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.
June 19, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on It’s Pollinator Week. Read All About It.
It’s summer; the goldenrods will be blooming soon, with bumble bees buzzing around them. Photo courtesy David Cappaert.
When we think about bees, we mostly think about honeybees … a European native brought here by the very first colonists. Now honeybees are struggling, hammered by a constellation of 20-plus diseases and parasites — not to mention a range of insecticides and fungicides.
About 450 species of wild bees also populate our fields and gardens. They have similar problems. And they’re losing habitat.
This is serious business: we depend on pollinators for at least one-third of our food supply. Altogether, these pollinators boost New York’s economy by $1.2 billion.
And consider all those other critters: flower flies and hover flies, wasps, butterflies and moths; even hummingbirds — they are legion, they work hard for their living; they help too.
NYSIPM funds educational projects like this. Photo courtesy Jen Stengle.
What to do? For starters, we can make all these helpers even more at home in our fields and gardens.
Indeed, it’s through bringing together everything IPM knows about host and pest biology and habitat; about pesticides and their EIQs; about habitat protection and biodiversity — these are the things we excel at, and these are what we’re putting into play now to find the answers we need.
Ah … answers. Such as?
Since protecting non-target organisms is core to IPM, we helped advise the governor’s Pollinator Task Force in crafting a Pollinator Protection Plan — itself informed by a national strategy to promote the health of all pollinators. And our flagship IPM Annual Conference highlighted an IPM problem-solution approach for the 100 participants: farmers, consultants, beekeepers (but of course), landscapers, researchers, policy makers, greenhouse growers, and more.
Check it out — not only because you care about your health and your food supply, but because you care about this beautiful world we live in.
June 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Tick Trickery and Lyme Disease: the Great Imitator? Sometimes.
Remember the days when we could play with our tykes in tall grass near a wooded hedgerow? When we could wander at will through open meadows, picking wildflowers? When we could have impromptu picnics in the shade of tall oaks and basswoods deep in wild violets and leaf litter where a park blended into a tennis court, say, or a golf course rough? (Here, “rough” is a technical term used by the golf literati.)
Those days are gone. Now people in the Northeast and upper Midwest who live near anything green also live in a world that — subjectively at least — seems dominated by ticks. Blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks) especially come to mind, but others are coming down the pike. (Lone star tick, anyone?)
The Southeast, eastern Texas, and the Pacific coast likewise see blacklegged ticks setting up shop.
Now — and remember this before you freak out — by no means does every tick vector Lyme disease or any of its coinfections, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have a bountiful supply of carefully researched information on these diseases.
CDC and NIH also keep tabs on long-term effects of Lyme — for instance, complications like Lyme carditis and Lyme encephalopathy — that are important to understand.
And because Lyme can also mimic a considerable range of diseases — many less than pleasant — NIH and PubMed (the website is admittedly a bit of a slog) fund a considerable amount of research on these sorts of things.
Researchers might find, for instance, that what appeared to be ALS was actually Lyme — for this patient, surely an enormous relief. A course of antibiotics and it was over. But if you find websites that link Lyme with upward of 300 diseases, best be skeptical until you can confirm the science behind the claims that interest you most.
So let’s circle back to where we began. Yes, you can still get your fill of nature. You can still hang out in your yard. You just need to know some basics. Prevention, in a word. That IPM mantra.
Prevent — well, most of us especially want to know how to keep those little buggers off us. So … how then? Well, consider the permethrin route. Permethrin is synthesized from a compound — pyrethrin — found in the seed cases of chrysanthemums. (Know that many plants include toxins to a lesser or greater degree — it’s the nature of nature. But that’s a whole other post.)
So take a hike over to Tick Encounter and learn all about treating your clothes, your shoes, whatever, with permethrin. Other search terms for permethrin, whether at Tick Encounter or elsewhere, might include “treat backpacks, tents, ground cloths …” You get the idea. But please — keep your antennae tuned for potentially bogus claims.
And if you’re perplexed by where “blacklegged tick” comes from when “deer tick” seemed to say it all — well, it’s worth knowing that deer aren’t the reservoir hosts; they don’t carry Lyme. Essentially it was a case of mistaken identity. Back in the day, when Lyme first erupted, researchers thought they’d discovered a tick new to North America; its common name became “deer tick.” A few years later scientists discovered that this deer tick was none other than the already-known blacklegged tick. There you have it and so it remains.
September 21, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Trees and Drought Make for Less Colorful Fall (and the IPM Connection)
Many thanks to Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County, for permission to use this piece.
It turns out that, in terms of fall foliage, the color of too dry is officially known as “blah.” This would undoubtedly be the least popular color selection if it was included in a jumbo pack of Crayolas. Basically, it is a jumble of faded hues with a mottled brown patina throughout. This year’s dry summer could mean that “blah” may feature prominently in Mother Nature’s fall hardwood forest palette.
Why would a prolonged lack of moisture affect autumn color? Let’s look at what makes leaves colorful in the first place. Among the things we learned — and probably forgot right away — in Junior High Biology is that leaves are green because of chlorophyll, the amazing molecule that converts light, water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen. Its intense green tends to mask colors such as orange and yellow that are present in leaves in lower concentrations. When chlorophyll dies off in the fall, those “weaker” colors are revealed.
The Adirondacks in full autumnal glory — but not in the mega-drought of 2016. Photo courtesy Sharp Swan.
It’s not like yellow and orange are just randomly painted on the insides of leaves, though. Molecules other than chlorophyll are involved in various metabolic pathways within a leaf, and they happen to be colorful. By comparison, we are boring. Our hemoglobin is red, at least in the presence of oxygen, but we are not as flamboyant on a cellular level as leaves are.
Red, however, is a horse of a different color where leaves are concerned. Trees spend energy that they would otherwise save for next year’s growth to make the molecule responsible for red. It is called anthocyanin, mostly because short words embarrass scientists, and it is “expensive” for trees to make. No one knows why trees do this. OK, there are some explanations out there, but they are so flimsy they don’t even hold up in the rain.
In wintertime, I make my own bread. Although quality varies because I never use a recipe, more than likely the bread would turn out worse than usual if I omitted water. Similarly, all the ingredients need to be there for photosynthesis to work properly. When water is in short supply, production at the sugar factory, also known as the chlorophyll molecule, drops off sharply.
Without sugars, many cellular processes slow or even stop. Damaged chlorophyll is not replaced, and that deep forest-green color starts to pale. Those yellow and orange molecules (xanthophylls and carotenes, if you are insecure about word length) also begin to disappear.
As trees dry out further, their leaves start to brown along their edges. This is called marginal scorching, not to be confused with marginally scorched, which describes my bread. In drought-prone locations with thin soils, some tree leaves will entirely brown and turn crisp, calling it quits for the year. This of course is not good for trees, because they are not able to plug up the vascular connections between leaves and twigs, making them prone to even more desiccation over the winter.
As if that isn’t enough sepia tones for one season, our sugar maples once again are looking tawdry due to yet another infestation of the native maple leafcutter. This is a tiny colorful moth whose newly hatched larvae eat circular patterns inside leaves, eventually getting big enough to emerge onto the leaf surface and excise little holes in it to make a mini turtle-shell case for itself. A single infestation causes only minor harm to the maples, but repeated infestations can weaken them somewhat.
Between marginal scorch, brown leaves, holey maples and a general shortage of leaf pigments, we might not get the brightest display this fall. Cool nights and sunny days tend to favor the production of red in the few tree species capable of producing it, and this could at least offset the brown tinge that infuses our woodlands at present. Here’s hoping for a good crayon selection this autumn.
The IPM Connection? Well, you can’t run the well dry trying to keep your trees happy. But worse yet would be thinking your trees have some horrid disease and it’s time to dash over to the garden center for a jug of fungicide. In this case you’ve got two fundamental IPM precepts to guide you now and for the future: an accurate diagnosis and preventive action.
Identify (i.e. diagnose) your problem before you act. Trees that look sick or pest-ridden could suffer instead from to a surfeit or lack of three critical things their fine feeder roots need: the oxygen, water, and nutrients. Because if those roots aren’t happy, neither is your tree.
Prevent the problem: learn which trees will work for your landscape and how to help them deal with the hand Nature deals them. Right plant, right place, proper care: these help reduce infestations and impacts of pests.
It’s tick season and social media is blowing up with recommendations for removing ticks. Petroleum jelly, a hot match, twisting tools, and swirling with a cotton swab are a few on the list. They all promise to cause the tick to release with the head intact. People are very concerned about leaving the head behind.
Deer tick embedded in leg. Photo: Wellcome Images flickr
But when it comes to ticks, the head and mouth parts are the least of your worries. Hot matches, petroleum jelly, etc. — just know that if the tick freaks out (and it will), more saliva or even what’s in its stomach — and both carry pathogens — will get into you. May the thought of a tick throwing up into your blood stream give you pause.
Though a literature review on tick removal techniques put out by the London based Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections shows the lack of research in this area, it concludes that grasping the head as close to the skin as possible using forceps or pointy tweezers and pulling straight up is the best method. This mirrors the current CDC recommendation and is what the NYS IPM Program advises.
Grasp the head as close to the skin as possible using pointy tweezers and pull straight up. Photo: Fairfax County
And if you accidentally break off the head? Don’t sweat it. Just treat it like you would a splinter.
After removing the tick, place it in a plastic bag, put the date on it, and stick it in the freezer. If you start to feel poorly in the next few weeks, take the tick with you to the doctor. Different ticks carry different diseases and knowing what species bit you can help the doctor decide on the best course of treatment.
Planning on pesto? Basil downy mildew can leave you with a pot of pasta and no sauce – and we have had reports of it in NY already this summer.
Basil downy mildew is a disease that can survive on the seed and infect the plant as soon as it germinates. It can also travel by airborne spores and infect plants that started out clean. It only affects basil – but that isn’t good news when you’re hungry for fresh basil on your mozzarella.
What can you do to prevent the disease? Start with a variety that is resistant –red leafed, Thai, lemon, lime and spice types are less likely to get sick than the common sweet basil varieties. Space your plants far enough apart to get good air flow between them and some sun reaching all the leaves. Basil downy mildew is a water mold so it likes high humidity – and tight plants make for damp conditions. Water from below – drip irrigation if you have it – to keep the leaves dry.
If the basil is already looking lush, scout your plants. Look for yellowish areas on the upper surface of the leaves. When you turn the leaves over, you will see gray speckles and fuzzy growth – that’s the disease producing more spores to send out on the next air current. Sometimes the yellowish areas on the leaves will turn brown and die. If only a few plants are affected, remove them as soon as possible – bagging the sick plants to avoid spreading spores to the healthy ones.
Fig.1: Yellowing of the upper surface of affected basil leaves often occurs in sections of the leaf delineated by veins because the downy mildew pathogen cannot grow past major veins in leaves. Photo: Margaret Tuttle McGrath, Dept. of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, Cornell University.
Fig.2: Purplish gray spores of the downy mildew pathogen only develop on the lower surface of leaves. These are the same leaves in Fig. 1. Sporulation coincides with yellowing on the opposite side of the leaf. Photo: Margaret Tuttle McGrath, Dept. of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, Cornell University.
One positive note? Just like late blight in tomatoes, basil downy mildew does not survive in the soil so you can start clean again next year.
Want more information? See Meg McGrath’s website on basil downy mildew – updated for 2015.
March 10, 2015
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Rats, Fleas, the Media … Part II
When Cornell’s NYS IPM story — based on IPM entomologist Matt Frye’s research — hit the news a week ago, it made quite a splash. Back then, nearly 20 media outlets told the story: how Frye found over 6,500 lice, mites, and fleas on 113 rats live-trapped in New York City.
And — that among them were over 500 Oriental rat fleas, fleas capable of carrying the infamous bubonic plague. No, none of those 500 fleas harbored the plague. Still — “If these rats carry fleas that could transmit the plague to people,” says Frye, “then the pathogen itself is the only piece missing from the transmission cycle.”
Below, an updated list of the outlets that ran the news. Now the BBC — the British Broadcasting Corporation — also has plans to tell the story. And here, a one-minute video that shows how city rats make a living.