University of Delaware wildlife ecology and conservation student Hannah Slesinski tracked invasive insects that are causing widespread tree damage across the state.: youtube.com/watch?v=_r-kqCzIrSM
Into the woods
Photo by Monica Moriak | Video by Kate Zincone October 11, 2022
UD junior interns with Delaware Forest Service to track invasive insects
A long trek into the woods on a hot summer day followed by a diligent search for invasive beetles, some smaller than a grain of rice. Sound like fun? It was for University of Delaware junior Hannah Slesinski, a wildlife ecology and conservation major with a minor in environmental humanities, who spent months interning with the Delaware Forest Service. Slesinski teamed up with Forest Health Specialist Bill Seybold to identify invasive species, regularly checking traps for insects that cause destruction to trees across the state.
“In Delaware, there have been a lot of mysterious deaths of trees so we set out these traps that catch a lot of different types of insects in hopes that an insect that’s causing a problem will fly in, we’ll be able to identify it and figure out what’s causing the tree damage,” Slesinski said.
First, Slesinski searched for beetles that haven’t yet been found in Delaware but that could decimate important tree species if they make their way into the First State. She and Seybold set traps to locate the walnut twig beetle, an insect smaller than the size of a grain of rice, and sent potential specimens to experts at Purdue University for official identification. They also set traps for the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), another pest that threatens hardwoods across the country. Because the ALB often hitches a ride in packing and shipping materials, traps were set near industrial areas and checked biweekly. Luckily, they didn’t find any ALB or walnut twig beetles in traps this summer.
Slesinski also helped trap and track other invasive borer beetle species that already exist in Delaware. You’ve likely seen evidence of these borer beetles, a large group that includes a variety of different species, on walks through the woods or even in your own backyard. Borer beetles lay eggs in cracks and crevices in wood and trees. The larvae feed on the wood and, when they reach adulthood, bore a hole through the bark to exit the tree. Damage from borer beetles is causing the decline of critical tree species — including ash, oak and elm — across the nation.
Equally as passionate about environmental outreach and education as she is about trees and wildlife, Slesinski worked with UD Cooperative Extension’s Master Naturalist and Master Gardener programs to create educational materials about the emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive beetle that destroys ash trees. She helped create an EAB presentation and survey that collects information about ash trees from citizen scientists. Eventually, the goal is for Delaware Master Naturalists to collect seeds from living ash trees, for Master Gardeners to help the seeds germinate and for the Delaware Forest Service to plant those trees across the state to replenish the declining ash population.
Slesinski found her internship through connections in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) entomology and wildlife ecology department and it has helped her hone her professional interests and goals. With other foresters in her family, she is excited about the possibility of a future protecting wildlife while working in the woods.
Originally interested in pre-veterinary medicine, Slesinski said the wildlife ecology and conservation program caught her eye when she visited the UD campus as a high school student. Now halfway through her undergraduate career, Slesinski said CANR is the perfect fit. She enjoys spending time on UD’s 350-acre farm and Ecology Woods, has collected great memories from some of her favorite classes like Ornithology and Indigenous Woody Plants of the Eastern United States, and is excited to spend this winter abroad in Costa Rica on a wildlife conservation trip through UD’s study abroad program.
Slesinski now shares her love for UD — and her passion for outreach and wildlife — with prospective students through her role as Ag Ambassador where she promotes all that CANR has to offer.
“I really like doing tours and open houses,” Slesinski said. “My first visit to campus was one of the key reasons I chose UD. I knew I wanted to help create that experience for other students and I’m so glad I have an opportunity to do that.”