Bob Portmess was a mechanical engineer and former executive with Cox Communications who just happened to be an avid golfer.
That last item is key. Twelve years ago, Portmess walked into turf guru Frank Rossi’s office at Cornell University. He knew exactly what he wanted: to work, he said, “with the people who produce the finest golf playing surfaces in the world.”
Two years later, Portmess had received his Masters of Professional Studies from Cornell. His focus: turfgrass management. He was synthesizing the practical knowledge that Rossi and colleague Jennifer Grant now director of NYSIPM) had amassed over seven years of experimental work at the world-renowned Bethpage Golf Course, also a New York State Park.
By the following year, Portmess had developed an “IPM Handbook” of best management practices for sustainable turf, informed in part by his engineering background. This handbook, now translated into Spanish, served as a resource for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s seminar that Portmess co-instructed at several International Golf Shows. It continues to guide management of New York’s 29 state park golf courses as well as golf courses around the country that want to cut back on inputs while maintaining top quality turf.
Portmess’s passion for teaching turned out to be as consuming as his passion for golf. “Whether it was frequent light topdressing, root pruning, over-seeding, better ways to aerify the soil, or careful use of water—Bob taught them all,” says Larry Specchio, superintendent at Chenango Valley State Park Golf Course. Each tactic Specchio notes is a core IPM method.
“I find myself almost daily wanting to pick up my phone and call him; he was more than just a consultant to me,” Specchio says. “No one has a had a more positive impact on my career than Bob.”
Rossi couldn’t have predicted it at that time, of course, but that meeting in 2006 turned out to be one of the most important partnerships of his career.
“For that, I owe Bob more than simply a nomination for an award he is more than worthy of, but rather my own continued commitment to the work that he started,” Rossi says.
Lake in the background, greens near the front. Here’s where Portmess’ family received the Excellence in IPM award.
Sadly, Portmess passed away before he could see the full impact of his work. “Losing Bob Portmess was a tragedy” said Rose Harvey, commissioner of New York State Parks. “But his legacy lives on in the sustainable management of our golf courses.”
Melinda Portmess, Portmess’s widow, received the Excellence of IPM award at a ceremony at Green Lakes State Park in Syracuse on August 10th.
Ticked off about ticks? You are not alone. And knowing the what, where, why, etc. is critical to knowing how to deal with them. So here it is, the first in a series: the low-down on that pest we love to hate.
May you, dear reader, stay tick-free and healthy.
1. What, exactly, is a tick?
Ticks are related to mites and spiders—but not to insects. (Now don’t go worrying about spiders—in the Northeast, virtually all are common victims of common misunderstandings.) Ticks have four life stages: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. All stages (well, not the eggs) feed on blood for energy to grow and later to reproduce. Larval ticks have six legs; nymphs and adults have eight.
Those things that look like antenna? Not—they’re highly adapted legs that process vital information. And that snout in the middle? Blood-sucking mouthparts. (Photo CDC)
Right now, three species are a health concern here in New York: the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick, and the American dog tick.
2. What do ticks look like?
Regardless the species, unfed ticks look like flattened teardrops with eight legs. And depending on their species, life stage and sex (male versus female), they have different color patterns on their bodies. But after they’ve eaten, their abdomens (the females’ especially) can expand so much that it’s really hard to know which is which. You can get positive IDs here.
Just keep in mind that learning a tick’s identity doesn’t mean you know if it’s carrying a disease.
I wrote a sentence on my finger, period and all. And yep, the larvae are that small. (Courtesy Cal Dept Public Health)
As for size? Again, that depends on the species, its life stage, and whether it has fed (and for how long). For blacklegged and lone star ticks, larvae are the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Nymphs? Think poppy seeds. Adults? Sesame seeds. When fully fed, adult females can be as large as a raisin.
American dog ticks, though, are a tad larger than the other two.
3. Are ticks a new problem? Why have we been hearing so much more about them lately?
Turns out ticks are nothing new. In fact, evidence suggests that ticks were carrying Lyme disease pathogens 15 to 20 million years ago (Lyme Disease’s Possible Bacterial Predecessor Found in Ancient Tick). What is new? We’re seeing far more ticks throughout the Northeast and much of North America than during any time in recorded history. And of course the more ticks in the neighborhood, the greater our risk of disease.
Why are ticks on the move? For one, (sub)urban sprawl leaves small patches of wooded areas—great habitat for mice and deer but far less welcoming to their traditional enemies—hawks or foxes, cougars or wolves. (More later on the role of mice and deer in tick-borne diseases.) In addition, a warming climate makes northern areas more hospitable for ticks.
Ah, yes. A place to call home—and nary a wolf in sight. (Photo provided.)
4. Where do ticks live? How do they find me? And where did the deer ticks go?
Blacklegged ticks are usually found in woodlots, forest edges, and groundcovers such as pachysandra or periwinkle—places where leaf litter, shrubs, and tree cover provide the moist environment they need. And how do they find us? Just as we sometimes go on quests, so too do they. Only they’re not seeking adventure or the Holy Grail, but simply a host. A host that provides the food (think blood) they need to thrive, or at least survive.
About deer ticks? Years ago, researchers thought they’d found a new species and gave it the common name “deer tick.” Turned out it was the same old blacklegged tick that’s been here since time immemorial.
No matter that these ticks lack eyes—questing ticks stand on the edge of a twig or leaf, their first pair of legs extended. Evolution endowed them with cleverly designed legs: they’ve got sensors to detect temperature, the carbon dioxide those hosts exhale, and odors or sounds specific to those hosts. When a host brushes past, they grab on tight.
The nymphs typically quest below a person’s knee-height. Because adult ticks feed on larger animals, they might quest higher up to find a host—as high as your waist-height or mine.
The lone star tick is on a roll, with its own suite of diseases and syndromes — some still mysterious. (Photo CDC)
The lone star tick thrives in a wide range of habitats, from shady forests to sunny lawns or roadsides. Unlike the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick hustles toward its prey, even across pavement or dry sand. Other distinguishing features? Well … it’s lots more aggressive. Imagine a tick that travels three times as fast as the blacklegged tick, has excellent vision, and hatches in stinging swarms that can put fire ants to shame.
Last but not least—the American dog tick. Forget the woods: this tick thrives in warm, dry places—roadsides, grassy fields, scrubland and lawns. Larvae and nymphs mostly feed on small mammals, while adults climb grass, brush, or twigs to find medium-sized animals—people included. And sometimes American dog ticks could be even more aggressive. TickEncounter has reported seeing American dog ticks follow a regular source of carbon dioxide that attracted them for upward a few hundred yards to the house. And in one memorable case ticks were crawling up the outside walls toward window screens and doors. Now if that doesn’t give you the willies….
No matter which tick you might collide with—this is one party you don’t want to host.
Stay tuned for another informative post on the biology behind that pest we love to hate.
(Adapted from nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/tick-faqs#answers)
May 23, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on The Invasive of the Month Is … (Drum Roll)
Southeastern Pennsylvania, the epicenter of spotted lanternfly’s arrival in 2014, might seem far enough away to give us in New York prep time for dealing with this new pest, a weak flyer that usually hops to get around. But with the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula—and SLF for short), all bets are off. After all, it took over Korea, whose climate is surprisingly like our own, in no time flat. And now it’s in Maryland. Delaware. Virginia. New Jersey.
New York’s first find happened to be dead. Blind dumb luck.
A bit creepy, how cool it looks. (Photo insectimages)
How anything so pretty could be so nasty boggles the mind. But it’s the nature of nature. Since ID’ing SLF correctly is key to good IPM, let’s start with the nymphs—the young-uns. In this case they come in two snazzy colors. The early-stage nymphs are straight-on black or, once they’ve molted, black and white—handsome devils or trendy fashionistas; take your pick. For late-stage nymphs (late-stage means they molted—again—and outgrew the skin they had after they hatched), add blobs of blood-red, and that critter looks ready to conquer the world.
Which it might.
Does that bright, traffic-light red signal toxicity, as it does for many other potential prey? Right now all I know is that birds have been seen throwing up after grabbing one for a snack—and yes, they are toxic to us.
Red is ever a reminder to other critters: this might be toxic. (Photo Penn State)
Meanwhile, adult SLFs look positively benign. Lovely, in fact. Don’t believe it for a minute. These classy lads and lassies resemble butterflies or moths, but don’t believe that either—they are, you’ll recall, planthoppers; the name refers to its mode of locomotion.
Whatever. Spotted lanternflies have a destiny. Their natural expertise in the pole-vault isn’t their only way to get around. How many roads (think interstates especially) wend their way from southeastern Pennsylvania to points north, south, east and west? Lots.
Consider your car or camper, for starters. Firewood? You’d be slack-jawed at the degree to which firewood fits into the equation. Just the eggs alone—not easy to see with a cursory look—can easily hitch rides to new areas, meaning that New York is a mere hop, skip and a jump away. Trains, tractor trailers, wheel wells, the cargo hold in a jet—this pest doesn’t need to lay its eggs on organic matter. Planning a long-distance road trip? California, here we come.
“I don’t want to scare people,” says Dr. Surendra Dara, an IPM and crop advisor at the University of California, “but it has the potential to spread, and we do not have a biological-control agent.”
Which is why you, dear reader, are our eyes on the ground.
But wait. Other than toxicity, I haven’t even told you why to be alarmed about this critter. Grapes, apples, hops—these and more high-value crops rank in the billions for New York. Apples alone ring the register at about $317 million.
New York’s forestry crops are vital, too. Here’s what forest crops provide:
jobs for 49,200 people with payrolls of over $1.6 billion;
manufacturing, recreation and tourism providing over $11.0 billion to our economy;
removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, sequestering carbon, and producing oxygen critical for all life on earth;
filtering and buffering clean drinking water for millions of New Yorkers.
As our eyes on the ground, here’s what you need to know. Signs that spotted lanternfly are at our collective doorstep include:
sap oozing or weeping from tiny open wounds on tree trunks;
a yeasty smell (been near a brewery lately? That’s it);
inch-long, brownish-gray egg masses—like waxy mud when new, brown and scaly when old
heaps of honeydew under trees and vines and covered, often as not, with black sooty mold.
When you see this many SPFs in your orchard (this is Pennsylvania, mind you) — watch out. (Photo Smyers, Penn State)
Besides fruit and hops, what’s at risk? Everything from willows to walnuts—and smooth-barked trees especially. But keep in mind that many a mature tree which, once it has packed on the pounds around its waist and takes on a decidedly rough or furrowed look, looks svelte and clean-cut while still relatively young. Go outside and look at any gently-furrowed tree, and chances are you’re looking at a host. For those areas where tree-of-heaven runs rife, well—you’re looking at what might be its most favorite host of all.
Though it’s hard to wrap your mind around, it sups on some—maybe all—field crops. “We’ve seen it in some of the grain crops that are out there, soybean and what have you,” said Fred R. Strathmeyer Jr., Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary of agriculture. “It’s able to feed on many, many different things.”
Now think about honeydew. Not the drink, not the melon; rather the stuff bugs secrete as they feed. A case of in one end, out the other as they move down the chow line. Although native insects also secrete honeydew, the size of the SLF and staggering numbers that congregate from place to place makes for a remarkable amount of honeydew. Parked your car beneath an infested tree? Time to clean off those sticky windshield wipers.
For sure—this sticky mess and the swarms of insects it attracts gets in the way of outdoor fun. In Pennsylvania, where SLF populations are the densest, people near the heart of the problem can’t go outside without getting honeydew on their hair, clothes, and whatever they’re carrying. At which point “outdoor” and “fun” no longer have all that much in common.
So that’s it in a nutshell and, for spotted lanternfly, all the news that’s fit to print. For now.
They sound kind of cute, right? “Crazy worms” that could actually amuse you? Gyrating in a box of soil, say, sort of like disco dancers? (I’m showing my age here.)
Oh. And trust me; I’m not going off topic here: for many kinds of fish, fishing season started a few days ago. A date that synced, purely by chance, with April Fools Day. (We’ll leave Easter Sunday out of the equation.)
What’s the connection? The economic impact of fresh-water fishing for New York is about $2.26 billion. Watch them in action and crazy worms (aka jumping worms) would seem the ideal bait worm. But don’t even think about it. Illegally sold as bait in some places, this thing has already spread way too far. To have equipped yourself for April First with these critters would have been foolery, pure and simple.
Yet surely—aren’t earthworms good for composting; for your garden and lawn? Won’t they help aerate the soil? Feed the soil?
Alas, these worms make our everyday night crawlers (a mixed blessing in many ecologist’s books) look wondrously benign. Because unlike some other worms that help build soil, crazy worms destroy it, devouring everything that makes soil. Nor do they snub the roots of (for instance) your veggies, your posies, and yes, your lawn—these roots are solid fare for crazy worms. (Farmers aren’t happy campers either.)
And get a load of the crazy worms’ craziest attribute: their remarkable birthing abilities. Most of your standard-issue night crawlers are hermaphrodites—they possess both males and female organs—but at least they must date another of the same kind if they’re going to make babies. Crazy worms? All are female. No need for dates or mates. And their reproduction rate far exceeds that of other worms.
What about our cold winters? They encase their eggs in cocoons. And while crazy worms don’t survive severe northern winters, their cocoons do. All it takes is one to begin an infestation. And if that doesn’t give you pause….
BTW, our forests are as threatened as our fields. Where infestations are high, these worms strip all organic matter from the forest floor, exposing tree roots. Gone is the soil layer that seedlings and wildflowers rely on. When soil is stripped of organics it becomes clumpy, granular, and prone to compaction and erosion. Bad news all around.
Oh—and they’re accomplished hitch-hikers. You might find them in, say, that potted plant you bought from your local big box store. You could also find them in bagged mulch and compost. You might even find their cocoons—small and dark, resembling a clump of soil, on the soles of your boots.
Found some? Your next step: call your county’s Cooperative Extension office or regional NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. They need to know. For heaven’s sake, don’t give seedlings or plants from infested soil to your neighbor down the street or a plant exchange in your town. And if you’re an angler? Take the high road. Don’t buy crazy worms from out-of-state suppliers.
Resources:As you look through these resources, note the crazy worm’s other name: jumping worms.
Pests and pesticides—both can pose problems to our health, our environment, and our economy. At the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM), we help New Yorkers address those problems safely and thoughtfully. How? Through innovative biological, cultural, technological, and educational practices. IPM, in a word.
Community IPM takes place in settings as varied as school buildings and grounds; residential and office buildings; gardens, parks and landscapes; and golf courses and right-of-ways. Now we invite grant proposals from qualified New Yorkers who want to develop, evaluate, or demonstrate feasible IPM methods. Budgets must not exceed $8,500. Our deadline: April 6, 2018. Funds must be spent by February 28, 2019.
The German cockroach needs no introduction. If it can get on your fork, it can get in your food. Credit Clemson University, USDA.
All projects must accomplish one or more of the following:
develop, advance, test or refine new IPM strategies;
demonstrate a link between IPM practices and reduced risk to human health or pesticide residues;
measure the positive change or potential impact of IPM practices or adoption, or survey current IPM knowledge;
develop Community IPM resources, such as brochures, websites, fact sheets, manuals, and apps for smartphones and tablets;
develop IPM educational programs, such as workshops or curriculum;
educate others about IPM through outreach and demonstrations.
Audiences could include school administrators, teachers and students; landscape and structural pest management professionals; vector control specialists; municipal employees; nuisance wildlife control operators; golf course personnel; arborists; right-of-way managers; day care operators—just about anyone, in fact. We encourage projects that reach new audiences or develop new partnerships.
Two years. Yup. Ticks know how to make good use of their time.
Our Community IPM priorities include: develop or demonstrate solid strategies for dealing with rodents or cockroaches; develop, confirm or promote methods to lessen the impact of ticks; research, demonstrate or create outreach projects that promote pollinator health and conservation; and research and demonstrate alternatives to imidacloprid on lawns and athletic fields.
Yes, there are plenty more. But for 2018, these four are our greatest needs.
Got Questions? We encourage you to discuss your ideas with NYS IPM community staff, including:
coordinator: Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, Long Island, 631-539-8680, email@example.com (Do you work outside Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension? Get in touch with Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann.)
coordinator: Elizabeth Lamb, Ithaca, 607-254-8800, firstname.lastname@example.org
educator: Brian Eshenaur, Rochester, 585-753-2561, email@example.com
And consider: the most common critiques of past proposals have been that the budget lacked in clarity, explanation or justification—and those seeking grants didn’t discuss projects ahead of time with IPM staff.
March 1, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Climate, Weather, Data: Change Is the Name of the Game
Nearly two years ago, NYS IPM convened “Climate, Weather, Data,” a statewide conference focused on pests and our changing climate. Because it’s here. It’s real. So … what will a shifting climate mean for our farms and forests, our parks and gardens?
The Climate Change Garden plans and plants for the future. Photo credit E. Lamb.
We brought together researchers, crop consultants, farmers, and more from New York and the Northeast for an eye-opening glimpse into the future. One example must speak for the rest: the Climate Change Garden, housed at the Cornell Botanic Gardens, demonstrates how a range of food and nectar crops are like messengers from the future. They speak to the effects of warming oceans, drought, heavy rain, and rising temperatures on food crops, pollinator resources, and superweeds.
As if on cue, the winter of 2015-16 followed by the drought of 2016 (not to mention the rains and temperature swings of 2017) was a messenger from the future in its own right. Drought threw a monkey wrench into IPM-funded research intended to create weed forecasting models in both conventional and organic systems. Conclusions? As the researcher charitably put it, the unusual 2016 weather provided a good opportunity to look at the limiting impact of low soil moisture; with additional years of data collection, this should be a valuable year.
And take IPM research on the brown-marmorated stink bug, aka BMSB. Because of the staggering number of crops on its chow-list, and, come winter, its role as a most unwelcome houseguest in offices and homes, BMSB has plenty of people riled. But dramatic temperature swings in winter and spring (especially spring) tricked BMSB into ditching its cold hardiness too soon and falling prey to that last sudden cold snap.
We could go on, but do we need to? You get the picture. It’s a brave new world out there, and change is the name of the game.
November 1, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore
Sorry to bring up a sore subject, but it’s still tick season. And will be all year round. What … during winter? Really? Yes. But for starters here’s your pop quiz:
A tick’s lifespan is
twenty-four months (that is, about two years)
The best way to remove a tick is to
swab it with nail polish
hold a hot match to its behind
pull it straight up with fine-point tweezers
Even 15 million years ago, it was tick season. Trapped in amber, this tick carries Lyme-causing bacteria. (Photo credit Oregon State University.)
But back to our intro. Here’s the scoop: an adult female that hasn’t yet managed to grab hold of a large animal (think deer — or person) to get that all-important blood meal (can’t lay eggs without it) doesn’t want to wait around till a sunshiny summer day next year, because by then its number is up. Besides, the mice, chipmunks or birds it fed on earlier in its life cycle have only so much blood to go around. So that tick stays just below the soil where tall meadow flowers or low shrubs grow. Waiting. Waiting for a thaw barely long enough for it to scramble up one of those stems.
Waiting for the cues that tell it a warm-blooded animal is at close range. An animal that might be you.
And now for a look at our quiz. A tick’s lifespan? Your answer is (drumroll) C: upward of two years. Here’s how it works: Ticks spend a lot of time in dormancy, aka diapause. Eggs are laid in spring, tucked away out of sight. If some critter doesn’t find and eat them, they’ll hatch during summer as larval ticks (seed ticks, they’re sometimes called). Larval ticks are not infected with Lyme when they hatch — indeed, they’re pure as the fallen snow.
Meanwhile if likely hosts — those mice, chipmunks or birds — wander by, the ticks latch on. And if a host is already infected with Lyme disease or any of its nasty co-infections, those larval ticks, pure no more, are infected too.
Look close and you’ll see that spring, summer, fall, winter … every season is tick season. (Image credit Florida Dept. Health)
Larvae that make it this far morph into nymphs, and it’s diapause season again as the nymphs wait it out till the following spring. Assuming these ticks are now carriers —and about 25% will be — spring is the worst time of year for us. Because these ticks are tiny enough (the infamous poppy-seed stage) that they’re easy to overlook. If you get bit, ipso facto — you get Lyme (and quite possibly a co-infection too).
Things slack off in late summer as surviving nymphs enter a diapause that lasts till the following spring. But you can’t let down your guard, since by mid-fall through winter you’ve got those adult ticks to consider. The good thing (if “good thing” there is)? While half of these sesame seed-sized ticks are infected, they’re also easier to spot and remove.
Our second quiz item? If any of these strike you as valuable folk wisdom, strike the valuable part and know it ain’t so. Nail polish? Matches? Don’t even think of it. Those first two items are just likely to tick that tick off — and it’ll vomit its gut contents into you in its hurry to get out. That is, if it can get out quickly; if it’s really drilled in, it has downloaded a cement-like substance to anchor itself. It takes some doing to disengage, however persuasive the nail polish, burnt match, or myriad other folklore remedies. (Twisting it is another no-no that comes to mind, mainly because someone asked me about it mid-way through this post.)
Pointy tweezers, held right against your skin and gripping the mouthparts, are the way to go. (Image credit tickencounter.org)
If you value your health, get yourself some pointy tweezers, sold for needlepoint and other crafts, and carry them with you always in your bag, backpack, or whatever you haul around. Grasp that tick as close as you can get to your skin and pull steadily. Did its mouthparts remain glued within? Not to worry — the tick will feed no more. And before too many days go by, your exfoliating skin (that’s when the top layer of skin cells drift away) will exfoliate them in turn.
With ticks, prevention can include everything from doing routine tick checks to wearing repellent clothing when you’re outdoors — regardless the season. And you can’t do much better than this for advice about dressing right.
Meanwhile here’s your catchphrase: 32, ticks on you. “32” as in 32°F. Stay watchful — and stay safe.
September 5, 2017
by Bryan Brown Comments Off on Weed control specialist joins NYS IPM
Bryan Brown, Ph.D., is the new Integrated Weed Management Specialist
I’m Bryan Brown, the new Integrated Weed Management Specialist at NYS IPM. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to work with growers and promote IPM solutions for weed management. I came here from the University of Maine, where I compared the economic and ecological effects of several weed management strategies and tested a new cultivation technology that uses several tools, sometimes in tandem, to target the in-row zone.
Integrated weed management
No single weed control tactic is completely effective. And relying on one single tactic is how weeds develop resistance. So what we need to do is integrate more tactics. Attack weeds in as many ways as possible. For conventional growers, a basic step is to use a range of herbicides with different modes of action. Other direct controls include cultivation, flaming, mowing, and biocontrol.
Less direct tactics can also make a huge difference in weed control effectiveness. For example, crop rotation allows for use of different herbicides, fertility, and tillage dates — all of which can be adjusted to combat certain weed species. Likewise, crop cultivar and plant spacing can be altered to maximize competitiveness with weeds, and cover-crop residues can lessen weed emergence. Growers can be even more successful with these practices if they are used to target the biology and life cycle of their most problematic weeds.
When many growers think about weeds, they think of big nasty plants. But I like to encourage growers to think about weed seeds. The number of weed seeds in the soil is very important to the success of weed control tactics. Even if you kill 99% of the weeds in your crop, if you start with 1,000 germinating weed seeds per square foot (yes, that’s common), ten of those weeds will survive and compete with your crop. So depleting the number of weed seeds in the soil is key to effective management. As is often the case in IPM, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
How do you reduce the number of weed seeds in the soil? Control weeds before they produce seed, mow crop boarders to prevent seeds from blowing in, and use seed-free fertilizers. You can also create a stale seedbed by encouraging weed seeds to germinate, then killing them before planting. With these techniques, some farmers have sharply reduced the number of weed seeds in their soil, improving their in-season weed control.
I’m especially interested in finding weed management solutions that have multiple benefits. For example, cultivation kills weeds but can also be used to increase nitrogen mineralization, improve water infiltration, and control soil-dwelling pests like cutworms. Cover-crop residue can suppress weeds but it can also increase soil organic matter, interfere with navigation of some insect pests, and reduce splashing of soil-borne pathogens. So perhaps weed management can be integrated with management of soils, pathogens, and insect pests?
Amara Dunn joined NYSIPM as a biocontrol specialist in early June.
Hello! My name is Amara Dunn, and I am excited to have joined the New York State Integrated Pest Management (NYSIPM) program as the biocontrol specialist. Prior to starting this position, I studied vegetable diseases at Cornell University and taught in the Biology Department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. I enjoy finding new ways to manage pests and helping others to manage them more effectively.
What is biocontrol?
Definitions of biological control (biocontrol, for short) vary, but biocontrol is often broadly defined as:
using natural enemies to reduce or maintain populations of pest organisms at sufficiently low levels.
Either the pest or its natural enemy might be a vertebrate (e.g., rodents), an invertebrate (e.g., insects, ticks, slugs), or a microorganism (e.g., fungi or bacteria). Aphids and ladybugs are an example you might be familiar with. Ladybug larvae eat the aphids that might otherwise damage plants.
But biocontrol isn’t limited to releasing beneficial insects like ladybugs. Some bacteria and fungi produce compounds that are toxic to pests, including insects, bacteria and fungi. Others can boost the health of plants and animals. Some nematodes (microscopic worms) invade and kill grubs that live in the soil.
Often natural enemies of a pest are already nearby (e.g., bats that eat insects or birds of prey that eat rodents). By improving their habitat, we can also improve pest control. Finally, many insects use their sense of smell to find mates. By using these scents — “pheromones” — to trap or confuse pest insects, the pest’s biology can be used for its own control.
A small Delphastus beetle has caught and is eating a whitefly. Another whitefly nearby hopes to escape the same fate but may not be so lucky.
Biocontrol can be an important part of an integrated pest management strategy. For example, biocontrol organisms that support plant health can make them less susceptible to the pests that damage them (prevention). If something needs to be applied to reduce pest populations (or keep them low), biocontrol products tend to be less harmful to other critters or people than chemical pesticides (choosing a pest management strategy with low environmental impact).
My goal is to help the people of New York – householders, people who work in schools and businesses, and farmers – understand when and how to use biocontrol as part of a successful integrated pest management strategy. If you have questions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can call my office at (315)787-2206. And soon I’ll launch a blog to provide additional information about biocontrol and its use in New York.
July 11, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week all over the U.S.
It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week — now. Pay it heed. Invasive species, it turns out, are a huge deal in the US, in New York. Everywhere, in fact.
Coping with invasive insects, pathogens and the like have cost, in the US as a whole, upward of … OK, I’m hedging already. Is it $40 billion a year? $120 billion, maybe? The estimates vary widely.
What about global losses? Ahhhhh. Nailing those, especially vital ecosystem-regulating services, is where “difficult” morphs into “impossible,” for now and perhaps forever. It’s tricky, measuring something when it’s gone.
So what about the price here in New York? Unknown, though not for lack of trying.
Example: My admittedly quick-and-dirty search uncovered a 2005 report which noted that costs for eradicating Asian Long-horned beetle from New York City and Long Island had ranged between $13 and $40 million.
Killer beetle has distinctive markings. See something? Say something. Photo credit Kyle Ramirez.
Likewise in of 2005, New York spent about a half million dollars to control sea lampreys in lakes Ontario and Erie — with no end in sight.
More recently, in 2016, I learned that oak wilt — first discovered In New York in 2008 — has cost $500 grand to control. Some midwestern states spend over $1 million a year to control it. Pretty pricey if you ask me.
What helped here? Partly it’s the luck of the draw — oak wilt arrived decades ago, making inroads throughout the Midwest slowly but relentlessly. It can take time to recognize the true nature of a pathogen — or most any invasive pest. Then it’s a catch-up game to stay on top of it. If you can.
On the loose all over the Midwest — and now here. Photo courtesy Iowa State Plant Disease Clinic.
New York saw what had happened elsewhere and has aggressively surveyed (good IPM!) and eradicated infestations quickly while still small. But that $500 grand price tag? Yow.
Still, the economic costs of losing every (yes, every) oak would far greater.
Yet to come — what to if you find Asian long-horned beetle, oak wilt, and the like.