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Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
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Biological Control Program

Biological control (biocontrol) involves the reduction of pest populations through the use of natural enemies such as parasitoids, predators, pathogens, antagonists, or competitors to suppress pest populations. Biological control is a practical option for suppressing pest populations because:

  • it is easy and safe to use
  • it is a very cost effective and environmentally sound method of pest control, especially compared to the broad-spectrum pesticides often used
  • it reduces the use of conventional pesticides
  • it can be implemented as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program
  • once established, populations are self-sustaining, and
  • it is target specific


The goal of biological control activities within APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) is to safeguard America's agricultural production and natural areas from significant economic losses and negative impacts caused by insects, other arthropods, nematodes, weeds, and diseases of regulatory significance to the federal government, state departments of agriculture, tribal governments, and cooperators within the continental United States and on American territories through the use of biological control agents.


The mission of the Biological Control Program within PPQ is to work with cooperators to import, screen, develop, release, implement, monitor, and transfer biological control technologies to prevent the establishment, slow the spread, and manage pests of significant economic, environmental or regulatory importance, including the development and implementation of biological control technologies offshore against pests that could potentially be introduced into the continental United States and cause damage. This is fulfilled by funding in-house activities of PPQ scientists and external projects through Cooperative Agreements.

Program Management and Coordination

Responsibility for development, implementation and coordination of biological control program is shared by the three core functional areas of APHIS PPQ: 1) Policy and Management, 2) Field Operations, and 3) Science and Technology. A representative from each core area forms a cross functional Working Group for APHIS to assess program needs, set priorities and review progress of PPQ biological control activities. Current representatives are:

There are many types of biological control activities supported by PPQ either at APHIS Center Plant Health Science and Technology laboratories, or through cooperative agreements with Universities and other State and federal agencies. These APHIS PPQ funded activities include investigating and evaluating potential new agents against plant pests or noxious weeds, developing techniques for to enable successful establishment, implementing the release and distribution of these agents, and conducting post release monitoring and evaluation. The cross functional working group works to increase coordination, cooperation and facilitation of the conduct of these activities.

PPQ Biological Control Selection and Implementation Process

Target pests can be identified or selected by the PPQ Executive Team, emergency programs, congressional mandates, CPHST's ‘ad hoc' process, the PPQ Needs Identification Process, or the Offshore Pest Information System (OPIS) as an approaching offshore threat. Additionally, targets for biological control are identified through consultation with states.

The 'Biocontrol Target Pest Canvassing and Evaluation', or canvassing for short, is a process conducted every 5 years. In each Region, State Plant Health Directors (SPHDs) ‘canvas' various entities (e.g. federal, tribal, and state agencies, universities, weed management districts) in their respective states, soliciting input on important exotic insects and weeds that might be considered as possible targets for cooperative biological control programs. CPHST-developed protocols are used to objectively assess the severity of potential target pests and their feasibility or suitability for biological control. The end result of this canvassing exercise is a ranked list of potential target pests for biological control consideration, which is shared with States, collaborators, and cooperators.

Before the start of a new fiscal year, the Regional Biological Control Program Managers make a request to current cooperators and to the SPHDs within their regions to submit Cooperative Agreement work plan proposals for funding consideration. States, collaborators, and cooperators develop projects based on the canvassing report, or other PPQ programmatic needs. All work plans must align with Agency goals, support federal noxious weed and Agency programs, and should be developed in partnership with State cooperators, PPQ State Plant Health Directors, or designee. Project work plans are reviewed by their corresponding Regional Biological Control Program Manager, in consultation with other Regional personnel and the PPQ Biological Control Leadership Team. Other national and regional program managers are consulted when the target pest is a program itself, such as the emerald ash borer or imported fire ant, and funding is available from budget lines other than Biological Control. Decisions are made based on available funding, but funding priority is usually given to projects with motivated partners that can leverage other funding sources or with in-kind support. Annual reviews are jointly conducted by PPQ and its cooperators to evaluate progress and determine whether to continue or terminate funding for the activity. Technology transfer to cooperators is desired within 5 to 7 years.

The PPQ is committed to safe and effective biological control including monitoring and evaluation as integral parts of all implementation projects. This approach is crucial for the success and future of biological control as a management strategy and is consistent with PPQ's safeguarding mission.

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