Undercover agent: Uncovering the effects of cover crops on a beneficial soil fungus

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,569.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Mary Barbercheck
PSU Dept. of Entomology

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: canola, corn, oats, rye, soybeans


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Organic farmers rely primarily on cultural practices and biological control to manage insect pests. Natural enemies, including insect pathogens such as fungi, can help to control insect pests. The fungus Metarhizum is particularly interesting due to the recent discovery that it can also grow in plant roots and promote plant growth. These beneficial fungi are commonly found in agricultural soils, and are good candidates for conservation efforts. The goal of my project is to understand the effects of agricultural practices and soil characteristics on Metarhizium. Specifically, I will investigate the effects of cover crop species and diversity, and soil characteristics on the occurrence and diversity of Metarhizium. The research objectives of my project are to: 1) characterize isolates and determine species diversity of Metarhizium; 2) determine to what degree these isolates can form a relationship with corn roots; and 3) determine the effects of the corn-Metarhizium association on the growth of corn and a corn pest, fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda). This project will be conducted within the context of a larger study to determine the effects of cover crops on weed and insect management, nutrient cycling, soil quality, crop productivity and profitability. The information regarding Metarhizium will be disseminated through newsletters and factsheets electronically, and to agricultural professionals and growers at extension and outreach events. The project is appropriate for funding by NE SARE because it will provide information that can help producers reduce environmental and health risks in agriculture, improve productivity, and conserve and protect natural resources.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1: Determine the effects of cover crop treatments and soil characteristics on the occurrence and species diversity of endemic Metarhizium isolates using sentinel insect assays and molecular techniques.

    Objective 2: Determine the ability of endemic Metarhizium species to establish growth in corn and selected cover crop species.

    Objective 3: Measure the effects of Metarhizium-infection of corn on the growth of corn and a corn pest.

    Objective 4: Develop extension products for outreach and extension events relating to effects of cover crops on Metarhizium

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.