Vineyard botany earns student nod at international event

Urban planning plays a major role in the types of residents a community attracts, and that logic can have real benefits when also applied to the insect world.

Brock University Master of Biological Sciences student Kasia Zgurzynski (BSc ’21) has received international praise for her research that looks at the beneficial insects that are attracted to various native plant species found in vineyards.

Zgurzynski’s work earned her an honourable mention for the Lionel Cinq-Mars award for Best Oral Presentation at the Bryophytes, lichens, and northern ecosystems in a changing world conference. Held virtually in July, the international event brought together researchers and academics from across the globe.

Her presentation titled: “Native plant and beneficial insect communities along perimeter plantings and interiors of vineyards” researched the interplay between an area’s plant offerings and the insects it attracts.

“Researching the biodiversity of vineyards and their hedgerows showed us the benefit certain native plants provide to attract helpful insects like parasitoid wasps,” said Zgurzynski.

The hedgerows act like an insect apartment complex and house a wide range of species.

The research has many potential applications, such as educating property owners about how certain native plants, such as those from the Asteraceae family like goldenrods, may help bring beneficial wasps — those that kill pests harmful to grape rows — to vineyards.

Zgurzynski completed her Bachelor of Science at Brock last spring, earning the Faculty of Mathematics and Science Distinguished Graduating Student award.  She began her Master of Science with a focus on ecology and evolution this fall under the supervision of Professor Liette Vasseur.

“Kasia is a very promising researcher who demonstrates her passion for the natural world,” Vasseur said. “She can express this passion very well orally as well as in writing.”

During her master’s studies, Zgurzynski said she will be “looking at the ability of certain planted species to attract beneficial and pest insects in vineyards.”

“This will compare native species to commonly used introduced plant species, to see which may be having a greater role in biological control,” she said.

Finding a perennial native species that serves its purpose more efficiently than an annual introduced species while providing more year-round benefits to the beneficial insects would be ideal, she added.

“A big part of what I like about this research is that it gives farmers an opportunity to be stewards of their land and make more sustainable choices in how they structure and manage their vineyards,” Zgurzynski said.

“I’m honoured to receive the mention for my undergraduate research,” she said. “I was up against 61 other presentations, many of them delivered by master’s and PhD students.”

One of the challenges for any researcher is feeling comfortable in front of a group discussing complex topics to an audience with wide-ranging levels of understanding.

Zgurzynski believes a series of courses she completed that focused on presenting and communicating as an important part of scientific research was valuable and helped her succeed in receiving the honourable mention.

“It’s excellent to see a member of our Faculty rank so highly for these awards,” said Math and Science Dean Ejaz Ahmed. “Kasia’s continuation of her research from undergraduate to graduate level is a valuable stepping stone for her work. The Faculty enjoys watching her academic progression.”

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