Brian Sullivan

Research Entomologist
Insects, Diseases, and Invasive Plants (RWU 4552)
USDA Forest Service


  • B.A. in Liberal Arts, St. John’s College (1990)
  • Ph.D. in Entomology (concentration in forest insects), Department of Entomology, University of Georgia (1997)

Professional Experience

  • Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Entomology, University of Georgia (1997-2000)
  • Research Entomologist, USDA Forest Service, SRS-4501/4552, (2000-present)

Research Interests

My research addresses the biology, systematics, chemical ecology, and management of native and invasive forest pest insects of North America.

Current Research

Southern Pine Beetle (SPB)

This species is the most destructive insect pest to pine forests in the southern United States where it has periodic outbreaks, and it now is expanding its range into the Northeast where it is causing catastrophic damage to coastal pine forests.

  • Altering Beetle Behavior with Pheromones and Other Odors. During follow-up studies on research of other scientists, it was found that a pheromone component produced by male SPB could increase by 10-40 fold the attractiveness of the existing commercial lure used for trapping this species. This improvement has substantially enhanced detection with baited traps of low-level populations of this insect. The improved trap lure should enhance forecasting of SPB outbreaks by providing more advanced warning of increasing beetle populations. It is currently being used to monitor the northward expansion in the range of SPB. The lure is additionally being explored as a tool for “trapping-out” beetle populations to reduce damage and for disrupting orientation of beetles during flight. In other studies, it has been found that several volatile chemicals present in the beetles themselves and in hardwood tree species can inhibit response of SPB to their attractive pheromones, and these compounds are being investigated for efficacy in protecting pines from attack.
  • Biological Changes in SPB during Population Cycles. SPB numbers vary dramatically over time; during outbreaks they cause extensive mortality of trees whereas during non-outbreak periods they can be extremely rare and cause no detectable harm. The ecology of SPB during either condition is very different. It is hypothesized that different biological traits (e.g., differences in morphology and physiology) are expressed under these divergent conditions and that these differing traits may maximize beetle survival in either situation. Ongoing studies with cooperators are investigating the possibility of such plasticity in SPB and the conditions and cues that may govern it. This investigation should lead to a better understanding of the circumstances that promote the transition of populations from very low to very high densities.

Chemical Ecology and Systematics of Bark Beetles of North and Central America

  • Pine Beetle Species New to Science. Our research with cooperators in Mexico, Europe, and the US Forest Service has shown that pine bark beetles causing massive timber losses in the Central American region and previously identified as SPB actually consist of two distinct species attacking in concert--SPB and a species new to science, Dendroctonus mesoamericanus. Appreciation of the existence of this species complex is critical to development of integrated pest management strategies for bark beetles in this economically challenged part of the world; the discovery also brings to light a potential exotic pest threat to the US that was not previously recognized. Additionally, work with cooperators has demonstrated that western pine beetle (SPB’s western twin) has a different pheromone in the southwestern US than in the Pacific coastal states; this research along with data from other scientists has demonstrated that this very serious forestry pest of US, Canada, and Mexico consists of two geographically-separated species with distinct biologies.


Read about GC-EAD here