Three new entomologists have joined the Department of Entomology and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to provide integrated pest management expertise to agricultural producers and the public from the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Centers in Dallas, Overton and San Angelo.
David Kerns, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension state integrated pest management coordinator and professor in the Department of Entomology, said the entomologists will serve regional producers and residents and be linked to Texas A&M AgriLife centers in those locations.
Bryant McDowell and Greg Wilson are integrated pest management program specialists who will be based in the Dallas and San Angelo centers, respectively, Ph.D. Rafia Khan will serve as an entomology specialist from the center in Overton.
“Having entomology specialists at these centers is critical to our ability to serve regional needs and have the greatest impact on local integrated pest management challenges,” Kerns said. “These entomologists are there to listen to concerns and questions, make science-based recommendations, and collaborate on research to that end.”
Khan is an assistant professor and AgriLife Extension entomology specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton.
Dr. Rafia Khan, a junior entomologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center in Overton.
His primary responsibility is to provide leadership, applied research and AgriLife Extension programming. His focus is commercial ornamental nursery crops and integrated pest management of residential ornamental and turf grasses.
During his doctoral research, Kahn developed an excellent integrated pest management system for controlling pests and insect-borne diseases in commercial tomatoes, Kerns said.
“We are very excited to have Dr. Khan join our faculty,” Kerns said. “He is an outstanding applied entomologist, and we look forward to his success in addressing the pest management needs of Texas’ commercial nursery industry and helping the host manage pests in yards and gardens.”
Much of Khan’s past work has revolved around vegetable plants and the insect pests that use them as hosts.
East Texas is a center for nursery foliage and flowering plants. Khan said he has already started dealing with kindergartens in the area. It hopes to identify opportunities to improve seasonal insect pest control strategies.
Relationships with growers are already creating research opportunities that will allow him to design experiments aimed at reducing the impact of major nursery pests such as whiteflies, mealybugs, thrips and scale.
“We’re thinking about how I can work within the seasonal schedule and integrate management recommendations and develop research and trials that allow growers to know how to best manage their plants and greenhouses throughout the season,” he said. “The first thing we will study is the distribution of insects, but we will also look at testing different methodologies, such as biological and chemical control.”
Khan said she will continue her previous research at the center, which focused on crepe myrtle bark scale and whitefly infestations on poinsettias.
“The goal of the experiments will be to provide the best options for ornamental growers under outdoor or greenhouse conditions,” he said. “Solving their problems with insects and insect-related diseases is my goal, and I look forward to applying what I know, learning more through my research, and passing on that knowledge.”
Khan earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s degree in entomology from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, a master’s degree in biology from Austin Peay State University, and a doctorate in entomology from the University of Florida.
McDowell joined the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas as an integrated pest management program specialist.
Bryant McDowell is a new entomologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center in Dallas.
Kerns said McDowell’s primary responsibilities are managing training at the center’s IPM Practice House, managing the “Insects in the City” website and training Texas Master Naturalist and Master Gardener volunteers and others in urban IPM practices.
Kerns said AgriLife Extension sees McDowell as an important addition to addressing pest management issues in Texas homes and commercial properties and teaching pest control operators about integrated pest management.
“We are delighted to have Bryant as a member of our IPM team,” said Kerns. “Texas has three of the 10 largest cities in the United States and more than 22 million urban residents with multiple pest problems.”
A graduate of Texas A&M University’s Department of Entomology, McDowell started with AgriLife Extension as an undergraduate student intern for Bexar County in the summers of 2013 and 2014. He graduated in 2019 with a master’s degree in entomology.
McDowell said he has been engaging with pest management professionals around the state and is already preparing for IPM’s continuing education division programs in San Antonio and Austin.
The IPM Practice House will be a key component of McDowell’s hands-on approach to training pest management professionals. He hopes to use simulated infestations of common problem insects such as bed bugs. The goal is to provide general presentations with specific training to help professionals identify the signs and damage of pests found in structures.
“So far I’ve focused on building relationships with pest control companies and traveling for programs,” he said. “I have some goals for the IPM Experiment House and how we can use the facility to provide robust training in a number of ways for key pest species.”
McDowell said Janet Hurley, Dallas, AgriLife Extension IPM program specialist, is working to provide programming and plan other in-person, online and hybrid resources for professionals and homeowners. The Bugs in the City website is a resource he believes can provide homeowners with information and interactive guides to help them avoid and/or identify potential problems and recommend solutions.
Newsletters, articles and local pest infestation reports are also resources she hopes can inform professionals and the public. He also hopes to put together youth program opportunities at the center, similar to what he helped do as an intern in Bexar County.
“The idea is to find ways to connect with homeowners and the public, whether it’s a phone app or a website for insects in the city or a field guide for homeowners,” he said. “There are major goals, but I think there are also opportunities to build on the services we provide.”
Wilson will serve as an integrated pest management program specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Service Center in San Angelo.
Greg Wilson, new entomologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center in San Angelo.
Entomologist Greg Wilson is a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service integrated pest management program specialist in San Angelo. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Sam Craft)
The 10-year Army veteran said service is still his priority and he has big plans for the post. He has been involved in planning events and lectures to meet the public demand for knowledge about integrated pest management in agricultural, urban and structural settings.
While his focus is on providing expertise and leadership for row crop producers, Wilson said there is a high demand for information on a range of topics, from continuing education courses to the role insects play in crime scene forensics.
“My mission is to expand the base to support row crops and producers including wheat, sorghum and cotton,” he said. “However, there is a high demand for knowledge here, and I strive to provide applied, objective-based training and the best customer service I can.”
Wilson said the response from producers has been overwhelmingly positive, and there are a growing number of fields where he will conduct research and data collection projects, including trap and application effectiveness studies. It is also reestablishing a scouting program for cotton and collaborating with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension experts to develop information for agricultural operations in the region.
“I take a customer-oriented approach and look at what the manufacturers see as a problem, and the manufacturers are very satisfied and want to cooperate,” he said. “There is a great need for information on many pests that are not typically a problem, and so they are eager to volunteer their fields as trial and testing sites.”
Wilson earned a dual bachelor’s degree in agronomy and entomology and a master’s degree in plant breeding from Texas A&M. He is pursuing a doctorate in entomology at Texas A&M.
“We are thrilled to have Greg join our IPM team to serve the Southern Rolling Plains region of Texas,” said Kerns. “He has a wealth of knowledge of crop production and pest management in cotton, sorghum and corn, and is skilled in conducting applied pest management research and coordinating AgriLife Extension activities.”