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University of Idaho hires new entomologist

By John O’Connell

University of Idaho

MOSCOW, Idaho – Entomologist Armando Falcon-Brindis is eager to put his extensive background in pollinators, biological pest control agents, ecology and taxonomy to work for the benefit of Idaho’s farmers.

Falcon-Brindis, a research associate with University of Kentucky (UK), will join University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences on Jan. 7 as a new assistant professor of entomology and Extension specialist based at the U of I Parma Research and Extension Center. 

Falcon-Brindis was educated in Mexico, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2009 in animal science, a master’s degree in 2014 in environmental science and a doctoral degree in 2019 in natural resources management.

His thesis focused on the ecology of trap-nesting bees and wasps in the Baja California peninsula. He’s also published on a host of topics such as the diversity of moths of Mexico, pollination ecology and diversity of wild bees, parasitism of corn earworm, solitary and parasitic wasps and bark and ambrosia beetles.

Furthermore, he’s the co-advisor of a doctoral thesis focusing on the taxonomy and ecology of Scoliid wasps of North and Central America.

“I like to understand why we have a certain pool of species in one area. What are those conditions making those species occur in a certain area?” Falcon-Brindis said.

While with UK, he focused much of his research on insect pests affecting hemp production, as well as field crops such as soybeans, corn and wheat. In addition to using chemical pesticides, his approach to integrated pest management includes bio-pesticides and various biological control options.

He can’t wait to oversee his own program and make research decisions with U of I. Hops, which are a significant crop raised near Parma, are in the same family as hemp, and Falcon-Brindis is curious to see if some of the same biological control methods he’s used for hemp will prove effective in protecting hops.

“It will be great to do some experiments with biological pesticides,” Falcon-Brindis said. “There are oils, bacteria and viruses that are currently being used and they can be a good option if you spray them at the right time.”

Falcon-Brindis is also intrigued about conducting research in mint, including trials involving pest-resistant mint cultivars, the use of natural enemies of mint pests and biological control options to quash pest populations.

Falcon-Brindis believes his background in native pollinators will be especially useful to growers of crops requiring pollination, such as alfalfa and tree fruit.

Pollinators are in decline and USDA estimates 75% of food crops raised in the U.S. depend upon pollinators. Falcon-Brindis hopes to study ways to slow or reverse the decline of pollinators.

“There’s a lot of research that already demonstrates that native bees and native pollinators are way better at pollinating and helping the plants set seeds and fruits compared with honeybees,” he said.

Early in his tenure, he intends to evaluate the Treasure Valley’s agricultural landscape and surrounding native plant communities to understand the insect species that are present, as well as which ones are associated with specific crops.

He’ll be using several statistical tools and new approaches to modeling to break down his data.

He also has big plans for incorporating artificial intelligence into his research to improve efficiency and reduce labor. He’ll use drones to aid in the early detection of pests, crop diseases and crop stress.

He also plans to use sensors for early detection of harmful insects, as well as insect tracking and remote insect counting.

He’ll be making the move to Idaho with his wife, Gabriela, and his 8-year-old daughter, Alessandra.

“I wish for my research findings to improve people’s lives,” Falcon-Brindis said. “We’re so excited to move over there. I feel joy and excitement to start working and collaborating with colleagues.”