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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Invasive Insect Biocontrol & Behavior Laboratory » Research » Research Project #420767


Location: Invasive Insect Biocontrol & Behavior Laboratory

Project Number: 8042-22000-273-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Dec 2, 2010
End Date: Nov 1, 2015

The goal of this project is to develop innovative and sustainable technologies to manage insect pests and their natural enemies to reduce damage to trees, shrubs, and flowering perennial plants in managed and unmanaged urban landscapes. Lepidopteran and coleopteran pests are the principal defoliators in urban landscapes and nearby forests, and constitute 60% of recorded invasive insect species in North America. The research focuses on five of the most destructive lepidopteran and coleopteran pests in urban landscapes: gypsy moth, winter moth, and dogwood borer; and emerald ash borer and Asiatic garden beetle; however, research results are expected to be broadly applicable to other urban landscape insect pests. The research is organized around three objectives: (1) identify and synthesize plant-derived semiochemicals and insect pheromones attractive to pests, and design insect monitoring and management strategies employing them; (2) develop microbial and arthropod natural enemies as biocontrol agents of native and exotic pests of landscape plants; and (3) identify at the molecular level genes and gene pathways critical for success of landscape pests; employ molecular technologies to determine the role of host pathways targeted by entomopathogens; and target these pathways with natural or molecular biopesticides to kill pests.

This highly interdisciplinary project combines concepts and methodologies from analytical and synthetic organic chemistry, insect chemical behavior, insect pest-pathogen genomics, and microbial and insect ecology to develop strategies to combat urban landscape pests. Plant-derived semiochemicals and insect pheromones will be identified, and novel chemical and biological syntheses will be devised to enable their use for monitoring pest populations, disrupting pest reproduction, and luring pests into traps to be exposed to pathogenic microorganisms. Ecological attributes of pathogens underlying virulence, specificity, and accessibility to hosts will be determined. Transcriptome analysis of gypsy moth larvae challenged with various classes of pathogens will expose insect molecular vulnerabilities exploited by virulent pathogens. Naturally occurring pathogens best able to exploit these vulnerabilities will be applied directly to the environment, or placed in traps with species-specific semiochemicals to lure pests into contact with the pathogens to initiate epizootics. Experimental native and exotic assemblages of woody and herbaceous urban landscape plants will be characterized according to the natural enemy resources that they provide, and tested for their ability to support natural enemies and thereby to promote effective biocontrol of urban landscape pests.