IFAS News

University of Florida

Potential whitefly outbreak threatens Florida landscapes and crops

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Pests, Research

WHITEFLY 052516

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Q-biotype whitefly, a significant  tropical and subtropical pest, may threaten Florida crops such as tomatoes, squash, beans, watermelons and many other vegetables and ornamentals if immediate measures are not taken to prevent its spread.

Scientists statewide, including those with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), are working together to control the whitefly which, for the first time, has been found outside greenhouses and nurseries in Florida. Known scientifically as Bemisia tabaci, the Q-biotype or Mediterranean whitefly is a light-colored, flying insect slightly less than 1 millimeter in length.

Researchers with UF/IFAS are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to manage the whitefly.

“Unfortunately, we have a developing whitefly issue in Florida,” said Lance Osborne, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, Florida. “The situation may be improved with diligent attention to identifying and reporting any outbreaks.”

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At UF/IFAS Plant Camp, science teachers learn to spread the word about invasive plants

Topic(s): Environment, Extension, IFAS, Invasive Species, Research

BMB hydrilla

Please see caption below story.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When Kenny Coogan, a seventh-grade science teacher at Orange Grove Middle Magnet School, took an airboat ride on Lake Tohopekaliga and saw the devastation caused by invasive plants, he knew he had to bring this information back to his classroom.

“After seeing the negative effects of the plants first-hand, I knew I needed to share this experience and ways to mitigate the invasive species with my students,” Coogan said.

Local middle and high school science teachers like Coogan are getting help in spreading the word about invasive plants, thanks to a partnership between the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Each June the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants invites 24 teachers from across the state to a five-day Plant Camp where they learn about invasive plants and how they can bring this knowledge and awareness into the classroom.

When it comes to challenges facing endangered species, invasive species are second only to habitat loss, said Bill Haller, professor and UF/IFAS CAIP program director. Controlling invasive plants protects native plants and animals, and it’s a constant battle—which is why the next generation needs to get involved, he said.

Teachers are the best way to reach the greatest number of these youth, said Katie Walters, education initiative coordinator at UF/IFAS CAIP. The camp is aimed at educators who teach grades four through 12.

Back in 2005, the UF/IFAS Florida Invasive Plant Education Initiative began working with teachers to develop an invasive plant curriculum that included more than 100 different lesson plans and activities. However, “just developing that curriculum wasn’t enough, and the teachers requested a workshop,” said Walters.

The Plant Camp, which started in 2007, answered this need for more hands-on training. Teachers come away from the camp with a lot of material and tools to make science fun for their students, Walters said. She hopes this will ultimately make the next generation more aware of invasive plants.

The camp includes presentations by UF/IFAS faculty and FWC personnel, as well as activities such as plant identification and invasive plant removal. During each activity, teachers learn how they can translate what they are learning into their lesson plans.

Attendees also take fieldtrips to sites such as Paynes Prairie, where Chinese tallow and Japanese climbing fern have invaded. “We want to give them an idea of the scale of what an invasive problem looks like,” said Walters, and seeing how a plant can invade a landscape makes a big impact.

Tracy Jenner, science teacher at Yankeetown School, said what she learned at Plant Camp has helped her better engage her students, and they now understand that taking care of the environment is their responsibility. “The other exciting thing for me was meeting so many people that have led me to take my students on a variety of field trips that I would never have done,” Jenner said.

Applicants must submit a personal statement and letter of recommendation. Applications become available online and in paper form in January of each year. A Plant Camp diploma counts toward professional development points, which teachers need to maintain their teaching certification, Walters said.

Teachers can learn more about the UF/IFAS Plant Camp at http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/.

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Caption: A hydrilla plant, an invasive aquatic plant in Florida. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Katie Walters, 352-273-3665, katie716@ufl.edu

Bill Haller, 352-392-9613, whaller@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS study finds consumer knowledge gap on genetically modified food

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Environment, Families and Consumers, Research

Brandon McFadden

Brandon McFadden

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While consumers are aware of genetically modified crops and food, their knowledge level is limited and often at odds with the facts, according to a newly published study by a University of Florida researcher.

Last year, Brandon McFadden, an assistant professor of food and resource economics at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, published a study that showed scientific facts scarcely change consumers’ impressions of genetically modified food and other organisms.

Consumer polls are often cited in policy debates about genetically modified food labeling. This is especially true when discussing whether food that is genetically modified should carry mandatory labels, McFadden said. In conducting their current study, McFadden and his colleague, Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economics professor at Oklahoma State University, wanted to know what data supported consumers’ beliefs about genetically modified food and gain a better understanding of preferences for a mandatory label.

So he conducted the survey to better understand what consumers know about biotechnology, breeding techniques and label preferences for GM foods.

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UF/IFAS research-based mosquito repellant recommendations for increased public safety

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Pests, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Homemade do-it-yourself remedies found online and circulated on social media should be regarded with cautious skepticism unless there is UF-based research supporting the product, according to researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

For example, there is no scientific evidence that eating garlic, vitamins, onions or any other food will make a person less attractive to host-seeking mosquitoes, UF/IFAS experts said.

UF/IFAS conducts research and extension on mosquito repellents, said Ken Gioeli, program Extension agent for natural resources and the environment for UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County.

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Plants labeled as ‘pollinator friendly’ attract consumers, UF/IFAS study finds

Topic(s): Agriculture, Economics, IFAS, Landscaping, Lawn & Garden, RECs, Research

Flowers and insects at the student gardens on the University of Florida campus. Butterfly. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

APOPKA, Fla. — If you’re browsing plants in a nursery or home-improvement store, labels such as “pollinator friendly” will likely influence which plants you end up buying, according to a recent study by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers.

Postdoctoral research associate Alicia Rihn and assistant professor Hayk Khachatryan co-authored the study, which appears in the journal HortScience. Both Rihn and Khachatryan are researchers in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education center in Apopka, Florida.

Rihn and Khachatryan wanted to know how labels such as “pollinator friendly” would influence consumer attitudes. “We wondered, which pollinator insect related labels are the most effective and which do consumers prefer?” Khachatryan said. “At the time of our study, these topics had not been addressed.”

The researchers surveyed more than 900 people from across the country who recently bought plants and measured their responses to several pollinator labels.

“When developing these test labels, we wanted a variety of options — some that were pollinator specific (for example, bee attractive, bee friendly, butterfly friendly, etcetera) and others that were more general (for example, pollinator attractive, pollinator friendly, plants for pollinators),” Khachatryan explained. “By covering both levels, we could determine if people were interested in helping pollinators (in general) or just specific types of pollinators (bees versus butterflies).”

The researchers found that people preferred general labels over specific ones, ‘pollinator friendly’ being the most preferred overall.

Given recent media coverage of bee health and population decline, the authors were anticipating more interest in bee-related promotions. However, consumers preferred ‘pollinator friendly’ labels over more specific bee-related labels.

“These results indicate that people want to benefit and attract all types of pollinators, not just insect pollinators,” Khachatryan said. For example, hummingbirds are pollinators but not insects.  A catch-all phrase such as ‘pollinator friendly’ lets retailers promote a plant in terms of its total — rather than specific — benefits to pollinators, he added.

The study suggests that pollinator promotions could help plant nurseries and retailers build consumer satisfaction and trust.

“Providing consumers with a product they support and want to purchase in order to do their part and help the pollinators is one way that companies can better serve their clientele,” Khachatryan noted. “In turn, this has potential to increase the availability of pollinator friendly plants in the landscape and assist in improving pollinator health.”

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

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By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Source: Hayk Khachatryan, 407-410-6951 hayk@ufl.edu

Half of South Florida structures at risk of subterranean termite infestation by 2040

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Pests, RECs, Research

Nan-Yao Su, a professor of entomology with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, examines a nest of the new Asian termite that is spreading in South Florida -- Friday, April 8, 2004. The pest was found in Key West and Miami a few years ago, and now UF researchers have discovered a well-established population in Riviera Beach, more than 70 miles north of Miami. Su, based at UF’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, said he is not sure how much farther north the tropical species can move and survive.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Figure this: Asian and Formosan subterranean termites cause about $32 billion in damage annually, worldwide, when you combine harm to structures and measures to control them. Now, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers predict these pests will dramatically increase their impact in the next two decades in South Florida and possibly across the nation.

In fact, UF/IFAS entomologists estimate subterranean termite activity will expand, meaning half the structures in South Florida will be at risk of infestation by subterranean termites by 2040.

Assistant Researcher Thomas Chouvenc, Distinguished Professor Nan-Yao Su and Professor Rudy Scheffrahn will publish their new study in June in the journal Florida Entomologist.

Six invasive termite species are now established in Florida, and among these, the Formosan subterranean termite, the Asian subterranean termite and the West Indian drywood termite pose particular concern for residents and the pest-control industry because they cause most of the structural damage.

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UF/IFAS event unveils latest turfgrass research

Topic(s): Agriculture, Extension, IFAS, Landscaping, Lawn & Garden, Research

Urban development in Florida - coupled with the growth of the nation's largest golf course industry - is driving the huge demand for turfgrass.

JAY, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty will showcase the latest turfgrass research June 15 at the twenty-second annual UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Turfgrass Field Day and Expo.

The UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center will host the field day and expo, which is co-sponsored by the Gulf Coast Golf Course Superintendents Association, said J. Bryan Unruh, professor of environmental horticulture and associate center director of UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center.

Green industry representatives, UF/IFAS Master Gardeners and anyone interested in turfgrass are invited. In past years, the field day and expo has drawn around 300 people from Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, Unruh said.

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Ambrosia beetle spreads dangerous avocado pathogen

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Pests, RECs, Research

Jonathan Crane, professor of horticultural sciences, inspecting an avocado tree at the Tropical Research and Education Center.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As the laurel wilt pathogen casts a cloud over the $100-million-a-year Florida avocado industry, University of Florida researchers continue to look for clues to prevent the pathogen from spreading.

The main culprit has been the redbay ambrosia beetle, which has infected millions of native redbay and swampbay trees with the laurel wilt pathogen, but it is rarely seen in commercial avocado orchards.

UF/IFAS scientists now know that several other ambrosia beetles are carrying the laurel wilt pathogen; two native ambrosia beetles are capable of carrying it and transmitting the disease to avocados, said Daniel Carrillo, a UF/IFAS assistant professor in tropical fruit entomology.

Scientists at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida, are focused on understanding and then disrupting the association between these native beetles and laurel wilt, said Carrillo, a faculty member at the Tropical REC. This spring, Carrillo detected an outbreak of another ambrosia beetle, the Tea Shot Hole Borer, which can spread another disease of avocados known as fusarium wilt.

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UF/IFAS study: Wood toxin could harm zoo animals

Topic(s): Environment, IFAS, Research, Soil and Water Science

Arsenic zoos 051216

Please see caption below story

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When those cute animals gnaw on wood enclosures at a zoo, they may be risking their health by ingesting toxic levels of arsenic, so zoo managers need to pay attention to the potential risk of the wood on zoo animals, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

The wood in question is treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which can be toxic.

After visiting a zoo with her family, Julia Gress, a former post-doctoral researcher in the UF/IFAS soil and water sciences department, recognized that animals living in enclosures made from CCA-treated wood might face health risks.

Gress wanted to assess the impact of CCA-treated wood on arsenic exposures in zoo animals. She measured arsenic concentrations in soil from inside enclosures and on wipe samples of CCA-treated wood. Samples were taken from inside 17 wood enclosures, and also included crocodilian eggs, bird feathers, marmoset hair and porcupine quills.

Researchers found arsenic levels in soil that were higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s risk-based level for birds and mammals. As well, arsenic levels in some animal tissues were also higher than those in other studies.  Those findings should encourage zoo managers to limit animal exposure to arsenic found on the wood surface and in nearby soil, Gress said.

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UF/IFAS Bug Week focuses on “Big Money Bugs” that generate economic damages, benefits

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biocontrols, Citrus, Crops, Economics, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Families and Consumers, Household Pests, IFAS, Invasive Species, Lawn & Garden, Pests
The invasive Asian citrus psyllid.

The invasive Asian citrus psyllid. UF/IFAS photo by Michael Rogers. Click for high-red image.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Call them Florida’s “Big Money Bugs” – the insects responsible for the greatest economic damages, costs and benefits that arthropods generate in the Sunshine State.

This year, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) focuses on Big Money Bugs for its annual Bug Week, May 21 to 27. The event offers educational outreach for the public while showcasing UF/IFAS’ entomology and nematology program, one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive.

Visit the Bug Week website at http://bugs.ufl.edu for more information, including profiles on six of the state’s most economically significant arthropods. Among these species are the destructive Asian citrus psyllid and Formosan subterranean termite, topics of great concern, said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“In recent years, pest insects have had enormous negative impacts on our state,” Payne said. “Bug Week is the perfect opportunity for UF/IFAS to raise awareness about the challenges these pests bring about, in terms of lost agricultural and natural resources production, management costs, and even human and veterinary healthcare issues, in some instances.”

Species profiled on the Bug Week website include:

*The Asian citrus psyllid, which cost the state’s citrus industry $7.8 billion in total economic contributions from crop losses during the 2006-07 through 2012-13 growing seasons;

*The Formosan subterranean termite, the most destructive widespread termite species in Florida;

*Invasive yellow fever and Asian tiger mosquitoes, which are known to transmit viral diseases in Florida and believed to transmit Zika virus in other countries;

*Beneficial honeybees, which help make Florida the nation’s third-largest honey producer as well as a top source of rental honey bee colonies used to pollinate crops. (more …)

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