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FAMU Graduate Student Makes Award-Winning Discovery in Apalachicola Forest

Florida A&M University (FAMU) graduate student Latasha Tanner, who is pursuing her master’s degree in entomology at the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences, recently received top accolades from the National Society for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS).

Tanner ranked No. 3 in the nation in the MANRRS graduate poster competition for her research on the impact of invasive beetles in the Apalachicola National Forest. Her research uncovered millions of dollars worth of possible damage to Florida’s forestry and agricultural industries.

The top honor recognizes Tanner’s research on the redbay ambrosia beetle and laurel wilt fungus, a serious threat to the state’s forest industry and to the $13 million-a-year avocado crop industry in South Florida.Tanner discovered four new county records of bark beetles in the Apalachicola National Forest. One of the dominant species of ambrosia beetles she found has been reported to carry the laurel wilt fungus, thus making this invasive species a potential threat to plants in the family Lauraceae.

“Entomology holds a very special place in my heart,” said Tanner, who not only completed her research project early, but also successfully balanced her in-depth research with raising nine-month-old twins and an eight-year-old daughter.

Tanner explained that her dedication to her research was not only about shedding light on a growing issue in the Apalachicola Forest, but was also about paving the way for other female researchers who will come after her.

“I’ve seen how we’re very underrepresented nationally, so I try to be a gateway for other young ladies in the research community,” said Tanner, who despite recently being offered a full-ride scholarship to pursue her Ph.D. at Louisiana State University, has decided to continue her work within the FAMU community with hopes of recruiting more minority women in entomology.

Tanner’s research collaborates with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Program (CAPS) and Division of Plant Industry (DPI) in identifying potential pathways of invasive bark beetle. Her findings help to explain why Floridians are no longer allowed to transport firewood, as it can spread the beetles to campsite areas and pose a potential risk to infect the forest.

She also determined that gel ethanol was significantly more attractive to ambrosia beetles than the mixture of manuka and phoebe oil, which is currently used for management of the invasive species. She proposes that hand sanitizer attractant could be used as an alternative to gel ethanol, as it is more cost-effective and sustainable.

“She is a creative thinker with an eye for details and a devotion to logic, which serves her well in all of her activities,” said Lambert Kanga, Ph.D., an adviser to Tanner in the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences, who expressed his pride in the determination she displayed throughout the research process.

“I hope I have set the stage to show other moms that you can do it – don’t give up,” said Tanner about her national recognition.
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