Sniffing Around for a Sustainable Future in Agriculture and Forestry

Kirk in labDr. Kirk Hillier is passionate about bugs…especially the way they communicate.

A pest management expert, the Biology Professor at Acadia University says insects, like other animals, secrete chemicals – pheromones – for communication and sexual attraction.

“If we can control pests by interrupting their communication, mating and reproduction, we can reduce wide-spread pesticide use in agriculture and forestry,” says Dr. Hillier.

By developing pheromone-based attractants and repellents, he said foresters and farmers now have another sustainable tool for managing threats to their industries , while minimizing threats to human health and the environmental impact of pesticides.

Dr. Hillier’s work is carried out at a world-class Chemical Analysis and Bio-Imaging Laboratory (CABL) at Acadia University. Established with the combined funding of $258,270 from the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the lab features state-of-the-art imaging, microscopy, and chemical analysis equipment. The establishment of the lab was key to securing a major $6.9 million ACOA-AIF project to develop pest management tools that pose reduced risks to human health and the environment.

The five-year, pan-Atlantic AIF project involves partners in industry, government, and other Maritime universities. Products developed under this project are already available in the market to detect the Emerald Ash Borer which poses a deadly threat to all ash trees in North America, as well as the Blueberry Spanworm, a serious defoliator of low-bush blueberries in Atlantic Canada.

Efforts are underway to develop management tools for Spruce Budworm. This pest, which has infected Quebec and is now poised at the NB border to invade the Maritimes, is once again posing a significant threat to Atlantic Canada’s forests. Some experts estimate the Budworm could cause $1 billion in damage to the Atlantic forest industry.

The laboratory equipment has also been essential in providing high quality training opportunities at Acadia. It provides specialized training in neurophysiology, natural products chemistry, and in entomological research not available elsewhere in Canada. In addition to training undergraduate and graduate students at Acadia, researchers from Agriculture Canada, Canadian Forest Service, and several Canadian universities collaborate with Dr. Hillier and use the CABL infrastructure.


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