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Putting Research and Policy Into Practice: Lessons From Science Policy Field Tours

invasive species field tour group

Forty-seven people from 20 different states, plus the District of Columbia and Canada gathered for the Entomological Society of America Plant-Insect Ecosystem Section’s Science Policy Field Tour, “Invasive Species Security: Protecting Our National Health, Food Supply, and Environment” in August 2018. A symposium at Entomology 2018 will gather perspectives on the success and challenges of the field-tour model for getting a diverse crowd of scientists and stakeholders up close and personal with entomology issues in real-world settings.. (Photo credit: Thomas E. Anderson, Ph.D.)

By Johanna Elsensohn, Carlos J. Esquivel Palma, Lindsy Iglesias, Jessica Kansman, and Obiratanea Queiroz

From a distance, the devastation in the vineyard was easy to miss—it was August and the foliage on the vines was lush and green. However, a closer look revealed the lack of grape clusters this year. This particular grape grower went from an annual harvest of 160 tons to zero in only two years. The culprit? The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), a new invasive species detected in Pennsylvania in September 2014 that devastates grape vines and several tree species.

It’s one thing to read about a pest problem, but it’s another thing entirely to see firsthand the damage a pest can cause to a crop and to those whose livelihoods depend on a successful harvest. The people lucky (or unlucky) enough to witness the spotted lanternfly in the field have been shocked the see the sheer multitude of nymphal and adult lanternflies on some Trees of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and the damage they’ve caused to grapes, hops, and logging farms. Unfortunately, this problem has only just begun for the United States.

Have you ever wanted to see how your research impacts broader society? To learn firsthand about challenges people on the front lines of economies impacted by insects face? To talk to people about the different roles and responsibilities required to achieve more sustainable agroecosystems? To find out how you can help solve these challenges? If so, then the Entomological Society of America’s science policy field tours might be for you. In 2017 and 2018, the ESA Plant-Insect Ecosystems Section (P-IE) has hosted three field tours, two of which have focused on pollinators, while the third, noted above, focused on invasive species. These field tours have been well-received and attended by a variety of people from academia, state and national government, extension, consulting, and business and with backgrounds in entomology, entomology-adjacent fields, and beyond.

Students and early career professionals within P-IE will be hosting a Section Symposium highlighting the 2018 science policy field tours at Entomology 2018, the Joint Annual Meeting of ESA, the Entomological Society of Canada, and the Entomological Society of British Columbia Vancouver next week. This symposium, taking place at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, November 14, will feature a diversity of speakers including field tour organizers, student participants, and non-ESA members. The main goal of this symposium is to highlight the benefits of organizing and participating in programs like field tours, especially for students, and to inspire ideas for the next field tour. Attendees of the tours say they have benefitted in terms of:


The problems some insects cause is immense, and no one person or institution can combat these issues alone. Working closely with colleagues, potential employers, policymakers, stakeholders, and private industry enhance our chances of developing effective long-term solutions. In addition to sharing knowledge and increasing capacity building, working with partners lets you learn about alternative career paths and expand your network by meeting and forging bonds with people from all over the country. During the field tours, participants were able to share knowledge, create new ideas, and connect with each other with a common goal of creating solutions to the problems caused by invasive species or problems related to pollinators. Ultimately, the tour serves as a catalyst to longer term collaboration, research, and development.

Firsthand Experience

With so much information available in journals and online, it’s easy to learn about large issues like honey bee colony declines in general terms, but the tours function to contextualize an issue in a local-scale, societally based frame, revealing the intricacies of managing insect problems in heterogeneous landscapes. Moreover, tours allow the opportunity to speak directly with and learn from those most affected by the issue: the stakeholders. Seeing in person the devastation brought about by the spotted lanternfly did more to highlight the impending economic loss than any article would have. Visiting the Port of Philadelphia allowed participants to learn information not easily accessible online, like how shipments are inspected for non-native species upon arrival to the U.S.

Expanded Expertise

Due to the diversity of participants and scheduled activities, learning about entomology issues at different focal scales, there’s a lot to take in. Insects are a big issue for farmers and homeowners, but how the insects are dealt with involves a large array of people. Understanding pest complexes or landscape-scale problems requires a network of scientists and other experts working cohesively toward a shared goal, and the science policy field tours provide the environment to build those relationships and our shared knowledge base.

If you want to know more about the tours, or have an idea for a future one, we hope to see you in Vancouver at the “P-IE Student Section Symposium: Pollinator and Invasive Species Science Policy Field Tours: A Melting Pot of Efforts Promoting Protection of our Food Supply.”

Johanna Elsensohn is a Ph.D. student in entomology at North Carolina State University. Carlos J. Esquivel Palma is a Ph.D. student in entomology at Ohio State University. Lindsy Iglesias, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University. Jessica Kansman is a Ph.D. student in entomology at the University of Missouri, and Obiratanea Queiroz is a Master’s student in entomology at the University of Minnesota. For questions about the symposium, email Carlos at

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