PEER Project

Biodiversity of Cambodian Leaf- and Treehoppers: Scientific Training and Education through Development of Bioindicators and Agriculture Pest Control

Principle Investigator: Sophany PHAUK (MSc.), Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Collaborator: Dr. Christopher H. Dietrich,  Illinois Natural History Survey, IL U.S.A 
Project code: No. 2-395 Cambodia

The project was supporting (3 years period: 2013-2016) through the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program under the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID) and joined with several U.S. Government (USG) Supported Agency. The project aims to support the scientific training and education of Entomology focusing on Membracoidea in Cambodia.

SEVEN main goals of the proposed research seek to lay the foundation for the continued development of and training in entomological research in Cambodia. While the current proposal is solely aimed at the Membracoidea (leaf- and treehoppers), the skills acquired will be cross-applicable to other insects and allow continual and affordable entomological research to be conducted at an international level. Membracoids contain many known vectors of plant pathogens, particularly for cereals (e.g., rice) and tropical horticultural crops (e.g., mangos, citrus, etc.). Assessing the local membracoid fauna will allow us to differentiate important pest species from harmless or bioindicator species and is thus critically important for Cambodia’s food security and conservation of biodiversity. Results and data will be made widely available through peer- reviewed publications, dissemination via the internet, and reports to conservation NGOs.

Specific goals are:

1. Conduct temporal biodiversity inventory assessment of Membracoidea in every habitat type and along various grades of disturbance.

2. Develop a national entomology collection and curatorial skills, initially focusing on Membracoidea.

3. Identify indicator species for habitat health and/or disturbance, allowing rapid classification of habitat value for conservation and ecosystem services.

4. Identify agricultural pest species for their study, management, and control.

5. Develop a molecular genetic tool kit and a national DNA barcoding database for Membracoidea to aid in species delimitation and species identification for applied agricultural and conservation applications.

6. Score morphological character data to: 1) populate an existing relational cybertaxonomic database to generate illustrated online interactive identification keys (i.e., part of Dietrich’s NSF project) and 2) develop a field guide for Cambodian Membracoidea, focusing on agricultural pests and bioindicator species, which will greatly aid pest management and biodiversity assessments.

7. Develop functional genomic resources using next-generation technology, i.e., applying next-generation sequencing approaches to allow the development of IPM and biotechnological control methods (e.g., transgenic organisms or species specific pheromone traps).

Expected development outcomes

All development outcomes of the proposed activities directly address issues ranked of high importance by USAID for Cambodia. Through various activities in research, science, training and education, the project will build scientific and educational expertise to help develop and improve attitudes towards sustainable management of Cambodia’s natural and agricultural resources. Additionally, taking part in Dietrich’s highly collaborative NSF-project will facilitate sustainable long-term partnerships with international scientists focused on improving entomological research, education, and management, which will directly and positively affect education, biodiversity conservation, and food security in Cambodia.

Training and education are central to the proposal goals. Cambodia’s recent history of targeted removal of the educated peoples is felt most clearly at the schools and universities, which struggle to recover without international help. It is thus of primary importance that the Khmer educators be internationally trained and disseminate their knowledge to the next generation of researchers and teachers. CEI's research team will be ideally situation to help solve this situation, as he will receive excellent training in the US, which will improve his teaching of the molecular genetics course he is currently developing. Additionally, his training in genetics and goals as an educator is aligned with the goals of the concurrent PEER application from RUPP, enabling a synergistic development of the course offerings of the Department of Biology with the other PEER faculty. CEI will also establish the first entomology research group and collection at RUPP and his research will bring novel functional genomic and bioinformatic expertise and high-resolution microscopic imagery to Cambodia. These will bring next-generation scientific and technological expertise to the university and its students.

This improved training and technological expertise will positively influence two other areas of high development priority for Cambodia: biodiversity conservation and food security. Current biodiversity assessments tend to focus on vertebrates, but these can be poor bioindicators since most of the biodiversity is found in the invertebrate fauna. The proposed research will identify useful membracoid bioindicators and produce easy-to-use and easily accessible identification guides. This directly relates to USAID’s special focus on biodiversity research in the Lower Mekong. Membracoids are ideal bioindicators since they are highly host specific and populations rapidly respond to habitat or climate changes. Insect bioindicators thus allow novel and sensitive assays of rapid changes in habitat health, biodiversity, or climate change. The development of genetic and morphological identification tools make biodiversity assessment and conservation practices more efficient and so strengthen environmental governance and improve sustainable management of natural resources and conservation in the face of environmental and global climate change in the Lower Mekong.

The biodiversity assessments will also identify agricultural pests, for which additional genetic markers and field identification guides will be developed to allow continued research into their population dynamics, host use, and pathogen epidemiology and hence improve pest control and management. In particular the mining of genomic data will allow affordable and sustainable development of integrative pest management and biocontrol measures to be developed. Since leaf- and treehoppers contain important agricultural pests of key Asian crops (especially rice), the proposed project will be critical for Cambodian agriculture and food security. Additionally, infrastructure for continued research, development, and education of applied entomological resources will be built through the development of a national entomology collection (including specimen and DNA vouchers) and a national DNA barcoding database. 

This project is supported by USAID in partnership with the following U.S. Government-supported agencies:
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A of October 8, 2015, PEER is accepting pre-proposals for the next annual cycle of the program. This cycle sees the return of many familiar focus areas, including SERVIR/Environmental Management and Climate Change Resilience and Central and South Asia Transboundary Water Research, but also features new additions including Health Implementation Science and multiple country-specific focus areas, as well as partnerships with private companies. The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2016, which gives applicants just over three months to find a USG-supported partner and finalize their research pre-proposal. For more information about eligibility requirements and the timeline for this cycle, please explore our page via the links in the banner above or download a full PDF copy of our PEER 2015/2016 solicitation.

Insect exhibition for Cambodian high school students, researchers and scientists.

Insect exhibition for Cambodian high school students, researchers and scientists at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.


Building Cambodian research expert in Entomology

Develop a national entomology collection and curatorial skills

Develop a national entomology collection and curatorial skills.

Score morphological character data and Identify agricultural pest species.

Score morphological character data and Identify agricultural pest species.