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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Project Type: Appropriated

Start Date: Oct 01, 2009
End Date: Jan 12, 2012

Compare and contrast biotic and abiotic factors that contribute to establishment and spread of Formosan subterranean termite (FST) populations in urban and rural forested areas. Determine intrinsic and extrinsic factors that regulate termite growth, metabolism, caste development, social behavior, and foraging. Identify and characterize genes involved in critical biological functions (e.g., apoptosis, metabolism, chemoreception, pheromone regulation, sexual reproduction, and sex determination) with the goal of developing gene-targeted technologies for species-specific, biologically-based control of termites. Develop more precise and accurate methods and survey protocols for assessing Formosan subterranean termite populations.

The Formosan subterranean termite (FST), Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, is native to Asia but it was introduced into the southern United States where it has become a devastating pest and in some states has been described as the most costly insect pest. The total annual economic loss due to all species of subterranean termites in the United States has been estimated to cost as much as $11 billion per year including preventive and remedial treatments and damage repair costs. Costs associated with the FST are estimated at $1-2 billion per year. In addition to structural infestations, C. formosanus infestations of living trees are common, causing unquantifiable aesthetic damage and serving as untreated refugia and a source for further structural attack. The known range of this important invasive species continues to expand indicating the need to minimize establishment of this species in new areas. Termites are also long-lived and cryptic insects that require novel treatments for population management to minimize economic damage. Much of the long distance spread of this termite has been attributed to movement of infested materials through commerce, particularly infested railroad ties that are subsequently used for landscape timbers. We plan to identify factors that are particularly conducive to colony establishment and growth that could provide new strategies to minimize the establishment of infestations in new areas. We will investigate landscape features that promote growth and colony development could provide establishment of guidelines to minimize termite colonization in areas into which they are inadvertently introduced. Research focused on identification of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that regulate termite growth, metabolism, caste development, social behavior, and foraging will provide critical information that could lead to development of novel termite control products. Research on caste development will be conducted to provide new target sites for chemical control. Determining factors involved in termite foraging behavior will enable us to improve monitoring programs and increase the efficacy of termite baits. We will characterize genes associated with caste differentiation and development and regulation of physiological pathways (digestion, molting, immunity, symbiotic relationships, etc.) that is expected to provide novel target site(s) that would be developed into new strategies for the effective area-wide integrated management of FST. We plan to develop more precise and accurate methods and survey protocols for assessing FST populations for improving our ability to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of termite control products, to increase our ability to detect the presence of FST, and to study the spread of this invasive pest species.

Last Modified: 8/1/2015
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