"So say you sprayed an insecticide, and it's getting old and dried up and leaving residue on plants. Does it still affect the bugs in some way? We want to see if it causes the bugs damage - that way growers can wait a little longer to spray."
Sullivan became interested in stinkbugs because her academic research involves reproduction, and she enjoys the practical benefits the research can provide.
"Right now, there are no good tools besides insecticides to protect crops from stinkbugs," she said. "The only viable option for non-organic growers is to spray insecticides.
"This research could potentially show whether insecticides that do not kill the bugs incapacitate them in ways that protect crops. This way growers may be able to use less insecticide and still protect crops from stinkbug damage."
Sullivan partnered with Dr. Tracy Leskey at the USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Lab in Kearneysville to do preliminary studies of the sub-lethal effects of a pesticide.
Leskey suggested the grant to Sullivan, and the two are working jointly to study effects of four more insecticides.
"We became interested in the stinkbug as related to agriculture back in 2009. We had many growers in the Eastern Panhandle in West Virginia that were starting to incur significant injury in their orchards," Leskey said.
"To understand what happens to the bugs after they're exposed to an insecticide is important. This bug is hard to kill."
The research also includes an undergraduate student who will begin working on the project with Sullivan. The grant will fund one full-time student in the summer and one part-time student during the academic year. It also will pay for travel expense to Leskey's lab in Kearneysville for use of specialized equipment.
The student chosen to help says the research fits his interests.
"My biggest goal with this project is to gain knowledge that would be beneficial for my career path," said Kristopher Sarver, 20.
"My career goal is to become a field researcher for any number of the nation's national forests or the national parks, particularly in West Virginia."
Research projects on stinkbugs are underway around the country. Sullivan said other researchers are looking into natural enemies, determining the bug's future patterns and studying how farmers can manage it.
"There is a role for small institutions to contribute to scientific research. Much of this money in the grant is paying for a student to work on the project," Sullivan said.
"You get more bang for your buck. Not only do you get a research project, but you're training the next generation of scientists."