image for Spencer, Joseph Lee

Spencer, Joseph Lee

Principal Insect Behaviorist
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Crop Sciences

Address and Contact Information

Forbes Natural History Survey Building
1816 S Oak St
M/C 652
Champaign, IL  61820
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My approach to the study of insects is colored by an abiding interest in behavior and an appreciation for the constraints physiology can impose on behavior. In my experience, direct observation of insects is necessary to truly understand their impact on our world; knowing what happened to produce a result is all the more valuable when we know how it happened as well.
My current research focuses on the behavioral, physiological, and ecological mechanisms that underlie western corn rootworm (WCR) resistance to crop rotation. I am particularly interested in the role of diet and reproductive behavior on short and long-distance movement of WCR adults within and between fields. These studies currently focus on assessing movement of mate-seeking WCR males from refuges into transgenic portions of cornfields and the likelihood than refuge males actually mate with potentially resistant WCR females that emerged from transgenic corn. Testing assumptions about the design and functioning of refuges for insect resistance management (IRM) in transgenic crops contributes to their improved design and sustainable deployment.
I am also currently evaluating a method to measure and study rotation-resistant WCR activity that uses evidence of soybean herbivory. This project is testing a new method to monitor rotation-resistant WCR activity. If successful, it could be adapted for grower use as a quick tool to measure the local risk of WCR economic larval injury in rotated corn.
I remain fascinated by the synergy between host specific chemical stimuli and other features like epicuticular waxes and physical characteristics which stimulate host-oriented behaviors of many insects.
I believe that a willingness to sometimes let your insect subject lead the way is a trait which all behaviorists share, and that it is a prerequisite for discovery. If we are patient enough to listen, insects will not fail to tell us amazing stories.

Research Biography

Research Interests

My research interests and activities fall into several broad areas. All involve efforts to discern mechanisms of behavior.
  1. Movement and mating of western corn rootworm beetles in refuge and Bt-transgenic corn. I am currently working on a study focused on discovering how well our expectations about rootworm behavior match with what really happens when we plant refuges in Bt corn.
  2. Egg-laying behavior and movement/dispersal of field crop insect pests.
  3. Effects of diet and physiological status on activity, behavior, egg-laying and movement of rotation-resistant western corn rootworm beetles.
  4. Monitoring abundance of beetles in Illinois soybean fields.
  5. Intra- and interfield movement by WCR adults in non-transgenic refuges and transgenic corn.
  6. Contribution of WCR gut physiology to evolution and spread of rotation-resistant WCR.
  7. Impact of proposed biomass crops on behavior and ecology of key field crop pests.
  8. Ecology and movement of noisy prairie insects.


PhD, Entomology, Michigan State University, 1994
MS, Entomology, Michigan State University, 1990
BS, Biological Sciences, Michigan State University, 1987

Professional Affiliations

Entomological Society of America
Michigan Entomological Society
Past Scientific Member of the Center for Insect Science, University of Arizona

Selected Publications

  1. Spencer, J.L., T.R. Mabry, S.A. Isard, and E. Levine. 2021. Soybean Foliage Consumption Reduces Adult Western Corn Rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera)(Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) Vigor and Stimulates Flight. Journal of Economic Entomology. 114(6):2390-2399.
  2. Spencer, J.L. and L. Orellana Jimenez. 2020. Western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte) (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) oviposition can be released by decapitation. Journal of Applied Entomology. 144:534-541. .
  3. Tinsley, N.A., J.L. Spencer, R.E. Estes, K.A. Estes, A.L. Kaluf, E. Levine, S.A. Isard and M.E. Gray. 2018. Multi-year surveys reveal significant decline in western corn rootworm densities in Illinois soybean American Entomologist. 64(2): 112-119.
  4. Ding, Y., A. Huffaker, T.G. Köllner, P. Weckwerth, C.A.M. Robert, J.L. Spencer, A.E. Lipka, and E.A. Schmelz. 2017. Selinene volatiles are essential precursors for maize defense promoting fungal pathogen resistance. Plant Physiology. 175, pp. 1455–1468. DOI:
  5. Potter, B., R. Koch, P. Glogoza, E. Hodgson, C. Krupke, J. Tooker, C. DiFonzo, A. Michel, K. Tilmon, T. Prochaska, J. Knodel, R. Wright, T. Hunt, B. Jensen, K. Estes, and J. Spencer. 2016. Just the facts: A review of the biology and economics behind soybean aphid insecticide recommendations. Plant Health Progress. 17:265-269. .
  6. Chu, C.-C., J.A. Zavala, J.L. Spencer, M.J. Curzi, C.J. Fields, J. Drnevich, D. Siegfried and M.J. Seufferheld. 2015. Patterns of differential gene expression in adult rotation-resistant and wild-type western corn rootworm digestive tracts. Evolutionary Applications. 8(7):692-704. 
  7. Gray, M.E. and J.L. Spencer. 2015. Western corn rootworm: Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) resistance to Bt maize and crop rotation: management challenges and opportunities. Bulletin of the Royal Entomological Society; Antenna: ECE Special Edition. 39:100-101.
  8. Hottel, B., J.L. Spencer and S.T. Ratcliffe. 2015. Trapping Drosophila repleta (Diptera: Drosophilidae) using color and volatiles. Florida Entomologist. 98(1): 272-275.
  9. Hughson, S.A. and J.L. Spencer. 2015. Emergence and abundance of western corn rootworm (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) in Bt cornfields with structured and seed blend refuges. of Economic Entomology. 108(1):114-125. doi: 10.1093/jee/tou029. Article first published online: 21 JAN 2015. 
  10. Tinsley, N.A., J.L. Spencer, R.E. Estes, J.R. Prasifka, P.M. Schrader, B.W. French, and M.E. Gray. 2015. Larval mortality and development for rotation-resistant and rotation-susceptible populations of western corn rootworm on Bt corn. of Applied Entomology. 139:46-54. Article first published online 21 JUL 2014.  doi: 10.1111/jen.12149.
  11. Bermond, G., F. Cavigliasso, S. Mallez, Spencer and T. Guillemaud. 2014. Absence of an effect of admixture between two European invading outbreaks of a major corn pest in natura. PLoS ONE. 9(8):e106139. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106139 
  12. Chu, C.-C., W. Sun, B. Pittendrigh, J.L. Spencer, and M.J. Seufferheld. 2014. Differential effects of RNAi treatments on field populations of the western corn rootworm. Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology. 110:1-6. 
  13. Kang, J., C.H. Krupke, A.F. Murphy, J.L. Spencer, M.E. Gray and D.W. Onstad. 2014. Modeling a western corn rootworm, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), maturation delay and resistance evolution in Bt corn. Pest Management Science. 70(6):996-1007. doi: 10.1002/ps.3642. 
  14. Mikac, K.M., J. Douglas, and J.L. Spencer. 2013. Wing shape and size of the western corn rootworm is related to sex and resistance to soybean-maize crop rotation. of Economic Entomology. 106(4):1517-1524. 
  15. Chu, C-C., J.L. Spencer, J.A. Zavala, and M.J. Seufferheld. 2013. Insect-microbiota interactions facilitate resistance to crop rotation in the western corn rootworm. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.  110(29):11917-11922.  doi: 1073/pnas.1301886110.
  16. Prasifka, J.R., J.L. Spencer, N.A. Tinsley and M.E. Gray. 2013. Adult activity and oviposition of corn rootworms, Diabrotica (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), in Miscanthus, corn, and switchgrass. Journal of Applied Entomology. 137:481–487. doi: 10.1111/jen.12050.
  17. Muturi, E.J., J.L. Spencer and B.F. Allan. 2014. Influence of biofuel crops on mosquito production and oviposition site selection. Global Change Biology-Bioenergy. 6(1):61-66. DOI: 10.1111/gcbb.12038. Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013.
  18. Spencer, J., D. Onstad, C. Krupke, Hughson, Z. Pan, B. Stanley, and L. Flexner. 2013.. Isolated females and limited males: evolution of insect resistance in structured landscapes. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 146: 38-49. DOI: 10.1111/eea.12022. Article first published online: 4 DEC 2012.
  19. Curzi, M. J., J.A. Zavala, J.L. Spencer M.J. Seufferheld. 2012. Abnormally high digestive enzyme activity and gene expression explain the contemporary evolution of a Diabrotica biotype able to feed on soybeans. Ecology and Evolution, 2(8) 2005-2017. doi: 10.1002/ece3.331.
  20. Onstad, D.W., P.D. Mitchell, T.M. Hurley, J.G. Lundgren, R. P. Porter, C.H. Krupke, J.L. Spencer, C.D. DiFonzo, T.S. Baute, R.L. Hellmich, L. Buschman, W.D. Hutchison, and J.F. Tooker. Seeds of Change: Corn Seed Mixtures for Resistance Management and IPM. Journal of Economic Entomology, 104(2):343-352.
  21. Raghu, S., J.L. Spencer, S. Davis, and R.N. Wiedenmann. 2011.  Ecological considerations for the sustainable development of terrestrial biofuel crops. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 3:15-23.
  22. Knolhoff, L.M., J.J. Glas, J.L. Spencer and M.R. Berenbaum. 2010. Oviposition behaviors in relation to rotation resistance in the western corn rootworm. Environmental Entomology, 39(6): 1922-1928.
  23. Spencer, J.L. and S. Raghu. 2009. ‘Refuge or reservoir? The potential impacts of the biofuel crop Miscanthus x giganteus on a major pest of maize’. PLoS ONE 4(12): e8336. doi: December 16, 2009.
  24. Lentz, A.J., J.R. Miller, J.L. Spencer, and J.E. Keller. 2009. Effect of male accessory gland extracts on female oviposition and sexual receptivity of the Caribbean fruit fly (Diptera: Tephritidae). Florida Entomologist, 92(3):415-420.
  25. Spencer, J.L., B.E. Hibbard, J. Moeser, and D.W. Onstad. 2009. Behaviour and ecology of the western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte). Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 11:9-27.
  26. Miller, N.J., M. Ciosi, T.W. Sappington, S.T. Ratcliffe, J.L. Spencer and T. Guillemaud. 2007. Genome scan of Diabrotica virgifera virgifera for genetic variation associated with crop rotation tolerance. Journal of Applied Entomology, 131(6):378-385, doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0418.2007.01190.x
  27. Knolhoff, L., D. Onstad, J. Spencer, and E. Levine. 2006. Behavioral differences between rotation-resistant and wild-type Diabrotica virgifera virgifera (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Environmental Entomology. 35(4):1049-1057.
  28. Crowder, D. W., D.W. Onstad, M.E. Gray, P.D. Mitchell, J.L. Spencer, and R.J. Brazee. 2005. Economic analysis of dynamic management strategies utilizing transgenic corn for control of western corn rootworm (Coleoptera: Chysomelidae). Journal of Economic Entomology. 98: 961-975.
  29. Mabry, T.R., J.L. Spencer, E. Levine, and S.A. Isard. 2004. Western corn rootworm (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) behavior is affected by alternating diets of corn and soybean. Environmental Entomology, 33(4):860-871.
  30. Isard, S.A., J.L. Spencer, T.R. Mabry, and E. Levine. 2004. Influence of atmospheric conditions on high elevation flight of western corn rootworm (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Environmental Entomology, 33(3):350-356.
  31. Onstad, D.W., D.W. Crowder, P.D. Mitchell, C.A. Guse, J.L. Spencer, E. Levine, and M.E. Gray. 2003. Economics versus Alleles: Balancing IPM and IRM for Rotation-Resistant Western Corn Rootworm (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Journal of Economic Entomology. 96(6):1872-1885.
  32. Spencer, J.L., T.R. Mabry, and T. Vaughn. 2003. Use of transgenic plants to measure insect herbivore movement. Journal of Economic Entomology, 96(6):1738-1749.
  33. Mabry, T.R. and J.L. Spencer. 2003. Survival and oviposition of a western corn rootworm variant feeding on soybean. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 109:113-121.
  34. Onstad, D.W., D.W. Crowder, S.A. Isard, E. Levine, J.L. Spencer, M.E. O’Neal, S.T. Ratcliffe, M.E. Gray, L.W. Bledsoe, C.D. DiFonzo, J.B. Eisley, and C.R. Edwards. 2003. Does landscape diversity slow the spread of rotation-resistant western corn rootworm (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae)? Environmental Entomology, 35(2):992-1001.
  35. Mabry T.R., H.A. Hobbs, T.A. Steinlage, B.B. Johnson, W.L. Pedersen, J.L. Spencer, E. Levine, S.A. Isard, L.L. Domier, and G.L. Hartman. 2003. Distribution of leaf feeding beetles and bean pod mottle virus (BPMV) in Illinois and insect transmission of BPMV in soybean. Plant Disease, 87:1221-1225.
  36. Levine, E., J.L. Spencer, S.A. Isard, D.W. Onstad, and M.E. Gray. 2002. Adaptation of the western corn rootworm, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) to crop rotation: evolution of a new strain in response to a cultural management practice. American Entomologist, 48:94-107.
  37. Hibbard, B.E., E. Levine, D.P. Duran, N.M. Gruenhagen, and J.L. Spencer. 2002. Electroantennogram responses of two western corn rootworm (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) adult populations to corn and soybean volatiles. Journal of Entomological Science, 37:69-76.
  38. Spencer, J.L. and J.R. Miller. 2002. Lifetime ovipositional patterns of mated and virgin onion flies. Journal of Insect Physiology, 48:171-180.
  39. Onstad, D.W., J.L. Spencer, C.A. Guse, E. Levine, and S.A. Isard. 2001. Modeling evolution of behavioral resistance by an insect to crop rotation. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 100(2): 195-201.
  40. Onstad, D. W., C. A. Guse, J.L. Spencer, E. Levine, and M. E. Gray. 2001. Modeling the dynamics of adaptation to transgenic corn by western corn rootworm (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae).  Journal of Economic Entomology, 94(2): 529-540.
  41. Isard, S.A., J.L. Spencer, M.A. Nasser, and E. Levine. 2000. Aerial movement of western corn rootworm, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae): Diel periodicity of flight activity in soybean fields. Environmental Entomology. 29:226-234.
  42. Spencer, J.L., E. Levine, D.W. Onstad, M.E. Gray, and S.A. Isard. 2000. An outpost on the way to a solution: rotation-resistant western corn rootworms and the C-FAR Sentinel Grants Program.  Illinois Natural History Survey Reports, Summer Issue, pp. 4-5.
  43. Spencer, J.L., S. Pillai, and E.A. Bernays. 1999. Synergism in the oviposition behavior of Plutella xylostella: sinigrin and wax compounds. Journal of Insect Behavior. 12(4): 483-500.
  44. Isard, S.A., M.A. Nasser, J.L. Spencer, and E. Levine. 1999. The influence of weather on western corn rootworm flight activity at the borders of a soybean field in east central Illinois. Aerobiologia, 15:95-104.
  45. Onstad, D.W., M.G. Joselyn, S.A. Isard, E. Levine, J.L. Spencer, L.W. Bledsoe, C.R. Edwards, C.D. DiFonzo, and H. Willson. 1999. Modeling the spread of western corn rootworm (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) populations adapting to soybean-corn rotation. Environmental Entomology.  28(2): 188-194.
  46. Spencer, J.L., S.A. Isard, and E. Levine. 1999. Free flight of western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte) to corn and soybean plants in a walk-in wind tunnel. Journal of Economic Entomology.  92(1): 146-155.
  47. Spencer, J.L., L.J. Gewax, J.E. Keller, and J.R. Miller. 1997. Chemiluminescent tags for tracking insect movement in darkness: application to moth photo-orientation. Great Lakes Entomologist. 30:33-43.
  48. Spencer, J.L., M.P. Candolfi, J.E. Keller, and J.R. Miller. 1997. Specificity of accessory gland extracts in three Delia fly species (Diptera: Anthomyiidae). Physiological Entomology. 22: 175-182.
  49. Spencer, J.L., M.P. Candolfi, J.E. Keller, and J.R. Miller. 1997. Specificity of accessory gland extracts in three Delia fly species (Diptera: Anthomyiidae). Physiological Entomology.  22:175-182.
  50. Spencer, J.L. 1996. Waxes Enhance Plutella xylostella (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae) oviposition in response to sinigrin and cabbage homogenates. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata. 81:165-173.
  51. Spencer, J.L., M.P. Candolfi, J.E. Keller, and J.R. Miller. 1995. Onion fly, Delia antiqua, oviposition as influenced by insect age and dosage of male reproductive tract extract. Journal of Insect Behavior.  8(5): 617-635.
  52. Spencer, J.L. 1994. Onion fly reproductive behaviors as influenced by mating and paragonial gland extracts. D. thesis, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.  262 p.
  53. Spencer, J.L., G.L. Bush, Jr., J.E. Keller, and J.R. Miller. 1992. Modification of female onion fly, Delia antiqua (Meigen), reproductive behavior by male paragonial gland extracts (Diptera: Anthomyiidae). Journal of Insect Behavior.  5(6): 689-697.
  54. Quentin, M.E., J.L. Spencer, and J.R. Miller. 1991. Bean rolling as a control measure for the common bean weevil, Acanthoscelides obtectus. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata. 60:105-109.
  55. Spencer, J.L., M.E. Quentin, and J.R. Miller. 1991. Tumbling controls bean weevils. Nature. 353: 387.
  56. Mowry, T.M., J.L. Spencer, J.E. Keller, and J.R. Miller. 1989. Onion fly, Delia antiqua, egg depositional behaviour: pinpointing host acceptance by an insect herbivore.  Journal of Insect Physiology.  35: 331-339.

Honors and Awards

Recipient of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences 2003 Team Award for Excellence as a member of the Western Corn Rootworm Research Group.

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