NCERA_old220: Biological Control of Arthropods and Weeds

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

NCERA_old220: Biological Control of Arthropods and Weeds

Duration: 10/01/2011 to 09/30/2016

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

Insect and weed pests have significant negative impacts on natural and managed ecosystems in the North Central region. In addition to the great number of established pests requiring ongoing management, the steady arrival of new invasive species poses a major threat to the region. Conventional management tools including pesticides are frequently expensive and may have undesirable environmental or human health impacts. Biological control is a critical part of IPM aimed at safe and effective management of pests.

The North Central Region shares similar agricultural, natural, and human environments and as a consequence, many pests are of regional importance. For example, the exotic soybean aphid is a key pest throughout much of the region and invasive weeds such as garlic mustard, leafy spurge and teasel are widespread threats to natural ecosystems. The USDA has identified a safe and healthy food supply, and the harmony between agriculture and natural resources as national and regional priorities. Our project directly addresses these priorities by coordinating cooperative research, education and outreach in biological control.

Our stakeholders include farmers, land managers, homeowners, green industries, regulatory agencies, commodity groups, and the broader scientific community. The membership of NCERA-125 encompasses expertise ranging from taxonomy of biological control agents, ecology of agroecosystems, to modeling impacts of biological control and our past collaborations have produced significant outcomes in research, education and outreach. Examples include team-taught classes of the Midwest Biological Control Institute, numerous symposia at professional meetings, delivery of regional extension workshops, multi-state extramural research grants, and joint publications. Facilities in the North Central Region such as quarantine laboratories in Minnesota and Ohio, the NSF-LTER in agroecology in Michigan, and biological control research laboratories in all states ensure continued impacts on biological control in the Region.

This proposal builds on the strength of our previous collaborations, ties to our stakeholders, and addresses contemporary and future needs in biological control in the North Central Region. Advances in biological control will contribute to keeping American agriculture competitive while ending world hunger and improving food safety for all Americans.

Our goal is to coordinate biological control research, education, and implementation in the North Central Region.


  1. Educate stakeholders, students, extension personnel and the general public on biological control
  2. Promote collaborative research on biological control of regionally-important pests
  3. Facilitate the implementation of biological control in production and natural systems
  4. Contribute to the national dialogue on best practices in classical biological control

Procedures and Activities

Objective 1. Educate stakeholders, students, extension personnel and the general public on biological control

The NCERA-125 working group has had a strong educational track record, and we propose to maintain this focus. In particular, we will continue to emphasize three educational outlets: summer short courses, online education, and organized annual symposia.

Summer Short Courses. NCERA-125 has developed and will continue to develop workshops and symposia to disseminate ideas relevant to biological control. We propose to continue the Midwest Biological Control Institute (MBCI), the focus of which is to develop one or more annual workshops on topical subjects in biological control. These one-week intensive courses are team-taught by biological control specialists in the North Central region. The rationale for MBCI is to supplement biocontrol expertise in each state so we can provide better graduate level training to our students and staff (ONeil and Wiedenmann 2008). While the aim is to supplement graduate education, participants have included graduate students, visiting scholars, extension personnel, technical scientists, professors, industry personnel and federal and state scientists. Over 400 students and 35 instructors have participated in the MBCI. NCERA-125 will continue to develop short courses for MBCI. Each summer the MBCI involves members of NCERA-125 offering a short course on biological control. For 2011, Matt O'Neal (IA) will be hosting the MBCI on the topic "Native prairie plantings for improvement of ecosystem services."

On-line Educational Efforts. We will continue to provide information about our biological control programs online through various web sites. Much of our information is distributed across several web sites; e.g., MBCI curriculum on an Illinois Natural History site, the NCERA-125 annual reports on a Michigan State University site, the Midwest Carabidologists Working Group on , and numerous publications from sites across the region. We propose to consolidate and update this information into one site (i.e., that will be easier to access by visitors and maintain by NCERA-125 participants. We will use Drupal (, an open source content management software, as the core or base for the NCERA-125 website. The Drupal platform is highly modular, but more importantly it incorporates user-friendly, management tools (i.e., see In short, all NCERA-125 participants will be able to easily edit or maintain site content rather than a single Webmaster. The dynamic NCERA-125 website will be able to provide visitors with background information on natural enemies and important biocontrol theories or concepts, upcoming events and summer programs, and details about biocontrol projects at the state and regional levels, which is information not currently maintained on the IOBC website (

Annual Symposia. NCERA-125 has organized and co-sponsored symposia at annual meeting of the North Central Branch Entomological Society of America (NCB-ESA) since 1993. Recent symposia include: Social and ecological contributions that affect adoption of IPM and biological control (K. A. Wyckhuys and R. J. O'Neil, co-organizers; West Lafayette, Indiana, 2005). Ecology and management of the soybean aphid (R. J. ONeil and G. Heimpel, co-organizers; Bloomington, IL, 2006). Biological Control Symposium (L. Canas, organizer; Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 2007). Exploring plant-mediated outcomes in arthropod biological control (J. P. Michaud and D. Pavuk, co-organizers Columbus, OH, 2008). More biological control please: extension and outreach efforts to increase awareness and appreciation of natural enemies (Kelley Tilmon, organizer; St. Louis MO, 2009). Habitat management for the promotion of biological control and other ecosystem services (J. White, organizer; Louisville, KY, 2010). Given the success we have had in the past, NCERA-125 will continue to organize and co-sponsor symposia at annual meetings of the NCB-ESA and other regional and national symposia relevant to biological control. We will also explore the potential to publish papers based on symposia we develop in refereed journals, where appropriate.

Members of NCERA-125 also serve in leadership positions in a number of regional committees (S-1010; S-1024; NCAC-15), and national (Entomological Society of America), and international (International Organization of Biological Control; Society for Invertebrate Pathology) organizations, promoting diffusion of information related to biological control.

Objective 2: Promote collaborative research on biological control of regionally-important pests

We propose to conduct research on biological control of insect and weed pests of significance to the North Central region. Current target pests and/or topics of interest include: 1) soybean aphid, 2) corn rootworms, 3) emerald ash borer, and 4) invasive species present in the eastern United States. Our research efforts are multifaceted and will encompass: pest and natural enemy biology, biological control methods (classical, conservation, and augmentative), tritrophic interactions between plants-herbivores-natural enemies, effects of bacterial symbionts on interactions between biological control agents and targeted pests, impacts of environmental factors on biocontrol (e.g. temperature, soil factors, landscape structure), and impacts of pathogens on insect pests and biological control agents. We aim to use NCERA-125 as a forum to encourage and develop collaborative research projects on target pests or others that are of regional importance. Specific research plans for each target pest are detailed below.

Soybean aphid (Aphis glycines) continues to cause problems in the North Central region and farmers need more economical and sustainable ways to manage these pests, especially organic growers. We will continue to describe the impact of natural enemies on soybean aphids, including those native to the United States and those discovered through foreign exploration in Asia (e.g., Chacon and Heimpel 2010, Desneux et al. 2009). This research effort includes examining host specificity in the lab and field, potential non-target impacts of foreign natural enemies, and post-release evaluations of natural enemy effectiveness. Another area of research focuses on how bottom-up factors (e.g. rhizobial inoculants, soil properties, plant quality, and resistance status) impact soybean aphids and their control by natural enemies. We will also conduct research on the role of landscape structure in mediating interactions between soybean aphid and its natural enemy complex (i.e. predators and parasitoids) and the role of native plants in supporting and enhancing beneficial arthropods in agricultural landscapes.

Rootworms (Diabrotica spp.). The role natural enemies play in controlling rootworm populations is not well understood (Lundgren et al. 2009). We intend to use traditional and molecular techniques (e.g. bioassays, gut content analysis, qPCR) to identify key predator taxa and elucidate the importance of biological control in this agroecosystem. Focus areas include how plant diversity and pest biology impact rootworm predation by epigeal and subterranean arthropods (e.g. ground beetles, predaceous mites).

Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) has devastated forested areas and communities since it invaded the United States, and it continues to expand its geographical range (Prasad et al 2010). Current research topics on this exotic pest include classical biological control using parasitoid wasps, which involves post-release assessment of natural enemy establishment and their impact on pest populations/damage.

Eastern invaders. Insect pests that have recently invaded the eastern part of the United States (e.g. brown marmorated stink bug, swede midge, viburnum leaf beetle) are spreading (NAPIS 2010), and there is a high potential that these exotics will affect the Midwest (e.g., Mika et al. 2008). To facilitate collaborative biological control research on these incipient target species, we will host a symposium on the topic at the North Central Branch meeting of the Entomological Society of America. We plan to stay abreast of these developing pest problems as matters for discussion and awareness.

Objective 3. Facilitate the implementation of biological control in production and natural systems.

Strong collaborations are in place to facilitate the implementation of biological control on arthropod pests and weeds in the Midwest. Michigan (MI), Indiana (IN), Illinois (IL), Iowa (IA), Kentucky (KY), North Dakota (ND), South Dakota (SD), and Wisconsin (WI) are actively involved in baseline research on the soybean aphid (SBA) and its biological control agents both in the Midwest and in the native range of SBA (Asia). Research to improve conservation biological control of SBA is also being done in MI, MN, IN, IA, ND and SD with a new initiative along these lines initiated in MN. The importation of Asian parasitoids against soybean aphid began in 2007 and was done collaboratively in MN, WI, IA, MI, ND and SD. Over the next five years, we will increase the scope of this project to include more species released in more states. Continued effort in foreign exploration and the permitting process supports these implementation efforts. Similar collaborations are also in place to manage invasive agricultural and environmental weeds common to the region. Several partners in this proposal are developing methods to implement and monitor biological control of garlic mustard (MI, IL, MN), buckthorn (MI, IL, WI, MN) and teasel (IL, MN). Contingent on federal and state approval to implement classical biological control, this information will be actively translated into on-ground rearing, release and redistribution efforts to manage the economic and ecological impacts of the aforementioned pests and weeds. For pests and weeds that already have biological control agents, ongoing research is targeting improving the efficiency of their management, by integrating biological control with physical and chemical control methods (e.g. soybean aphids (IA, IN, IL, MI, ND, SD), beanleaf beetles (IA, SD), and leafy spurge (IL, ND, MN)). In controlled environments, we plan to explore the utilization of natural enemies in combination with other management techniques to reduce the impact of greenhouse pests and to assess the effect of current practices on the natural enemy biology in both ornamentals and vegetables (OH). We will also explore the use of nematodes as biological control agents of greenhouse pests (OH).

Objective 4. Contribute to national dialog about regulatory issues of biological control.

Members of NCERA-125 overlap with the governing board of the Nearctic Regional Section of the International Organization of Biologial Control (NRS-IOBC), and also on a working group of best practices in global IOBC. Through this connection (NRS-IOBC), we will be coordinating efforts to formulate and communicate codes of best practices for the release of arthropod biological control agents to the broader biological control community, including regulators.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Collaborative extension and education projects will be facilitated among NCERA-125 members. Ongoing multistate projects include the Midwest Biological Control Institute Summer short courses and updating and improving the Biological Control website.
  • Research will be conducted on biological control of soybean aphid, gypsy moth, and other invasive species, as well as research on health of biological control agents.
  • An annual symposium will be organized and sponsored by NCERA-125 at the North Central Branch meetings of the Entomological Society of America to communicate current research and issues in biological control.
  • Information on current biological control research and activities will be shared at annual NCERA-125 meetings, and through the NCERA-125 website.
  • Committee members will contribute science-based information to a national dialogue about regulatory issues related to biological control through participation in national and international professional organizations.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

NCERA-125 will continue to develop short courses for the Midwest Biological Control Institute (MBCI). For 2011, Matt O'Neal (IA) will be hosting the MBCI on the topic "Native prairie plantings for improvement of ecosystem services," and subsequent offerings are in development, including a course on quarantine-related aspects of biological control research in 2012 and a course on insect pathology for 2013.

The new biological control website will be updated for use by the public, educational institutions and short course organizers and participants.

NCERA-125 will continue to organize and co-sponsor symposia at annual meetings of the NCB-ESA and other regional and national symposia relevant to biological control. At the next meeting (March 2011), we will host a symposium on "Eastern invaders and their biological control, " insect pests that have recently invaded the eastern part of the United States that will likely spread westward to become problematic in the north central region.


The committee annually elects a Secretary/Treasurer for the subsequent year. This person becomes committee Chair the following year. A Communications Committee consists of the current and immediate past Chair and current Secretary/Treasurer. Additional sub-committees are appointed by the Chair or elected on an ad hoc basis.

Literature Cited

Chacon, J. M. and G. E. Heimpel. 2010. Density-dependent intraguild predation of an aphid parasitoid. Oecologia 164: 213-220.

Desneux, N. P. Stary, C. J. Delebecque, T. D. Gariepy, R. J. Barta, K. A. Hoelmer, and G. E. Heimpel. 2009. Cryptic species of parasitoids attacking the soybean aphid (Hemiptera: Aphididate) in Asia: Binodoxys communis and Binodoxys koreanus (Hymenoptera: Braconidae: Aphidiinae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 102: 925-936.

Lundgren, J. G., M. E. Ellsbury, and D. A. Prischmann. 2009. Analysis o f the predator community of a subterranean herbivorous insect based on polymerase chain reaction. Ecological Applications 19: 2157-2166.

Mika, A. M., R. M. Weiss, O. Olfert, R. H. Hallett, and J . A. Newman. 2008. Will climate change be beneficial or detrimental to the invasive swede midge in North America? Contrasting predictions using climate projections from different general circulation models. Global Change Biology 14: 1721-1733.

NAPIS 2010. National Agricultural Pest Information System.

O'Neil, R. J., and R. N. Wiedenmann. 2008. The Midwest Institute of Biological Control: 17 years of a different kind of distance education. American Entomologist 54: 6-9.

Prasad, A. M., L. R. Iverson, M. P. Peters, J. M. Bossenbroek, S. N. Matthews, T. D. Sydnor, and M. W. Schwartz. 2010. Modeling the invasive emerald ash borer risk of spread using a spatially explicit cellular model. Landscape Ecology 25: 353-369.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Ohio State University
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