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 4501 - Forest Insect Biology and Biocontrol

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Northeastern Center for Forest Health Research
51 Mill Pond Road
Hamden, CT 06514

(203) 230-4300

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Forest Insect Pathology and Microbial Control


[Photo]: Gypsy moth killed by virusChemical sprays were long considered the best way to control insect pests that feed upon and damage urban or forest trees. However attitudes about how to protect our nation's forests have changed dramatically over the past 10 years because of the public's concern about human health and the environment. Chemical pesticides have been replaced largely by microbial pesticides such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), while industry is pursuing development of more specific viral pesticides such as Gypchek, the natural gypsy moth viral product, and other biorational pest control products such as pheromones. Additionally, there is national interest in using classical biological control agents such as parasites and pathogens to manage pest populations that threaten the health of America's trees and forests. This new emphasis is welcomed by scientists in the Center, who have quietly but effectively been pursuing these avenues of research for many years and represent the only unit of its kind in the Forest Service. Unit scientists are trained in insect pathology, microbiology, and entomology and are experienced in conducting both laboratory bioassays and large area replicated field experiments.

The team conducts research to better understand the effects that natural disease agents such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and microsporidia have on pest insect populations and to develop strategies for enhancing their effectiveness in mitigating damage by pests. By knowing the details of how disease agents are transmitted among insect populations and what environmental factors affect their multiplication and spread, scientists will be able to predict the onset of natural disease outbreaks and thereby defer the use of pesticides where they will not be needed.

Through the efforts of project scientists and support staff, Gypchek, the gypsy moth virus product, was registered by the EPA in 1978, and Neochek, an effective virus of the European pine sawfly, was registered in 1983. When exotic insects such as the Asian gypsy moth are introduced into this country, unit scientists must quickly evaluate the efficacy of environmentally safe microbial products such as Gypchek and Bt before they can be used in eradication programs such as those recently conducted in British Columbia and North Carolina.

Efforts continue in several areas to improve Gypchek: scientists are working with industry to improve the formulation and efficacy of the virus and thereby accelerate its commercialization and availability; researchers are cooperating with the Northeastern Station's biotechnology unit at Delaware, OH, to identify more virulent natural strains of the virus and evaluate genetically engineered strains; and Center scientists are cooperating with the National Center of Forest Health Management to improve the performance of the virus and other microbial products.

Project scientists have had a major impact on the public's acceptance and use of the bacterial pesticide Bt for management of the gypsy moth, spruce budworm, and other forest defoliators. Research is being conducted cooperatively with industry to evaluate and select Bt strains and commercial formulations that possess enhanced potency against these species. Another factor in the acceptance of microbial pesticides such as Bt has been the major improvement in technology for aerial application. Center scientists, in collaboration with specialists from universities, other Federal agencies, and the Forest Pest Management Institute in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, developed protocols for the aerial application of Bt that have dramatically improved its performance against forest defoliators. The Ansonia field facility is integral to the unit's research program and is a focus for activities such as the production and evaluation of microbial pesticides and their simulated application.

Widespread use of Bt has caused concern about its impact on other species of Lepidoptera, that is, moths and butterflies. Consequently, unit scientists are conducting laboratory and field assessments of the effects of Bt on native Lepidoptera species of oak forests.

Scientists at the Center also are examining classical biological controls that could better manage the gypsy moth and other forest defoliators while minimizing disruption to forest biodiversity. Several species of microsporidia (bacterial pathogens) that are native to the gypsy moth in Eurasia but not North America, are being evaluated for introduction and establishment against the gypsy moth. These pathogens, which cause chronic diseases and are important mortality factors in Eurasian gypsy moth populations, could significantly increase the natural control of the gypsy moth in the United States. In addition, Center scientists are collaborating with scientists in Central and Eastern Europe to identify additional pathogens of defoliator species and evaluate their potential for introduction to North America.


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