BOZEMAN — Building on a long tradition, a Montana State University researcher has been selected to lead the world's largest organization dedicated to the study of insects.

MSU professor Bob Peterson was recently named president of the Entomological Society of America. (MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez)

Bob Peterson, professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in MSU's College of Agriculture, has been named the president of the Entomological Society of America. He is the fourth person from MSU to serve in that role.

The Entomological Society of America, a nonprofit professional society, has more than 7,000 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry and government. Members include researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, students and hobbyists.

"It’s an honor to lead a scientific society with such dedicated members," said Peterson, who began his one-year term in November.

At MSU, Peterson leads research focused on agricultural and biological risk assessment related to biotechnology, invasive species and pesticides as well as research on insect ecology and integrated pest management. He has authored or co-authored 112 peer-reviewed publications, 13 book chapters and one book. He also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses and directs MSU's online master’s degree program in environmental sciences.

As president of the Entomological Society of America, Peterson will oversee the organization's new initiatives and guide its mission of advocating insect science. He said his priority is to empower the organization's members to feel that they all have a role in sharing their science and communicating the value of entomology.

"It's critical that the public understands and appreciates what we do," Peterson said.

Insects, which account for at least two-thirds of all known species, are woven with astounding variety into the world's ecosystems, Peterson said. "If you take insects out of an ecosystem, the ecosystem will collapse."

Now, more than ever, Peterson said, society faces challenges in fostering beneficial insects, such as pollinators, and managing others that cause disease or crop damage. For instance, warming trends are expanding the ranges of disease-carrying insects and their relatives such as the blacklegged tick, one of the primary vectors for Lyme disease. And, he added, "The world's most dangerous animal is the mosquito," which causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year as a result of transmitting malaria and other lethal diseases.

Despite significant advances in recent decades, scientists still know "precious little" about the insect world, Peterson said. And although his research and teaching are dedicated to the six-legged members of the animal kingdom, advancing entomology relies as much on people, he said.

"To get anything done, we work with each other," Peterson said. That's why the Entomological Society of America is important, he added.

Other MSU faculty who have served as the organization's president are Mike Ivie, associate professor in MSU's Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology (2005); Sharron Quisenberry, who was the first woman dean of MSU's College of Agriculture (2000); and Robert Cooley, who served as head of what was then MSU's Department of Entomology and Zoology from 1899 to 1931 and pioneered entomology in Montana (1917).

The tradition of MSU faculty leading the organization, Peterson said, "demonstrates our strong commitment to serving our science at national and international levels."

- MSU News Service -