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Plant Protection Today - PPQ’s Phoenix Station Develops Technologies for Program Pests

PPQ’s Phoenix Station Develops Technologies for Program Pests
April 27, 2022
(Cover photo: Speckle-winged rangeland grasshopper (Arphia conspersa). Photo by RahcelKolokoffHopper

Finding, Testing, and Developing Better and Greener Integrated Pest Management Methods

By April Dawson

USDA’s Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program wraps up its Science and Technology (S&T) laboratory article series by highlighting the other half of the Insect Management and Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory (IMMDL). The IMMDL is comprised of two locations, one in Edinburg, TX (covered in last month’s Plant Protection Today), and one in Phoenix, AZ (formerly the S&T Phoenix Lab). This article focuses on the Phoenix Station, which supports PPQ’s programs by developing, adapting, and implementing area-wide management technologies for program pests. The Phoenix Station currently focuses on three types of native pests: rangeland grasshopper pest species, Mormon crickets, and navel orangeworm.

Rangeland Grasshoppers and Mormon Crickets

The Phoenix Station’s Rangeland Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket Management Team in New Mexico sets up a grasshopper fungal pathogen cage experiment using coated bran bait during the 2021 field season. Photo by USDA’s Derek A. Woller.

“The primary mission of the Rangeland Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket Management Team is to protect the health of rangelands against economically damaging cyclical outbreaks of native grasshoppers and Mormon crickets,” said Derek A. Woller, Supervisory Entomologist. “We do this by finding, testing, and developing better, cheaper, and greener methods of integrated pest management in support of the APHIS Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket Suppression Program and its Federal, State, Tribal, and private stakeholders. We continuously identify and evaluate new methods to maintain state-of-the-art status for program delivery, which protects rangeland livestock forage and wildlife habitat.”

A grasshopper fungal pathogen in action (green/white fuzzy stuff), killing a targeted grasshopper during the 2021 cage experiment. The pathogen is Metarhizium robertsii (isolate DWR2009). Photo by Sage Nabity Stroh.

“The lab’s scientists conduct extensive laboratory and field studies to test and validate materials, methods, and equipment,” said Laboratory Director, Matt Ciomperlik. “The technologies currently in development include testing biological control agents-fungal pathogens, testing more environmentally friendly insecticides, and enhancing ground and aerial delivery systems like unmanned aircraft systems. The lab explores many novel management technologies, such as sonic weaponry and smart molecular insecticides that target specific species and improving population prediction abilities using machine learning.”

The Phoenix Station’s Rangeland Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket Management team in New Mexico calibrates the program’s airplane to be as precise as possible when applying insecticides for experiments during the 2021 field season. Photo by USDA’s Derek A. Woller.

Navel Orangeworm

The navel orangeworm (NOW) is a serious pest of tree nut crops, including almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. Photos by University of California, UC Statewide IPM Project.

Current work on NOW includes developing mass-rearing and sterile insect technique methods. The PPQ-reared sterile male moths mate with wild female moths, producing no offspring. They will be integrated in an area-wide management program to combat the pest in pistachio and almond production systems, primarily in California.

On March 14, 2022,  the Phoenix Rearing Facility (PRF) shipped the first batch of about 750,000 sterile NOW moths for release over pistachio and almond orchards participating in the NOW area-wide program. 

In addition, IMMDL is developing improved egg collection and implant technology and protocols expected to save labor, field testing of improved genetic NOW lines for potential replacement of the current production strain, improving protocols for managing microorganism infestation in the NOW colony, and optimizing the use of an automated valve system in the moth collection section of the PRF.

A newly installed automated “moth drop” system promises to save labor. Testing is underway to optimize the time between valve openings and the duration of each cycle to preserve moth quality. Photos by USDA’s Earl Andress.

To learn even more about the IMMDL located in Arizona, please visit: USDA APHIS Insect Management and Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory
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