ForumOperation Full Stop in Full Swing
When you think of agricultural research, you usually think of wheat
fields, cattle ranches, or chicken flocks. But agricultural research
can sometimes have a very urban focus. Such is the case with Operation
Full Stop, a cooperative program spearheaded by the Agricultural
Research Service. It's aimed at beating back the Formosan subterranean
termite in New Orleans' famed French Quarter and elsewhere.
Formosan termites are exotic invaders from Asia believed to have entered
the United States more than 50 years ago by stowing away in crates,
pallets, and other packing materials aboard ships bringing supplies
and troops back home from the Pacific Theater during and after World
Spreading from the ports, Formosan termites began a subterranean colonization
of the country. But they remained virtually unknown until the mid-1960s
when their population appeared to explode. Today, they have infested
parts of 11 states and are costing more than $1 billion each year in
damage, repairs, and control efforts.
Startlingly successful in its adaptation to the southern United States,
this invasive species has become a special menace to the legendary French
Quarter, threatening the neighborhood's historic buildings.
In 1998, Congress called on ARS to lead the effort to find a way to
handle the Formosan termite and take immediate action to protect the
ARS has always been a leader in areawide pest management research,
and the agency has had significant success dealing with foreign invasive
species. Not all invasive species are agricultural pests. But the same
entomological expertise is needed to battle such invaders whether they
live in the country or in the city. And based on the termites' biology
and aggressive foraging behavior, an areawide strategy was clearly needed.
Another advantage ARS provided was a sophisticated research complexalready
located in New Orleans. The Southern Regional Research Center offered
a well-equipped base for scientists near one of the world's largest
concentrations of this problem pest.
ARS and other members of the team, including Louisiana State University
Agricultural Center, New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board,
University of Florida, and University of Hawaii (where Formosan termites
are also a problem), immediately began to seek ways to halt the invasion.
Other collaborators include Texas A&M University, Mississippi State
University, and the University of Mississippi.
Fortunately, just as the program began, the pest control industry was
introducing several new technologies to battle native termites. For
the first time, termite control was going on the offensewith baits
and poisons designed to kill termitesinstead of defense, with
barriers to keep termites out of buildings and homes.
ARS began to adapt these new technologies into an areawide approach
against foreign termites. At the same time, fundamental research into
the insect's biology and habits was also begun to develop new approaches
to stopping the Formosan termite.
A unique aspect of Operation Full Stop is the way in which the research
has been carried out. Usually, research starts in the laboratory, moves
to field trials, and then eventually makes its way through technology
transfer into the hands of users.
But Operation Full Stop has involved the public and local pest management
professionals from day one. The termite emergency in the French Quarter
required that some control measure be started right away. New technologies
arising from fundamental research would be applied in the French Quarter
as they emerged.
Areawide suppression in an urban area is very difficult. The French
Quarter has 2,900 households, and every one of them has to be completely
involved. This contrasts with traditional termite control methods, which
have always been done house by house, structure by structure. But such
piecemeal attacks do not work against the Formosan termite. So public
education and outreach have been basic components of the project from
the beginningnot after the research has been completedbecause
people need to know that conventional methods of control do not solve
the Formosan termite problem.
And when you are talking about protecting a historic area from destruction,
there can be no true "untreated control" area for comparison.
We can only compare damage and termite numbers from year to year to
confirm that we are making progress.
Education has another important role. We need to teach the public to
recognize the Formosan termite when it spreads to a new area so that
control can be taken before the insect becomes entrenched. That's a
critical part for communities to play.
But in the 5 short years that Operation Full Stop has been under way, we have made significant progress. What we are learning in the French Quarter is already helping to create techniques to deal with the Formosan termite throughout the Southeast. You can read about the success of the team's research on pages 4-8 of this issue of Agricultural Research. And if you live where Formosan termites may be a threat, you may want to check out further details at www.ars.usda.gov/is/fullstop.
Frank S. Guillot
"Forum" was published in the July 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.