Tara O’Neill

Tara O’Neill

Profile Display Name:

Tara O’Neill

E-mail Address:

Start Year

2017 (Cohort 4)

Research interests:

Agroecology, plant-fungi-insect interactions, sustainable farming, integrated pest management, crop protection

Hobbies and interests:

PhD Project
PhD Title

Endophytic entomopathogenic fungi in crop protection

Research Theme

Biodiversity and Ecology

Primary Supervisor
Primary Institution


Secondary Supervisor
Secondary Institution

Royal Botanic Gardens, KEW

CASE Partner

Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI)

CASE Supervisor

Dr Belinda Luke


Insect herbivores cause considerable damage to crops and there is an urgent need for sustainable pest management. Pesticide resistance is a global problem, and finding alternative, natural control strategies is urgently required. Entomopathogenic fungi have shown promise in reducing pest insect populations but all commercial preparations are applied externally to plants, like insecticides, meaning that they are subject to environmental conditions and so often fail. It has been shown that these fungi can grow within host plants; however there is a lack of understanding regarding fungal infection and growth in the plant, as well as the mechanism of pathogenicity against insects. The project aims to investigate the colonisation of plat tissue by endophytic entomopathogenic fungi and the effects on insect pests across feeding guilds, including leaf chewers, sap suckers and root feeders. It will also investigate the effects on non-target insects, including pollinators and predators, providing information useful to agriculture and community ecology. The effects of fungal infection on a variety of pest and non-target insects will be examined through a series of laboratory and field trials. Interaction mechanisms will be studied, specifically considering changes to metabolite and proteome profiles within the host plant, while also characterising changes in the microbiome. While contributing to the ecological understanding of fungi-plant-insect interactions, which are currently poorly understood, the outcomes will be directly applicable to agriculture and improved integrated pest management. The project will further our knowledge of the functions of the plant microbiome, and how this can be manipulated to contribute to food security. It will create impact in terms of changing the way crops are protected and will influence environmental policy and food production.

Policy Impact

Understanding interactions in this crop-fungus-insect system directly supports the development of new pest management strategies, potentially providing new options and knowledge to better existing pest control strategies and support sustainable agriculture.

Background Reading


Conferences and Workshops
  • Southern England Crop Protection Conference (November 2018).
  • State of the World’s Fungi Symposium (September 2018). Poster: Endophytic entomopathogenic fungi in crop protection.
  • A Changing Planet (September 2018). Poster: Endophytic entomopathogenic fungi in crop protection.
  • British Ecological Society Annual Meeting (December 2018).
  • Royal Holloway Doctoral School Conference (June 2019). Talk: Inside out crop protection using insect-attacking fungi.
  • School of Biological Sciences Post Graduate Symposium (April 2019). Talk: Using endophytic entomopathogenic fungi in crop protection.
  • Dynamic Earth (September 2019). Talk: Inside out crop protection using insect-attacking fungi.
  • Biopesticides Summit (July 2019).
  • British Ecological Society Annual Meeting (December 2019). Poster: Inside out crop protection: use of endophytic entomopathogenic fungi.
  • British Crop Protection Council Review of Pests and Beneficials (January 2019). Poster: Inside out crop protection: use of endophytic entomopathogenic fungi.
  • Global Landscapes Forum Digital Conference, Bonn 2020 (June 2020).
  • Royal Holloway Doctoral School Virtual Conference 2020 (June 2020). Speed Talk: Inside out crop protection.
  • Engaging Sustainability: Joint DTP conference (September 2020). Talk: Inside out crop protection using insect-attacking fungi.
  • Oxford Real Farming Conference (January 2021).
  • RHUL Biologica Sciences Post-graduate symposium (March 2021). Talk: Can insect-attacking fungi protect crops from the inside?.
  • Second International Congress of Biological Control (April 2021). Poster: Second International Congress of Biological Control.
  • RHUL Doctoral School Conference (June 2021). Poster: Inside-out crop protection.

Defra, supervised by Caroline Nicholls. 04/11/2019 – 04/02/2020.

Training courses
  • Earthworm Identification, hosted by Angela Marmont Centre, Natural History Museum, London. April 2018
  • Advanced Excel, hosted by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. July 2018
  • Introduction to Metabolomics for the Microbiologist, hosted by Birmingham Metabolomics Training Centre, University of Birmingham. September 2018
  • Rural Entrepreneurship, hosted by Open University. May 2020
  • Social Enterprise, hosted by Royal Holloway, University of London. July 2020
  • Soils, hosted by University of Lancaster via Future Learn. August 2020

Social Links
University Departmental Website:

Personal Website:



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