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Justin B. Runyon

Justin B. Runyon
Research Entomologist
Maintaining Resilient Dryland Ecosystems
Montana State University Campus
1648 South 7th Avenue
Bozeman, MT 59717-2780
United States
Current Research

Justin's research focuses on plant-insect chemical ecology. His current research includes: (1) understanding the role floral scent plays in plant-pollinator interactions and how environmental stressors alter scent and pollinator attraction, (2) examining tree chemistry to understand host selection and resistance to bark beetles, and (3) exploring chemically-mediated interactions between invasive plants and herbivores.

Justin also has projects on assessing “pollinator-friendliness” of native plants for restoration, determining management and disturbance effects (e.g., bark beetle outbreaks) on pollinators, and the taxonomy and biodiversity of long-legged flies (Diptera: Dolichopodidae).

Past Research
1. Chemical Ecology of interactions between parasitic plants, their host plants, and insect herbivores. 2. Biological control and chemical ecology of the tritrophic system consisting of the wheat stem sawfly, host plants, and natural enemies. 3. How bark beetle attack alters tree chemistry and how this affects flammability to better predict and manage wildfires. 4. exploiting sagebrush chemistry to improve restoration.
Research Interest

Chemistry plays a critical role in most species interactions and underpins community structure and function. I seek to understand chemistry's function in the World and exploit it to better manage and restore ecosystems. One example is the chemical interactions between bark beetles and trees. Our work revealed that host-searching mountain pine beetles are repelled by volatiles emitted by Great Basin Bristlecone pine (but strongly attracted to odors from other pine species). Understanding what it is about this blend of odors that repels beetles could allow development of new strategies for managing this important forest insect. Another example is biological control, the only tool capable of managing widespread exotic plant invasions. However, some biological control agents obtain approval and are released, but fail to impact weed populations. A better understanding of the interactions between biocontrol agents and their invasive host plants is needed to identify the factors which promote or limit successful biocontrol. My approach is to apply the chemical ecology of plant-herbivore interactions to classical biological control of weeds - two fields which have largely progressed independently to date. Chemistry plays a central role in determining ecological outcomes between plants and insects and should provide information that can be used to better predict which potential agents are most likely to be effective.

Why This Research Is Important

This research will better position us to devise and apply management to address important issues including invasive plants, pollinators, and bark beetles. It will also advance our basic understanding of the ecology of plant-insect interactions.

  • University of Virginia's College at Wise, VA, B.S., Biology and Mathematics, 1998
  • Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, M.S., Entomology, 2001
  • Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, Ph.D., Entomology, 2008
Awards & Recognition
  • Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award, 2014
    This is "the highest honor that the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Ag Alumni Society present to select alumni who have achieved notable professional achievements and brought distinction to themselves, the college, and the University."
  • Kavli Fellow, 2014
    Invited to participate in the Kavli Frontiers of Science symposiumin Medan, Indonesia in June 2014. This is the premiere activity within the U.S. National Academy of Sciences for distinguished young scientists.
  • Deputy Chief's Early Career Scientist Award , 2012
    This honor was awarded "in recognition of your outstanding research productivity and your impacts on science including your major efforts in science delivery." Received February 2013 in Washington D.C.
  • Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering (PECASE) , 2012
    This is "the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers". Received April 2014 in Washington D.C.
Featured Publications
Other Publications
Research Highlights

Sagebrush Scent Identifies Species and Subspecies

Year: 2016
Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is the dominant plant species across much of the western United States and provides critical habitat and food for many endemic species, including the threatened Greater sage-grouse. Sagebrush habitat is imperiled due to disturbances and increased wildfire frequen...

Unwanted Side Effects of Roads Are Invasive Species

Year: 2012
Monitoring invasive plants is an important component of forest restoration

Biological control of invasive plants

Year: 2011
Scientists are studying chemical ecology regarding the biocontrol of weeds and discovering that biocontrol insects affect weed chemistry in very different ways.

Drought Stress Changes Floral Scent and Reduces Pollinator Visitation

Year: 2014
Pollinators assist 80 percent of flowering plants in their reproduction, which accounts for much of the food ingested by humans and wildlife. The worldwide decline in pollinators highlights the importance of understanding factors affecting plant-pollinator interactions. Forest Service scientists exa...

The Bane of Weed Management: Secondary Invasions

Year: 2016
Weed management can result in unintentional secondary invasion: an increase in non-target exotics following efforts to suppress targeted invasive plants. Meta-analysis showed that management efforts strongly reduced target invader abundance overall; however, secondary invaders increased following co...