USDA-ARS Develops Biological Controls to Bring Invasive Species into Balance
USDA ARS has over 50 biological control projects to balance invasive species with their new environments by carefully bringing in the pest’s natural enemies rather than developing chemical pesticides or traps. Although it can take 10-15 years to find and develop a biological control agent, programs based on this principle have been hugely successful for over 100 years. Usually, once the natural enemy is established in its new environment, it reproduces naturally and without additional cost. Successful biological control requires worldwide searches for promising biological control agents and USDA ARS has invested in permanent overseas biological control laboratories in France, Greece, China, Australia, and Argentina. Some recent successes are against lygus bugs in organic strawberries, where the bugs puncture seeds, arresting development and causing irregular shaped fruit. Also researchers improved biocontrol of giant reed plant in the Rio Grande Valley. This was introduced to California in the 1800’s and used as an ornamental plant; but left unchecked, it can overtake natural plants in riparian zones causing flooding and disrupting wildlife food chains.