Five projects will help solve problems in agriculture & urban settings

Five projects funded for a total of $727,869 will explore new ways to manage mite-vectored wheat diseases, examine the dispersal and life history of the kudzu bug, test ways to manage spotted wing drosophila (SWD), develop online training for mosquito control and research ways to deal with bed bugs. All of the projects were funded by the USDA Southern Regional IPM grant program.

Texas A&M researcher Charles Rush will use $175,697 to help farmers recognize and combat mite-vectored virus diseases of wheat. Within the Southwestern Great Plains, mite-vectored viruses are one of the primary barriers to economically sustainable wheat production. Because the symptoms of most of the diseases mimic drought stress, growers waste thousands of dollars on watering plants that never recover. By eliminating only two inches of irrigation on a half-mile center pivot, he says, farmers could save about 28.6 million gallons of groundwater.

Rush and a team of scientists from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas will closely examine the impact of current pest management practices on the wheat curl mite, the vector of viruses including wheat streak mosaic and triticum mosaic. Although one virus-resistant cultivar is available, it is susceptible to leaf and stripe rust, so growers must plant other cultivars that are resistant to those diseases but susceptible to mite-vectored viruses, and no cultivar repels the mite. To discover if the mite prefers one cultivar over another, the team will compare mite populations across cultivars. Team members will also observe how lack of irrigation affects mite populations, since recommendations will involve curbing water use.

The team will develop an economic threshold for mite-vectored viruses as well as identify new chemistries and other management practices to control the mite. Finally, the team will develop a First Alert system for mite-vectored virus diseases to warn growers ahead of time to be on the lookout for the disease as it spreads.

In 2009 a new pest appeared on residences in the Atlanta, Georgia area and within a few years began devastating soybeans throughout the southeast. Commonly referred to as the kudzu bug, Megacopta cribraria surprised soybean growers with populations so large that many growers sprayed their crops up to five times a season. With a $168,644 grant, Dominic Reisig from North Carolina State University hopes to give growers more integrated pest management options for M. cribraria.

Reisig and researchers from other states have already been studying the biology and ecology of the pest. Because previous research indicates that kudzu bug overwinters in the bark of pine trees, Reisig and his colleagues will set up traps near pine trees covered with non-toxic fluorescent powder. Trapped insects will be observed for their fitness, flight capacity and egg-laying capacity. The researchers will observe the same criteria on subsequent generations.

Because kudzu bug populations develop in kudzu, an aggressively invasive weed found throughout the South, Reisig’s team will also explore how the distance between kudzu and soybean crops affect infestations, along with how soybean planting dates affect kudzu bug damage.

Also from North Carolina State University, extension entomologist Hannah Burrack will investigate pest management tools with which to battle spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii), a pest first discovered in 2008 that has since devastated berry crops throughout the U.S. Spotted wing drosophila, or SWD, has caused losses of between $45 and $55 million in just 12 states in the eastern U.S. Many losses occur after harvesting, as discovery of a single larva in fruit samples can lead to the rejection of the entire shipment and all fruit from the field must be removed from the field.

Currently, growers spray multiple times a season both to treat and to prevent SWD infestation. Because repeated spraying can ultimately lead to insecticide resistance, Burrack and her colleagues plan to use a $142,811 grant to find alternative ways to manage SWD and reduce the number of sprays per season. In addition, the amount of insecticide used has threatened exports to countries with low residue tolerances. Along with testing other classes of insecticides, the research team will compare various insecticide application methods, including air canon, airblast and nozzle sprayer.

Because continual insecticide treatments can harm beneficial predators for other pest insects, researchers plan to observe how insecticide applications for SWD are affecting incidence of other pests and diseases. One test will specifically measure how much the practice of sanitation—clearing decaying fruit around the crop—costs growers, and if that practice makes a difference in SWD infestations. Researchers will also rescreen some of the neonicotinoid insecticides and screen non-pesticide tools such as edible fruit coatings to explore their impact on SWD egg-laying behavior.

Louisiana State University entomologist Kristen Healy plans to use a $69,770 grant to develop online, interactive learning modules to educate mosquito control workers. Mosquito control education in the South is limited to short one-day workshops. To accommodate the busy schedules of most mosquito control workers, workshop presenters often shorten the class even further and leave attendees with only a limited understanding of mosquito control.

Healy plans to develop five interactive computer based modules in mosquito biology, mosquito identification, mosquito habitat recognition, integrated mosquito management and advanced concepts in mosquito biology and control. The modules will use video and photos to give users a “hands-on” experience of monitoring for and identifying mosquitoes. One video, for instance, will be taken of an actual inspection of a site, using sampling and collection tools for larval habitat. Users will use photos to distinguish physical body features in the mosquito identification module.

The unique feature of the curriculum is the problem-solving activities. Each topic will contain modules that guide the user through a problem or observation—such as crawling through a mosquito-infested site to take samples—so that the user has to process the information learned and synthesize how to use it in the field. Users will be figuring out ways to end disease transmission, deciding whether a mosquito population substantiates chemical control.

Another major urban pest, the bed bug, receives attention from a project led by researchers at the University of Tennessee. In collaboration with experts from Virginia, Alabama, New Jersey and New York, researcher Karen Vail will use $170,947 to focus on bed bug infestations in multifamily housing. The project will explore early detection methods and management of small populations of bed bugs, along with the pest’s typical dispersal patterns to discover how bed bugs move from one location to another.

Because little data is available about the actual economic impact of bed bugs, team members will conduct surveys to determine pest management needs and the costs associated with bed bug management.

In a separate field study, specialists will place economically priced monitoring devices in selected apartments and develop guidelines for residents about how and where to place monitoring devices for the best effectiveness. Since the devices are designed to detect pest populations at low levels, scientists will test the effectiveness of non-chemical control options like heat that could be implemented by residents on fixed incomes, such as the elderly. Finally, researchers will examine whether infestations start from single or multiple introductions and how bed bugs disperse within an apartment after entry.

These five projects will advance integrated pest management in the southern region by helping to make pest control more economical, safer and easier on the environment.

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