C). Papers presented in that symposium, “Ecological Theory and IPM Practice,” were later published by Wiley Interscience as a book that has been used in graduate courses around the world.

RL: At ICE XV in Washington, D.C. in 1976, you gave a presentation on “The Role of Chemical Factors in Insect/Plant Interactions.” What do you think are the greatest discoveries we’ve made in that field since then?

That presentation was given 12 years after the landmark Ehrlich and Raven paper on the coevolution of insects and plants, which had an enormous heuristic impact on the study of insect/plant interactions. Several research centers in North America and Europe advanced studies of the role of secondary plant compounds as attractants or as feeding or oviposition deterrents for insects. Better chemical analytical tools and sophisticated field and laboratory experimental procedures led to much progress in the elucidation of the role of secondary plant compounds in the host-selection behavior of arthropods associated with plants in families such as the Cruciferae, Apiaceae, Solanaceae, and others. For example, the role of furanocoumarins of Apiaceae served as a model to test the theory of coevolution by May Berenbaum and her co-workers. Novel aspects of plant responses to herbivory were uncovered, and the field of induction of plant defenses now flourishes. Remarkable advances also occurred in the elucidation of the molecular and genetic mechanisms of plant defenses against herbivores. There is great vitality in this field of chemical ecology with both theoretical and applied advances, the latter in the elucidation of the mechanisms of resistance in crop plants to herbivorous pests.

RL: In an Annual Review of Entomology article from 1998, you wrote that the history of IPM could “be traced back to the late 1800s.” Can you elaborate?

I tried to encapsulate the role of the “pioneers” of the IPM concept in the late 1800s in an American Entomologist article from 2013. Although the terminology that they used was different, those pioneers clearly emphasized the importance of an ecological approach to the control of insect pests and the need to integrate multiple control tactics in a pest control system. This emphasis on the need for a robust ecological basis in the control of insect pests is the foundation of modern IPM. This is what I included in the article:

1880s — C. V. Riley and Stephen Forbes laid the scientific foundations for classical biocontrol. They stressed the need for ecological information in applied entomology.

1890s — C. W. Woodworth (a student with Forbes) pioneered UC Berkeley’s first insect ecology courses and introduced the concept of “Executive Control” — a precursor of Integrated Control.

H. T. Townsend and E. A. Schwartz were sent to Texas to study the boll weevil. With L. O. Howard’s support, they proposed legislation to establish no-cotton buffer zones to contain the spread of the weevil — a valuable IPM practice.

It took another 40-50 years for these pioneering concepts to gel into a formal definition of Integrated Control, but their role in the rise of IPM is undeniable.

RL: At the 28th International Congress of Entomology, held in Brazil in 2000, you gave a presentation on the challenges we face in feeding the world’s growing population in a sustainable manner. What do you think has changed the most since you gave that speech?

I don’t think that much has changed. Key resources for agricultural production — arable soil, water, and sources of nitrogen fertilizers — even if they have increased over the past 15 years, the increase occurred at the expense of forested land and the depletion of aquifers, both with potentially catastrophic environmental consequences and limited potential for further expansion. Meanwhile the global human population continues to grow by about 75 million per year, exceeding now 7 billion people. Food insecurity plagues even developed countries, but it is endemic in much of the rest of the world.

Gordon Conway — author of One Billion Hungry – Can We Feed the World? — offered some reasons for optimism. Possible action along the lines that he proposed to alleviate world hunger, however, would require cooperation and financial support from developed countries, and considerable effort from the rest of the world. But, in a world so deeply politically, culturally, and religiously fragmented, it is improbable that we’ll ever reach the consensus or the level of international cooperation needed to face the problem. See the reluctance to act on slowing down global warming, and the denial that it even exists by so many holding the political power to promote action.

RL: You mentioned Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, both of whom predicted inevitable catastrophes would befall mankind as populations grew. Technological advances allowed us to increase crop yields and to avoid these catastrophes so far. How optimistic are you that we’ll avoid them as we approach a world population of 9 billion people in 2050?

I am not certain that one can say that Malthusian-type catastrophes have been completely avoided if an estimated 850 million people suffer of chronic malnutrition and a third of all deaths in children under the age of five in developing countries are linked to under-nutrition (FAO data). For the affluent societies of the Americas, Europe, and west Asia, Malthus may be a hoax. However, those nearly one billion people — mostly in southeast Asian and Sub-Saharan African countries — already live the Malthusian nightmare.

I must admit that at this time, enough food is being produced to properly feed a world population of 7 billion. The problem rests mainly on the inadequate distribution of extant food supplies, the extreme consumerism in the more affluent societies, and the diversion of productive land from food crops to crops used to produce biofuels (e.g. corn in the U.S. and sugarcane in Brazil, for instance) .

Much of the dramatic increase in grain production that so far avoided a more widespread Malthusian catastrophe was probably due to two major breakthroughs: the introduction of hybrid corn in the 1930s and the development of semi-dwarf varieties of wheat and rice in the 1950s and 60s (the Green Revolution). Significant scientific advances occurred since then that continue to improve yields of some of our major crops. None of those, however, seem to have led to quantum leaps in food production since the mid-1900s.

As we look at a possible increase of an additional three billion people by the year 2050, our best hope is to greatly increase support for the best possible agronomic research in the family of CGIAR Centers, and the national agricultural research and experiment stations worldwide. Genetically-engineered crops may eventually lead to higher-yielding varieties, but our best bet still rests with classical breeding, improved cultural practices, soil and water management, and, most certainly, the wide spread adoption of IPM practices.

RL: In 2000, a few years after modern GMOs started being grown, you said “there is a place for GMOs in IPM systems.” Has anything changed since then?

But I believe that I qualified the statement emphasizing the need to consider their place within the conceptual context of IPM, as one more tactic in the pest-control arsenal rather than as a single tactic assumed to be the silver bullet. This was a lesson that we should have learned since the disastrous introduction of DDT nearly 75 years ago. The impact of the introduction of GMO crops on IPM, agricultural production in general, and their environmental and health consequences remain a controversial subject in the blogosphere as well as in the scientific literature.

Twenty years after the introduction of the first GMO crops, such crops now cover 180 million hectares of agricultural land (about 12 percent of the global crop land) in 28 countries, with only five (USA, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and India) accounting for 90 percent of the total. The economic forces behind the marketing of GMO crops have probably reached a point that they are “too big to fail!” To sum it up, I believe that GMO crops are here to stay. It behooves us, however, to remain alert to the possible pitfalls of their spread and to use them wisely within the framework of IPM and a robust monitoring system to detect early signs of detrimental environmental and health impacts.

I’d like to conclude by citing Mark Tercek, President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, in commenting on Mark Lynas’ reversal in his opposition to GMOs:

“Strip away the dogma, and we must confront the evidence. Are GMO crops harmful to human health? Can they increase yields and thus reduce pressure to clear more land for farming? Do the economics of developing new crops make sense, and can we develop sound regulations for their use? These are the questions we must address, often crop by crop, place by place. Lynas points to numerous examples, like golden rice, Bt brinjal (eggplant), or blight-resistant potato. This is where the debate must go; sweeping generalities will not help us.”

RL: I read that you were born in Brazil. How did you end up at OSU?

We did not come to the U.S. with the intention to stay. But, Brazil at the time was under a repressive military dictatorship, with academic freedom greatly curtailed. With the opportunity offered to me, we decided to stay for a few years to see if the political climate in Brazil improved. In fact it did, but by then our oldest son was ready for college and we did not want to deprive him of a good education at the University of Illinois. And that is how we remained in the U.S. and are now American citizens. After over 20 years on the faculty at Illinois, I was offered a position as director of the Integrated Plant Protection Center at Oregon State University. We moved to Corvallis, OR in 1990 and after retiring from OSU in 2002, we moved to Seattle to be close to our daughter.

RL: Thanks for your time. I look forward to seeing you in Orlando at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology.


  1. Brilliant and thought provoking interview. Dr. Kogan, in my opinion, is a among the pioneers of IPM. He can be referred to as a “coelacanth” that continues to breath life and bright ideas into the modern era of IPM. Kudos Dr. Kogan.

  2. Tom Sappington says:

    I was at the opening ceremony in Brazil in 2000, and Dr. Kogan’s opening talk was one of the best I’ve ever heard — it impressed me enough that I still find myself thinking about it not infrequently all these years later. Thanks for the interview, still as deep a thinker as ever…

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