Our Research

Biocontrol and HWA

Biological control is the use of a natural predator, parasitoid, or pathogen to manage populations of a pest species. In the case of hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), our biocontrol efforts focus on researching and releasing predators from HWA’s native ranges to improve HWA management efforts in New York.

Since HWA has been present and spreading in New York since the 1980s, the state has moved beyond eradication as a response to HWA infestations. Chemical treatment of individual trees is currently the best way to conserve hemlocks on the landscape, but biocontrol research represents a collaborative effort to develop a long-term, landscape-scale strategy for managing HWA populations below a level that causes widespread hemlock mortality.

We conduct our biocontrol releases and field research on public, protected forested lands in partnership with our state and regional partners. Please note that since we are still focused on research and establishing initial predator populations, we do not release biocontrols on privately-owned properties at the time. We continue to release with the long-term aim of HWA management across public and private lands in mind.

Our Lab

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Biocontrol Research Lab is headed by forest entomologist Mark Whitmore and is housed on Cornell University’s main campus in Ithaca, NY. Our lab is part of the Department of Natural Resources in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), and is mainly funded by the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Other funders of our work include NYS Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP), the US Forest Service (USFS) as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), USDA-APHIS, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as private donations from the Saunders Foundation and the Robert Duckett Memorial.

Our biocontrol lab held its official opening in November 2017, but the Hemlock Initiative has been releasing HWA biocontrol species in New York since 2008. In addition to rearing biocontrol insects, we also use genetic techniques to understand more about their biology, behavior, and assess predator establishment. This includes using genetic markers to analyze DNA of silver flies from each species and range to identify lineages with the most successful rates of establishment and spread.

Learn more about our research: