People You Should Know: Donald Lewis

IAA would like to help you get to know some of the important people involved in Iowa forestry. The "People You Should Know" feature highlights a person we think you should know if you are interested in the trees of Iowa.
Donald Lewis

Donald Lewis

Professor and Extension Entomologist at Iowa State University

Dr. Donald Lewis is  a Professor and Extension Entomologist at the Iowa State University.  Dr. Lewis is responsible for Iowa's extension urban entomology programs. He provides university outreach education on insect pest management in the areas of home and commercial vegetable and fruit production, landscape plants, turfgrass, greenhouses, and household pests.

1. How long have you been studying insects?

As a kid growing up on an Ohio dairy farm I assumed I would be a dairy farmer and milk cows the rest of my life. I went to college with that goal in mind, but in my sophomore year took General Biology from Dr. Tom Wood, a fresh Entomology Ph.D. from Cornell University. Dr. Wood illustrated almost every biological concept with examples from insects and it changed my mind about biology and it changed my life-path. After taking a beginning entomology course as an undergrad (1970) I changed my major from Agriculture to Biology, went to grad school in Entomology and the bugs have been stuck with me ever since.

2. Are there any insects (besides bees) that are beneficial to trees? How common are they?

Our economic focus emphasizes the pests and the harm they do to the plants we value (trees included!). It's hard to find many insects that directly help trees to grow, but all of the natural enemies from ladybugs to parasitoids are helping the trees in their struggle to survive. Pollinators, of course, help trees reproduce but as the owner of a highly-prolific white ash tree, I don't consider seed-production in my back yard to be a good thing. I believe every ash seed that drops germinates in my flower beds!

3. I understand there is going to be an interesting phenomenon concerning cicadas occurring here in the near future. What can you tell us about that?

2014 is a great year to live in central Iowa. Ok, every year is a great year to live in Iowa, but this year is special. The 17-year periodical cicadas will return! In most of the Des Moines river valley south of Ledges State Park, and in most native woodlands south and east of Des Moines, the periodical cicadas will make their miraculous, noisy and spectacular reappearance after living underground, in the dark, since 1997. It's worth the trip to see and hear it!

4. Are you going to give commentary during this event somewhere?

Right now there are no specific plans for presentations beyond the usual Master Gardener groups, news releases and media coverage. We'll play it by ear (pun intended) and spread the word as the emergence begins in early June.

5. Besides being a prominent figure during the annual ISU Shade Tree Short Course, what other tree related endeavors are you involved with?

As a member of the Iowa Emerald Ash Borer Team I work with our tree-protecting partners in IDALS, IDNR, and USDA-APHIS and USDA-Forest Service to plan and coordinate Iowa's response to this tree-killing pest. of course, Master Gardener training and responding to inquiries from professionals and the public remains a priority. I currently have the privilege of serving as President of the Board of Directors for the Iowa Arboretum, located near Madrid. The help IAA has given the Iowa Arboretum is greatly appreciated!

At the Iowa Arboretum during the ArbBark event for dogs and their owners!  Bailey is a 10-year old labradoodle.

At the Iowa Arboretum during the ArbBark event for dogs and their owners! Bailey is a 10-year old labradoodle.

6. Last, do you have any good insect reference books to recommend to our readers? 

"Insects That Feed on Trees and Shrubs, 2nd ed." (Johnson & Lyon, Cornell Press, 1988) is an oldie but a goodie. The color photographs from the days before digital cameras are still the most complete and most useful. However, bear in mind that the 21st century problems of EAB, ALB and BMSB are not in there! As much as it pains an old traditionalist like me to admit this, the Web has become my go-to source for everything from insecticide labels, to insect life cycle details, to diagnostics.