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University of Florida

UF/IFAS Extension program to control Tropical Soda Apple earns national award

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Biocontrols, Economics, Environment, Extension, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Invasive Species

TASBEETLE for web 041415

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — St. Lucie County ranchers have saved an estimated $850,000 a year, thanks to University of Florida experts who taught them how to release a beetle to eat an invasive plant that normally elbows out valuable cattle forage.

“Using the Tropical Soda Apple beetle has resulted in significant cost savings for ranchers while at the same time protecting the environment by reducing the need to use herbicides,” said St. Lucie County Extension agent Ken Gioeli, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The program, which uses beetles to biologically control the Tropical Soda Apple (TSA) on St. Lucie County ranches, has won the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals National Innovative Program Award. That’s the fourth straight year UF’s St. Lucie County Extension Office has won a national award.

Gioeli said St. Lucie County’s biological control program has helped ranchers throughout Florida.

Florida A&M University experts have estimated the statewide economic impact of the Tropical Soda Apple (TSA) at $6.5 million to $16 million annually, making it a “major concern” for Florida and other southeastern states.

The FAMU study, published in 2012, only considered the impact to beef cattle producers, yet there was evidence that TSA caused ecological damage in natural areas by displacing native plants and disrupting ecological integrity. The plant invades hammocks, ditch banks, and roadsides, where it out competes native plants. To see a full UF/IFAS report on the TSA program in Florida, please click the following: http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/426#VII-F.

In the past 20 years, Florida cattle ranchers have spent as much as $16 million a year to battle the tropical soda apple, an invasive weed that takes over pastures, elbowing out the forage grasses ranchers need for their cattle.

But UF/IFAS faculty released the TSA beetle to take a bite out of the problem by feeding on the weed and reducing its competitiveness.

Gratiana boliviana, as the beetle is known to scientists, is native to South America and the first biological control agent in North America to be used against TSA. The beetles are highly specific feeders whose appetite is focused only on TSA.

TSA comes from South America and was discovered in the U.S. more than 20 years ago in Glades County. It now covers more than 1 million acres in Florida and has spread to other states including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.

Cattle, livestock and wildlife feed on TSA fruit and spread the seeds to shady hammocks in natural areas and pastures.  Among the ensuing problems are less-productive pastures and blocked wildlife corridors, Gioeli said.

Members of the St. Lucie County project team included Gioeli; Susan Munyan, a fellow St. Lucie County Extension agent; William Overholt, a UF/IFAS entomology professor at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce; Julio Medal, former UF tropical soda apple program coordinator; Buzz Eaves, a St. Lucie County cattle rancher; Rodrigo Diaz, a post-doctoral associate in the UF/IFAS Biocontrol Research and Containment Laboratory in Fort Pierce; Ricky Telg, a professor and director of the UF Center for Public Issues Education in Gainesville; James Cuda, UF/IFAS entomology professor, also in Gainesville.

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Cutline: Seen here is the Tropical Soda Apple beetle, or Gratiana boliviana, as it’s known to scientists. UF/IFAS experts have used the TSA beetle to combat Tropical Soda Apple, an invasive plant, on Florida ranches.

Credit: UF/IFAS file.

By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Ken Gioeli, Name, 772-462-1660, ktgioeli@ufl.edu

 

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