Conference on Laurel Wilt Disease and Natural Ecosystems

Speaker Biographies

Chip Bates
Graduate of Auburn University (1985) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Management

Chip is a graduate of Auburn University (1985) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Management. His career in forestry began in 1986 with a consultant firm in South Georgia and in 1990 he transferred to the Georgia Forestry Commission and has twenty-five years of experience working with the Forest Management Departments. Chip is currently the Forest Health Coordinator for The Georgia Forestry Commission.

Susan Best
Plant Pathologist, Southern Research Station (SRS), Insects, Diseases and Invasive Plants ( IDIP )

Susan Best is a plant pathologist for the Southern Research Station (SRS), Insects, Diseases and Invasive Plants ( IDIP ) at Athens, GA. Alongside SRS research plant pathologist Stephen Fraedrich, Susan has worked on laurel wilt on redbay, sassafras, pondberry and other Lauraceae species in the southeastern U.S. since 2004. Susan is a native of Grantham, North Carolina.

Dr. Daniel Carrillo
Assistant Professor, Tropical Research and Education Center, University of Florida-IFAS

Dr. Daniel Carrillo is an assistant professor in the Tropical Research and Education Center at the University of Florida-IFAS with a background in entomology and integrated pest management of tropical crops. Dr. Carrillo specializes in tropical fruit entomology, insect vector biology, interactions between ambrosia beetles and pathogenic fungi, and integrated pest management of invasive pests. Dr. Carrillo has studied the ambrosia beetle communities in south Florida for past four years. Dr. Carrillo has experience trapping, rearing and identifying ambrosia beetles in south Florida.

Jeff Eickwort
Forest Health Specialist and Supervisor, Forest Health Section, Gainesville, FL

Jeff Eickwort is a forest health specialist and supervisor of the Forest Health Section, based in Gainesville, FL. He holds a BS in Forest Conservation from Michigan State University, and has completed his coursework towards a Masters in Entomology at the University of Florida. He has worked with forest pest and disease issues in Florida since 2004, and has been involved in research and monitoring work regarding laurel wilt disease since 2005, when he and Dr. Bud Mayfield first documented the presence of the redbay ambrosia beetle in Florida. He also manages and coordinates multiple federally-funded programs to survey, monitor, and manage other insects, diseases, and invasive plants that affect Florida’s forests and shade trees. He and his staff provide assistance programs, education and training, and technical assistance to a wide range of stakeholders statewide.

Marc A. Hughes
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Florida – School of Forest Resources and Conservation (SFRC)

Marc Hughes is a postdoctoral researcher in the SFRC’s Forest Pathology lab at the University of Florida. His work focuses on the host-pathogen-vector interactions of laurel wilt, a significant disease of trees within the family Lauraceae. Since 2007, Marc has been conducting a study to locate healthy redbay trees in areas of intense mortality in an effort to archive the germplasm for monitoring and propagation. Additionally, Marc and Dr. Jason A. Smith have developed a laurel wilt resistance screening program, where candidate trees are challenged with the laurel wilt pathogen in order to find resistant/tolerant trees that can be used for future breeding a reforestation projects. Marc is a native of south Florida. He earned his undergraduate degree from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and a PhD degree in plant pathology from the University of Florida.

Don Duerr (Moderator)
Director, Forest Health Protection (FHP), Southern Region of the U.S. Forest Service

Don Duerr is the Director of Forest Health Protection (FHP) for the Southern Region of the U.S. Forest Service, which is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. He oversees every aspect of the FHP program in 13 southeastern states from Texas to Virginia. Southern Region FHP has approximately 35 employees, mostly entomologists, plant pathologists, invasive plant specialists, and biological science technicians.

Jiri Hulcr
Assistant Professor at the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida

Jiri Hulcr is an Assistant Professor at the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida. An expert in the ambrosia symbiotic complex - beetles, fungi, bacteria-, he studies the most fundamental questions about the evolutionary origin of this fungus-farming symbiosis, and the chemistry that makes it function, but also how the tree-killing symbiosis is impacting trees, forests, and people. With over 40 publications on ambrosia beetles and their fungi symbionts he also developed on-line interactive resources for wood boring beetles. He maintains one of the largest cryo-preserved collections of wood-destroying beetles and fungi (over 120,000 samples) and he provides forest pest diagnostics and management recommendations. He is co-founder of the Emerging Threats to Forest Research Group. He started working with the redbay ambrosia beetle in 2012 focusing on aspects of the symbiosis chemistry as well as management tools to eradicate the disease. He collaborated in the elaboration on the Recovery Plan for Laurel wilt of Avocado.

Paul E. Kendra
Research Entomologist, USDA Agricultural Research Service

For 20 years, Paul has worked on projects integrating insect development, physiology, behavior, and chemical ecology to improve pest detection systems. At the Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology (Gainesville, FL), he focused on stored-product pests and use of spatial analysis for trap interpretation. He developed contour analysis methods to pinpoint foci of infestation and direct targeted control, thereby reducing costs, pesticide risks, and loss of product. Research was supported by an EPA-ARS Agreement, and the technology has been adopted by the pest control industry. Upon moving to the Subtropical Horticulture Research Station (Miami, FL), he developed electrophysiology techniques to quantify olfactory responses of tephritid fruit flies. In conjunction with morphological studies of ovary maturation, this work led to a better understanding of the relationships among insect physiological state, olfactory response, and attraction to field lures. More recently, as a visiting scientist at Archbold Biological Station, he has worked on attractants for redbay ambrosia beetle, vector of laurel wilt. Supported by the National Plant Disease Recovery System and the Florida Avocado Committee, he identified several attractants common to host Lauraceae. Through a Cooperative Agreement with a commercial partner, more effective longer-lasting lures have been developed. Paul has a Bachelor’s Degree from University of Delaware, and a Ph.D. from Duke University.

Paul Merten
Entomologist, USDA Forest Service, Southern Region State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection

Paul Merten is an entomologist working out of the USFS Forest Health Protection field office located in Asheville, North Carolina. His varied workload involves: Southern Pine Beetle Suppression, Emerald Ash Borer, Asian Longhorned Beetle, Sirex Woodwasp, Redbay Ambrosia Beetle, Thousand Cankers Disease, Non-Native Invasive Plant Species, and Firewood Outreach. Primary geographic area of work includes seven states in the southeast including: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee; but he also works on several national level projects. Mr. Merten provides technical assistance, suppression planning, funding, and technical development for forests pest control on Forest Service and other federal lands and also works closely with state cooperators with their forest health programs. Working with FHP; Paul also provides survey and detection services including aerial/land based detection methods, trapping and monitoring. Additionally, Paul works closely with universities and federal research units to develop new forest pest control and suppression strategies. Mr. Merten has twenty-two years of experience working in many aspects of natural resources at the private, state and federal levels.

Tony Pernas
Coordinator, National Park Service Florida/Caribbean Exotic Plant Management Team

Tony Pernas is the Coordinator for the National Park Service Florida/Caribbean Exotic Plant Management Team since its inception in 2000. Since joining the NPS in 1988, his career has focused on invasive plant and animal management issues – first as a Resource Management Specialist at Big Cypress National Preserve, and then as a Supervisory Botanist at Everglades National Park. Tony is currently a co-chair of the Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (ECISMA).

Randy Ploetz
Professor of Plant Pathology, University of Florida in Homestead (TREC)

Randy Ploetz is a Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Florida in Homestead (TREC). His work focuses on fungal and fungal-like plant pathogens and the diseases they cause on subtropical and tropical crops, with emphases on understanding their biology and pathology and devising effective means for their management. He is an authority on diseases of tropical fruits who has written/edited over 450 publications on these topics and edited four books, one of which, Diseases of Tropical Fruit Crops (CAB International), is a standard reference. He began work on laurel wilt of avocado in 2007, and from 2009 – 2014 directed a 30-member team on a comprehensive NIFA SCRI project. In 2011, he wrote the National Recovery plan for this disease, which is currently undergoing revision.

Dr. John J. Riggins
Associate Professor of Forest Entomology,
Mississippi State University

Dr. John J. Riggins is an associate professor of forest entomology at Mississippi State University. Prior to his current appointment, Dr. Riggins received B.S. and M.S. degrees in biology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of Arkansas. His research investigates non-native forest insect invasions, plant-insect-fungus interactions and their influences on landscape scale ecosystem processes such as carbon and nutrient cycles, disturbance ecology of forest insects, and integrated forest pest management practices. His research program integrates forest entomology and pathology, geospatial sciences, eco-physiology, applied science, and ecosystem ecology to better understand the ecology of native and introduced forest insects.

LeRoy Rodgers
Lead Scientist, Land Resources Bureau at the South Florida Water Management District

LeRoy Rodgers is a Lead Scientist in the Land Resources Bureau at the South Florida Water Management District. LeRoy Rodgers holds a Bs in Botany from the University of Florida and a Masters in Biology from Old Dominion University. He has over 18 years of experience working on invasive species management issues in Florida. In his current position at the District, LeRoy oversees the Everglades invasive plant monitoring program, conducts herbicide evaluations, and leads a team of biologists focused on numerous natural area invasive plant research and management programs. LeRoy is the current chair of the Lygodium Task Force of the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council and is a founding member of the Everglades Invasive Species Management Area.

Dr. Jason Smith
Associate Professor, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida

Dr. Smith is Associate Professor at the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida. He teaches, conducts research and carries out extension programs related to tree diseases and forest health. Dr. Smith specializes in biology, diagnosis and management of fungal diseases, with emphasis on new and emerging tree health issues. Dr. Smith’s extension program focuses on technology transfer of novel diagnostic methods for tree diseases, educating the public about new and emerging diseases and providing training on diseases and decay in urban trees for the professional arboricultural industry. He is Co-Director of the Emerging Threats to Forests Research Team. Dr. Smith’s research team studies different aspects of laurel wilt disease, from the biology and phylogeny of the fungal pathogen, to the sensitivity of the different Persea species that are affected. Simultaneously, they are developing resistant cultivars that could be used for restoration purposes. His team is working in collaboration with the Seminole and Miccosukkee American Indian tribes to find culturally acceptable management techniques to protect their trees.

Lanette Sobel
Doctor of Plant Medicine Student, Working on a Masters of Forestry

Lanette Sobel is a Doctor of Plant Medicine student and is also working on a Masters of Forestry under the supervision of Dr. Jason Smith. She is interested in protecting and preserving ecosystems through a holistic approach which combines research, technology and emerging paradigms such as Permaculture. Her research involves identifying, propagating and preserving culturally significant swamp bay trees of the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes in South Florida from the threat of Laurel Wilt disease. She founded Ecosante Consulting, an environmental consultancy focused on providing environmentally, economically and socially sustainable solutions for the hospitality industry, and co-founded and served as Executive Director of the Fertile Earth Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to increasing environmental awareness as well as supporting environmentally-focused research. She served as a visiting researcher with Florida Atlantic University and has participated in two studies documenting best practices for the Florida Green Lodging Program.

Dr. Geoff Wang
Professor of Silviculture and Ecology,
Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation at Clemson University

Dr. Wang is a professor of Silviculture and Ecology with the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation at Clemson University. He conducts applied forest ecology research in temperate forests. His current research focuses on how disturbances, including fire, weather extreme, pest/disease, and biological invasion,affect forests in the southern USA and their implication on forest health. Dr. Wang has served as either PI/ Project Leader or Co-PI for ~40 grants totaling ~8 million dollars. He has published ~80 peer-reviewed journal articles and ~50 other publications. He has also delivered or co-authored ~180 scientific presentations, including ~40 invited seminars. He teaches Silviculture and Fire Ecology at Clemson University. He is currently serving as an Associates Editor for New Forests (SCI) and Canadian Journal of Forest Research (SCI) as well as an editor for Journal of Forestry Research (SCI).

US Forest Service


Speaker Presentations
June 16-18, 2015

Photo Galleries

Welcome Social
June 16, 2015


Field Trip
June 17, 2015


June 18, 2015

Laurel Wilt Info

Detection of Laurel Wilt Disease in Avocado Using Low Altitude Aerial Imaging

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