Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Joseph L Spencer
Title: Insect Behaviorist
Mailing address:
1816 S. Oak Street
Champaign, IL 61820
Office address:
Address mailcode: 652
Office room:
Location: 2089 Forbes Natural History Building
Phone: 217-244-6851
Fax: 217-244-0802

My research interests and activities fall into several broad areas. All involve efforts to discern mechanisms of behavior.
1). Movement and mating of western corn rootworm beetles in refuge and Bt-transgenic corn. I am currently working on a study focused on discovering how well our expectations about rootworm behavior match with what really happens when we plant refuges in Bt corn.

2).Egg-laying behavior and movement/dispersal of field crop insect pests.
3). Effects of diet and physiological status on activity, behavior, egg-laying and movement of rotation-resistant western corn rootworm beetles.
4). Monitoring abundance of beetles in Illinois soybean fields.
5). Intra- and interfield movement by WCR adults in non-transgenic refuges and transgenic corn.
6). Contribution of WCR gut physiology to evolution and spread of rotation-resistant WCR.
7). Impact of proposed biomass crops on behavior and ecology of key field crop pests.

8). Ecology and movement of noisy prairie insects.
My approach to the study of insects is colored by an abiding interest in behavior and an appreciation for the constraints physiology can impose on behavior. In my experience, direct observation of insects is necessary to truly understand their impact on our world; knowing what happened to produce a result is all the more valuable when we know how it happened as well.
My current research focuses on the behavioral, physiological, and ecological mechanisms that underlie western corn rootworm (WCR) resistance to crop rotation. I am particularly interested in the role of diet and reproductive behavior on short and long-distance movement of WCR adults within and between fields. These studies currently focus on assessing movement of mate-seeking WCR males from refuges into transgenic portions of cornfields and the likelihood than refuge males actually mate with potentially resistant WCR females that emerged from transgenic corn. Testing assumptions about the design and functioning of refuges for insect resistance management (IRM) in transgenic crops contributes to their improved design and sustainable deployment.
I am also currently evaluating a method to measure and study rotation-resistant WCR activity that uses evidence of soybean herbivory. This project is testing a new method to monitor rotation-resistant WCR activity. If successful, it could be adapted for grower use as a quick tool to measure the local risk of WCR economic larval injury in rotated corn.
I remain fascinated by the synergy between host specific chemical stimuli and other features like epicuticular waxes and physical characteristics which stimulate host-oriented behaviors of many insects.
I believe that a willingness to sometimes let your insect subject lead the way is a trait which all behaviorists share, and that it is a prerequisite for discovery. If we are patient enough to listen, insects will not fail to tell us amazing stories.
Message to students: I currently do not have any openings for graduate students in my laboratory.
Recipient of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences 2003 Team Award for Excellence as a member of the Western Corn Rootworm Research Group.
Professional affiliations:
Entomological Society of America
Michigan Entomological Society
Past Scientific Member of the Center for Insect Science, University of Arizona.
Adjunct Appointment in Departments of Crop Sciences and Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES), University of Illinois.
Selected publications:
Levine, E., J. L. Spencer, S. A. Isard, D. W. Onstad, and M. E. Gray. 2002. Adaptation of the western corn rootworm, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) to crop rotation: evolution of a new strain in response to a cultural management practice. American Entomologist 48:94-107.
Spencer, J.L., T.R. Mabry, and T. Vaughn. 2003. Use of transgenic plants to measure insect herbivore movement. Journal of Economic Entomology 96:1738-1749.
Spencer, J.L., T.R. Mabry, E. Levine, and S.A. Isard. 2005. Movement, Dispersal, and Behavior of Western Corn Rootworm Adults in Rotated Corn and Soybean Fields. In Western Corn Rootworm: Ecology and Management. S. Vidal, U. Kuhlmann, and C. R. Edwards, eds. CAB Publishing. P. 121-144.
Spencer, J.L., and E. Levine. 2008. Resistance to crop rotation. Chapter 8 (pp. 153-183) In Insect Resistance Management: Biology, Economics and Prediction, D.W. Onstad, (ed.) Academic Press. 320p.
Spencer, J.L., B.E. Hibbard, J. Moeser, and D.W. Onstad. 2009. Western corn rootworm behavior and ecology. Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 11:9-27.
Spencer, J.L. and S. Raghu, 2009. Refuge or reservoir: The potential impacts of the biofuel crop Miscanthus x giganteus on a major pest of maize. December 16, 2009. PLoS ONE.

Onstad, D.W., P.D. Mitchell, T.M. Hurley, J.G. Lundgren, R. P. Porter, C.H. Krupke, J.L. Spencer, C.D. DiFonzo, T.S. Baute, R.L. Hellmich, L. Buschman, W.D. Hutchison, J.F. Tooker. 2011. Seeds of Change: Corn Seed Mixtures for Resistance Management and IPM. Journal of Economic Entomology, 104(2):343-352.
INHS Publink:
Program affiliates:
Professional society involvement and activities:
Multistate Research Coordinating Committee/Information Exchange Group: NCR46, "Development, Optimization and Delivery of Management Strategies for Corn Rootworms". Annual participant since 1997, State Representative: 2005-present, Secretary: 2006.

Multistate Research Project: NCERA148, "Migration and Dispersal of Agriculturally Important Biota (formerly NCR-148)
Education: PhD, Entomology, Michigan State University, 1994

MS, Entomology, Michigan State University, 1990

BS, Biological Sciences, Michigan State University, 1987
Lab name: Lab research: Lab publications: Lab current projects:

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