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Russian wheat aphids

Tracking the Spread of the Russian Wheat Aphid Goes High-Tech

By Hank Becker
December 29, 1999

Tracking the population dynamics of the Russian wheat aphid--one of the most highly mobile pests in the central Great Plains--is going high-tech.

Agricultural Research Service scientists at Stillwater, Okla., extensively studied and modeled the pest in wheat and non-cultivated wheat areas to determine the effects of agroecosystem and landscape on its population dynamics. Now, they can evaluate and develop better field- monitoring methods for the aphid for use in ecological studies and integrated pest management systems.

Aphid-killing fungus
Related story:
Fungus v. aphid
(Sept. 1999)

Since invading the United States in 1986, the green, 1/16-inch-long aphids have cost more than $850 million in insecticide and crop losses. While conventional breeding has produced aphid-resistant wheat varieties, they aren't yet widely grown and are not adapted to all areas where the aphids are pests.

Now that the scientists know how the Russian wheat aphid develops new populations and have successfully developed simulation models predicting its within-site population dynamics, they’re ready to extend modeling to landscape and regional scales.

The state-of-the-art approach to understanding this pest’s dynamics includes organizing and analyzing remotely sensed geographical data from LandSat, constructing descriptions of its habitat both in space and time, and meshing models of its population dynamics with areawide habitat data.

To this end, they have obtained, classified, and collated LandSat, meteorological, and other pertinent data for seven states in the central Great Plains. The LandSat data provides timely, high-quality, visible and infrared images of all landmass and near-coastal areas. These images are used extensively to study global change, geology and forestry, as well as agriculture.

The scientists’ goal is to construct and validate a regional outbreak risk assessment system for the aphid. They’ll use this model to analyze the feasibility of managing the pest areawide and predict risk of population outbreaks at broad geographical scales.

ARS is the chief research agency of USDA.

Scientific contact: Norman C. Elliott, ARS Plant Science and Water Conservation Research Laboratory, Stillwater, Okla., phone (405) 624-4141, fax (405) 624-4142,

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