When I first spoke with Orlando Li he told me he wanted to work in the field with farmers; I knew I had the right candidate for my lab. Many students who contact me have an interest in biology that takes them to what we refer to as “lab work.” But I sometimes tell folks that the word “lab” for our group is a bit of a euphemism. What we have is more of a scientific field crew than a lab. Orlando’s interests fit perfectly with our group and our research aims.
Orlando is just finishing his proposal and preparing preliminary experiments to address how citrus plants regulate flushing on a whole plant basis. He’s looking into the environmental cues of flushing, relative timing of citrus root and shoot growth and of changes in carbohydrate movement, as well as what signals plants to make these changes happen.
“What does this have to do with field and farmers?” you ask.
Flushing patterns determine when the two major citrus pests in Florida can reproduce. Both Asian citrus psyllids and citrus leafminer lay their eggs on new flush, so if growers understood these cues they could use them to both manipulate them and to time other management decisions. If a grower knew a major flush was coming insecticides could reduce adult insect populations before they could lay eggs- even better if the grower could force the flush to be concentrated and keep it from spreading out over time. The answers to Orlando’s questions will help us design grower practices that will contribute to managing the two major disease challenges Florida citrus growers face. Orlando, whose given name is Sheng-yang, earned his Master’s degree in horticultural sciences at the National Taiwan University working on pear fruit thinning. He subsequently worked in Belize helping develop a certified budwood source for citrus growers there. I expect his contribution to Florida citriculture to be even more impactful.