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Yerger and Donley Receive Grant to Develop Image Analysis Software to Measure Irregular Leaf Shapes from Insect Feeding

Ellen Yerger of the Biology Department and H. Edward Donley of the Mathematics Department were awarded a PASSHE Faculty Professional Development Committee grant for their project, “Development of image analysis software measuring irregular leaf shapes from insect feeding on native and non-native plants.”

Plant-eating insects are important members of ecosystems because they convert the photosynthetic energy of plants into high protein and fat resources for birds and other insect predators. A healthy terrestrial ecosystem requires abundant insect fauna. Many non-native plants are less preferred food sources for insects, but no studies have been done to determine the exact quantitative level of preference for native plants over non-native ones.

To determine this, an accurate method is needed to measure the amount of native plant foliage consumed by insects. Current leaf area calculation software systems only find the areas of existing leaves. They cannot perform the more difficult task of reconstructing missing portions eaten by insects.

This interdisciplinary collaboration will produce a software system to reconstruct images of the missing portions of leaves that have been partially eaten by insects. In an accompanying field experiment, the software will be used to accurately measure insect feeding preferences for several significant native verses non-native plants in ecosystems.

Student participants in this research project are from Computer Science, Biology, and Mathematics. The leaf area calculation software will be distributed freely to other researchers.

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