Cricket-resistant Turf in the Pipeline
By Jan Suszkiw
August 10, 2001
Mole crickets, tunneling pests that
damage golf courses, recreational fields and lawns, could meet their match in
sturdy new Bermudagrass hybrids developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and University of Georgia (UGA) researchers.
In the Southeast, mole crickets are the top insect pest of lawns and turf.
In Georgia, for example, cricket damage and control costs are an estimated $26
million annually, and $170 million in Florida. Using powerful, shovellike
forelegs, the quarter-inch-long pest causes harm by tunneling beneath turfgrass
or feeding on it. On golf courses, spraying insecticide to stop mole crickets
from marring putting greens and fairways can be a $100,000 annual affair, notes
Wayne Hanna, a geneticist who leads ARS
Crop Genetics and Breeding Research
Unit in Tifton, Ga.
Seeking a cheaper, more environment-friendly alternative, Hanna teamed with
UGA researchers Kris Braman and Will Hudson to systematically screen the ARS
labs Bermudagrass collection for hybrids that naturally deter mole
crickets. From 27,000 total hybrids in 1993, they narrowed their initial search
to 448, and later to 103 having the traits expected of commercial turf. These
traits include color, a thick canopy, disease resistance and tolerance to
drought and frequent cutting.
The Bermudagrass hybrid selections also ranked highest for resistance to
both tawny and southern mole crickets--Scapteriscus vicinus and S.
borellii, respectively. Additionally, the grasses were selected for
their adaptability to growing conditions in Georgia, South Carolina, Florida
and other southeastern states.
In replicated trials, the resistant grasses sustained up to 90 percent less
cricket damage than Tifdwarf, Tifgreen and other commercial cultivars used for
comparison. A fast-recovering root system or natural repellence may be two
possible sources of the strains resistance.
Hannas lab has begun propagating sprigs of the Bermudagrass hybrids
for large-scale testing in spring 2002 on commercial golf courses, athletic
fields and other sites. Pending these tests, the grasses could become
commercially available in the next few years.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.