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110 Years of Federal Biological Control Research

By Jesús García
November 24, 2000

The Agricultural Research Service recently marked more than a century of biological control research with the publication of  “110 Years of Biological Control Research and Development in the United States Department of Agriculture.”

This is the first time that USDA’s contribution to biological control research and its applications has been spelled out in one comprehensive volume. The 644-page publication promises to be a rich source of information on the nonchemical control of agricultural pests.

The term “biological control”--first coined in 1919 by H.S. Smith of the University of California--was defined as “the actions of parasites, predators and pathogens in maintaining another organism’s density at a lower average than would occur in their absence.”

This new publication chronicles the evolution of the USDA’s biological control program from its inception in 1883 to 1993. In 1883, USDA researchers successfully introduced an exotic natural organism, the braconid parasite Cotesia glomeratus, to control the imported cabbageworm. While the parasite’s introduction and establishment in the United States was successful, it did not control the cabbageworm infestation. The first entirely successful biological control program occurred about four years later with the introduction in California of the vedalia beetle, which successfully controlled a citrus pest called the cottony cushion scale.

ARS’ classical biological control (CBC) programs have led to an impressive string of successes with significant economic impact. For example, CBC programs against insect pests such as the cereal leaf beetle, alfalfa beetle, Rhodesgrass mealybug, pea aphid and alfalfa blotch leafminer have netted estimated annual savings of $150 million, plus increased crop yields. Since 1944, economic benefits derived from biological programs aimed at the control of weed pests such as common St. Johns wort, alligatorweed, tansy ragwort and puncturevine have totaled at least $30 million annually.

The use of natural enemies and other beneficial organisms to control pests has saved growers more than $2 billion during the last decade alone. Just as important, these programs have helped increase agricultural production while decreasing the industry’s reliance on chemical pesticides.

Scientific contact: Jack R. Coulson, ARS National Program Staff, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504- 6350, fax (301) 504-6355,