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In Pursuit of Knapweed

So it has been over a week since my last post, but there has not been too much to report on until today!

Yesterday was an exciting day as Laurel and I headed out to Ithaca to get some training on the project as a whole, and how to identify the species I will be looking for.



We started discussing the Knapweeds. Jeromy Biazzo, an associate of Lindsey Milbrath – a research entomologist with the USDA-ARS out of Cornell – led a discussion on the history of the different Centaurea species and the objective of locating them across the state. The history begins in 1907 where Spotted Knapweed -though not the only species now present- was first found in Washington state. It spread into the surrounding states of Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and into British Colombia from there. In the 1970’s much work was done on finding biological controls for the Knapweeds.  Years of research and experiments allowed the release of nearly a dozen different root weevils, seedhead weevils, and seedhead flies. The three types of insects, when used as a combination, are very effective in damaging the Knapweed to control its spread.

Spotted Knapweed and other species, cause severe problems in agricultural systems. They spread uncontrollably because they have the ability to produce tens of thousands of seeds. These seeds can be carried by wind, water, animals, or humans. Some species of Knapweed are particularly dangerous because they can produce toxins in their roots that stunt the growth of other plants around them if the other plants are not adapted to this. Knapweed has the ability to become a serious invasive in fields under favorable conditions for the plant. However, the point of the research that Cornell will conduct, is to determine if the Northeast has these favorable conditions for the Knapweeds.

As you may have guess, somehow it has found its way to the East Coast and we are on the hunt. New York and the Northeast have a much different climate than that of the Pacific Northwest. First we want to see if it is actually going to cause any harm to agricultural systems and if it ends up doing so, can we control it with the same insects as they have been using to control Knapweed in the other states. Most of the project is to determine sites and farmers that want to cooperate with the USDA and Cornell to do these studies, and mostly located closer to campus. My findings are important for the researchers to know that it is all around the state and what the density of it is.

Leslie Allee, a research associate in the Department of Entomology, spoke on the Lady Beetle part of the project. 30 years ago, the nine-spotted ladybug was not only the insect of New York, but found vastly across the Northern part of the US and into Canada. In the past 20-30 years, not a single one has been seen in New York. In an effort to find this native ladybug, in 2005, Leslie and a few other associates launched a citizen science project called the Lost Lady Bug Project, to help them find out what happened to this lady bug. With the efforts of this project, the nine-spotted ladybug has actually been found on Long Island, and it continues to be the only place in New York that has spotted it. Anyone can use the site, the only thing needed is your email address, a photo of the ladybug and the location of where you found it. People uploading this information do not need to be able to identify the ladybug, just take a picture. And it has gotten easier for any smartphone users, there is an app for the project now and you can take a picture and upload it within minutes. It is really exciting and I have been asked to participate in this as well.

We also looked at and learned how to identify some species in the carrot family – Wild Parsnip, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Poison Hemlock. We are looking closely at these species because in the past, many lady beetles have been found on many of these species. Given that we are looking for the lady beetle species mentioned above, checking these plants is a great place to start, and the researchers of the lady beetles want to determine if there is some relationship between the bugs and the carrot family of plants. 


So now with all of this information, and an introduction on how to carry out the protocol, I can begin. The past five weeks, Laurel and I have been making connections with farmers that want to participate and have me snooping around their fields for all that I listed above. We have a list of places that I began my work with this morning. I started at DeVoe’s Rainbow Orchards, a family owned orchard and vegetable operation. John and I searched the large orchard and came up with only some carrot species, fewer species around the second field, but the third field we looked at, BINGO! Spotted Knapweed.  Oddly enough, it was a bit exciting to come across some. I really thought that after 2 hours of searching, we might not come up with anything today, but we did. Unfortunately, we did not find any ladybugs, but I will try harder to look for them next time because I have made it a challenge to myself to find either the nine-spotted bug, or the other rare native, the transverse ladybug.

Spotted Knapweed capitulum

Spotted Knapweed capitulum


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