Ian Grettenberger Targets a Variety of Pests

(Editor's Note: In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic precautions--when facilities are closing down--we're taking time to spotlight some of our UC Davis entomologists and their projects)

Agricultural entomologist and Cooperative Extension specialist Ian Grettenberger, who joined the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Entomology in January 2019, targets a variety of pests, including western spotted and striped cucumber, beetles, armyworms, bagrada bugs, alfalfa weevils, aphids, and thrips

Grettenberger, who fills the vacated position of Larry Godfrey (1956-2007), received his bachelor of science degree in biology, with an ecology, evolution and organismal emphasis (honors Program) in 2009 from Western Washington University, Bellingham, Wash., and his doctorate in entomology in 2015 from Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pa. He served as a postdoctoral researcher in the Godfrey lab and later, the Frank Zalom lab, before accepting his current appointment of assistant Cooperative Extension specialist.

Grettenberger's fields of expertise include field and vegetable crops; integrated pest management; applied insect ecology, and biological control of pests.

Among his current grants:

  • Protection of rice from invertebrate pests
  • Management of key cotton arthropod pests with insecticides and acaricides, a proactive approach to prepare for the invasion of the tomato leafminer (Tuta absoluta) into California
  • Detection, biology and control of the exotic Swede midge (Contarinia nasturtii) for California cole crops
  • Management of the western spotted and striped cucumber beetle in melon production
  • Biological control of the bagrada bug
  • Insecticide resistant alfalfa weevils in the western United States:Quantifying the scope of resistance and implementing a plan to manage the threat
  • Insecticide resistance monitoring and evaluation of efficacy of current chemical tactics for managing aphids and thrips in lettuce

How did you get interested in entomology? Can you recall an occasion that sparked your interest?  
I had biologist parents, and was drawn into entomology at a pretty young age. I spent plenty of time looking in flowers and turning over logs looking for insects. Once I started thinking about going to graduate school for entomology, I decided to focus on the intersection of agricultural entomology and insect ecology. I wanted to work on applied issues in entomology. 

How would you describe yourself? 
I like tackling problems, which has worked out well with my work in applied entomology and extension. I can be intensely focused and immensely distracted, which I would say has its pluses and minuses. 

What do you like best about your work? 
I love working in applied entomology and that I get to use research to better understand pests and work to develop IPM tools. The breadth of crops I cover is both a bit overwhelming but immensely exciting because of the diversity in pest issues, types of tactics that are applicable, and interesting ecological/biological questions among the various crop pests. I also get to work with great people, both within my lab and with all of the various collaborators/cooperators. I have met and worked with a lot of fantastic people this first year, and I also think my lab is off to a great start. 

Where were you born and where did you spend your childhood?  
I was born in Portland, Ore., but I primarily grew up in Olympia, Wash. As you might imagine, I grew up with lots of rain, but in a beautiful area.

What are your research plans/goals here at UC Davis? What drew you to UC Davis? 
Thus far, I have been focused on projects in crops where there has historically seen solid research by UC Davis (such as rice and cotton) and have been developing new projects and collaborations. For better or worse, IPM is never static, so my research will be continually evolving to address pest management needs and has already been shifting this first year. Because I have an extension appointment, stakeholder needs have driven much of my work and this will continue to be a theme. 

I was drawn to Davis by the many opportunities it would afford working in agricultural entomology. The department has a great reputation academically and the people in it are great as well. I also would have (and have had) the opportunity to connect with many other great researchers in the UC system, both campus- and county-based. There are many crops and pests to work on. We are quite literally surrounded by crops I work in, including alfalfa, rice, and tomatoes. I even found some alfalfa weevil on my run last weekend.

What do you like to do in your leisure time?
My primary hobby is running, ideally on trails and long distances. I can deal with the nearly zero elevation gain in our area, but I like to get out to where there are some hills. I also like to be outdoors in general and spending time with my family (wife/dog/cat; dog will go on adventure runs with us, cat only gets the backyard). 

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I don't like all foods, but I will try basically anything just to see what it tastes like. I think some people are also surprised by the amount of food I can eat at one time.