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Sarah Gabel


I graduated from Saint Martin’s University in 2014 with a B.S. in Biology. I then went on to work in a variety of positions for two years: the Department of Ecology lab testing consumer products for compliance with hazardous chemical laws, Washington State University studying molecular biology of pea plants, and the Center for Natural Lands Management restoring prairies and surveying the efficacy of conservation efforts.

PhD project: Enhancing natural capital for ecosystem service provision

My PhD project is supervised by Prof Jane Stout, studying hoverflies in the Irish farming landscape. Agriculture benefits from the various ecosystem services provided by insects (e.g. pollination by bees, and pest control by ladybirds). In recognition of this, farmers are often advised to provide habitats that encourage beneficial insects onto their farm, such as by planting wildflower strips and proper management of hedgerows. However, there has been growing concern over insect population declines due to anthropogenic activities, including certain farming practices (e.g. pesticide use can leave residues that poison beneficial insects). It is in the best interest of both farmers and insects that agricultural management be safe and beneficial for both.

Hoverflies (Syrphidae) are an interesting family of flies (Diptera) as they can provide a variety of ecosystem services depending on their species and life cycle stage. Most hoverfly adults are considered pollinators, visiting flowers for nectar and pollen. And some species, such as the marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus), has larvae that predate on aphids, an economically significant crop pest. Despite their varied services in agriculture, hoverflies tend to be understudied.

My project is looking at how hoverflies and the agricultural landscape interact – the ecosystem services hoverflies provide to farmers, and how Irish farm management impacts hoverfly health and behaviour.