Surveying an insect collection from a 17th-century Northeastern agrarian settlement to determine changes in beneficial insects, pests, and climate

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,859.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Rutgers University, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
George Hamilton
Rutgers University


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: other
  • Crop Production: other
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, other, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, indicators, other, wildlife
  • Pest Management: competition, cultural control, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life

    Proposal abstract:

    Since the dawn of agrarian society humans have been managing natural resources, climate conditions, and crop damage caused by pest pressure. Our project seeks to take a novel approach to generating quantifiable data on historical pest pressure in the Northeast through an extensive evaluation of an insect collection from 1680s Maryland. Our analysis will focus on the historical and modern diversity of rove beetles (Coleoptera, Staphylinidae) as a proxy indicator of climate and the system’s capacity to subdue pests. Completing a DNA analysis of historical rove beetle specimens will build on recent insect genetic technologies while advancing sustainable interdisciplinary agriculture research. The other agriculturally significant specimens will be analyzed, including, and not limited to thrips (Thysanoptera), true insects (Hemiptera), and mites (Acari). Our project crosses disciplines to utilize techniques from archaeology, forensics, genetics, and geology to better understand historical pest dynamics in the Northeastern USA. My outreach and communication plan includes workshops for Master Gardeners’ educators on identification of insect specimen fragments, fact sheets for Extension professionals, and conference presentations including the 2023 International Conference of Master Gardeners in Overton Park, Kansas. This research will also result in an open-source scholarly article.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Complete a DNA identification of a group of rove beetle remains entombed in a 1680s plantation owner’s grave to draw conclusions about pest pressure at the site.
      1. Advance the study of a specific group of beneficial insects by using DNA to study their role in controlling pest pressure at a historical agricultural settlement
      2. Location: Arizona, New Jersey
    2. Complete a three-year survey of the site’s modern insect biodiversity which started in 2021
      1. Trapping modern insects to provide site-specific references to compare historical specimens to.
      2. Location: Maryland
    3. Finalize morphological identifications noting specific identifiable characters using updated morphological keys
      1. Complete a thirty-year research endeavor first started in 1992 
      2. Use advanced imaging techniques to discern morphologically identifiable characters
      3. Location: New Jersey, Arizona
    4. Analyze data
      1. Complete descriptive and inferential statistics with the R Studio open-source coding language.
      2. Compile statistics on both rove beetle and wider insect biodiversity for both modern and historical groups
      3. Location: New Jersey
    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.