As soon as she walks in the room, forest entomology professor Lynne Rieske-Kinney says, “I love my job.” Her enthusiasm for healthy forests and protecting trees from invasive insects is contagious. She gladly shares her passion with others and enjoys molding the next generation of entomologists and citizen scientists.

Lynne Rieske-Kinney

How did you become interested in entomology?
I grew up in what was then rural Michigan. I played in the trees and the forests and in creeks and ponds. I was always grabbing creepy crawly things that worried my mother and scared my sister. I loved it all though. Trees were my first love, especially studying their interactions with outside forces. When I was in graduate school, I had to make the decision of whether to study forest pathogens or forest insects. I chose insects.

How are insects supposed to interact with trees?
All insects are important to the ecosystem and have a role there. Problems arise when invasive insects reach outbreak levels in the forest and begin destroying a whole species. My lab uses new and innovative
technologies like RNA interference and remote sensing to manage insect populations and to help bring things back into balance.

Can you tell us about your students?
I am trying to train my students to be global citizens and not just entomologists. My most important role as a professor is giving back to young people. My previous students are influencing policy and impacting forest health across the world. It’s nice to know that I had a small role in their success and contributed to their development.

You have done a lot of work recently to raise the awareness of the importance of Lexington’s urban forests.
I am co-founder of the Urban Forest Initiative with Mary Arthur from Forestry and Natural Resources. UFI has raised the public’s general awareness of the benefits of trees to urban ecosystems. It’s so rewarding for me to know that trees are really something that you can rally people around.

I also work with Heather Norman-Burgdolf in Dietetics and Human Nutrition on the Healthy Trees, Healthy People program, designed to train people in pest detection and to become citizen scientists while providing them with the opportunity to increase their activity level. In the program, participants learn how to identify selected urban trees and how to tell when the trees might have a problem, such as an invasive insect. The participants get exercise as they look at trees along particular paths. This year, they can participate in five Lexington parks.

These outreach projects, coupled with my research addressing forest health, are the reasons I’m passionate about my work. I’m fortunate to have support in both my professional and family life that allows me to pursue my passions.