IFAS News

University of Florida

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

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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 …)

UF/IFAS study: More sea turtles survive with less beach debris

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, IFAS, RECs, Research

 

Sea turtle swimming through the water.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Conventional wisdom says removing beach debris helps sea turtles nest; now, as sea-turtle nesting season gets underway, a new University of Florida study proves it. In the study, clearing the beach of flotsam and jetsam increased the number of nests by as much as 200 percent, while leaving the detritus decreased the number by nearly 50 percent.

Sea turtles in Florida are classified as either endangered or threatened, depending on the species. Restoring their nesting habitats is critical to keeping them alive, said Ikuko Fujisaki, an assistant research professor of wildlife ecology and conservation with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

With humans encroaching on their natural habitat, sea turtles face an uphill climb to stay alive, said Fujisaki, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the sea, but they rely on sandy beaches to reproduce.

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UF/IFAS short course cultivates relationships millions of years in the making

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Environment, Extension, Green Living, IFAS, New Technology, Research

Mycorrhiziae under a microscope

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Not all fungal infections are bad for plants—in fact, some of them are critical for plant survival, according University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers.

The UF/IFAS Applications and Analyses of Mycorrhizal Associations course teaches participants how to harness the power of these beneficial fungi. Andy Ogram, professor of soil and water sciences, and Abid Al Agely, senior biological scientist, co-founded the course.

Mycorrhizal fungi live in the soil and have a symbiotic relationship with plants. “The fungi actually function like part of the root systems,” and can be cooperative with 90 percent of plants, said Ogram. This mutually beneficial relationship is called a mycorrhizal association and is technically an infection, though a positive one.

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UF/IFAS study: Citizen scientists can help protect endangered species

Topic(s): Environment, IFAS, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Lay people can help scientists conserve the protected Florida fox squirrel and endangered species just by collecting data, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

So-called citizen scientists did a commendable job collecting information on the fox squirrel, according to the study.

Until this study, the conservation and management of fox squirrels in Florida was constrained by a lack of reliable information on the factors influencing its distribution. But with this research, which combines sightings and photos of fox squirrels by everyday citizens and professional ecologists, scientists now know they can get help from citizen scientists in conserving the fox squirrel population.

“When citizens are used in research to find animals across large scales, such as the state of Florida, they provide lots of information that is generally useful for conservation efforts,” said Bob McCleery, a UF/IFAS associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation. “We showed that data collected by citizens has a considerable amount of biases, but it is equal, if not better, than data collected by trained professionals. Additionally, regardless of its bias, citizen-collected data provided reliable predictions of fox squirrel occurrence and helped understand fox squirrel habitat relationships.”

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Warriors on the Water event to host veterans on May 15

Topic(s): Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS

JENSEN BEACH, Fla. — The Friends of Savannas Preserve State Park will host a free event—Warriors on the Water—for local veterans and their spouses on Sunday, May 15th, from 8:30 am until 1:00 pm.  Warriors on the Water is designed to connect veterans with the serenity and wonder of Florida’s natural systems. The event is co-hosted by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Florida Master Naturalists – St. Lucie Chapter.

Participants will have the opportunity to enjoy guided interpretive walks through the pine flatwoods, take a one-hour guided kayak trip through the pristine Savannas basin marsh and tour the Savannas Education Center.  Participants may also peruse display tables hosted by local businesses, and enjoy a free lunch sponsored by the Friends of Savannas Preserve State Park and park volunteers.

“We could not offer this event without the support of our park volunteers and partners,” says Wren Underwood, Park Services Specialist at Savannas Preserve State Park. “Warriors on the Water is truly a community event and involves many partners, including Friends of Savannas Preserve State Park, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, UF/IFAS Florida Master Naturalists – St. Lucie Chapter, Heroes on the Water, Fleet Feet, South River Outfitters, and Sea Coast Bank.  Everyone wants to be a part of this give-back event.”

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Globally recognized entomologist named interim director of UF/IFAS Indian River REC

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, Cultivars, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, RECs, Research, Safety

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Ron Cave

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — An entomologist recognized internationally as a specialist in biological control of insect pests has been named interim director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Indian River Research and Education Center.

Ronald Cave will serve as the sixth leader of the Indian River REC.

From the Indian River REC’s 1947 start as the Indian River Field Laboratory, it has served agricultural and natural resources interests with research, Extension and education programs.

Cave was appointed to his new position by Jack Payne, UF senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources.

“In this challenging time for the citrus industry and for other agricultural commodities, we cannot afford a leadership gap even for a few months,” Payne said. “Ron Cave is the right leader for this transition because of his accomplishments as a scientist, his dedication as a mentor and his familiarity with the center. It’s this combination of excellence and stability that makes him an ideal choice for this important role.”

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UF/IFAS soil and water sciences chair earns National Wetlands Award

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Soil and Water Science

Konda R. Reddy (Ramesh), Graduate Research Prof & Chair, Ph.D., Soil and Water Science, Gamma Sigma Delta awards ceremony 2007. UF/IFAS Photo: Thomas Wright.

Ramesh Reddy

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For his 40 years of groundbreaking work on nutrient cycling in wetlands aquatic systems, the chairman of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences soil and water sciences department has been named a winner of the National Wetlands Award.

Professor K. Ramesh Reddy is among five recipients of this year’s National Wetlands Awards, given by the Environmental Law Institute. Now in its 27th year, the program has recognized nearly 200 people from across the country for their exceptional and innovative contributions to wetlands conservation. The award recipients will be honored in Washington, D.C., during American Wetlands Month. The award ceremony is on May 11.

“As we walk through a wetland, we all admire beautiful plants, flowers, birds and other wildlife, and flowing water, but we rarely think about the ‘living soil’ under our feet,” Reddy said. “The chemical and biological processes in the soil essentially control the majority of functions and ecosystem services that provide wetlands. This is similar to the ‘brain’ orchestrating the many functions of human body.

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UF/IFAS study: Highway noise deters communication between birds

Topic(s): Environment, IFAS, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — New research from University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers shows birds may be avoiding habitats near noisy highways because they can’t hear fellow birds’ alarms that warn them of attacking hawks or owls.

Some highways cut through or run along natural areas, and researchers know that wild birds often make their homes away from those highways, but they don’t know why.

UF/IFAS researchers tested whether highway noise could be interfering with bird communication. Results of their study suggest too much noise around these highways keeps birds from hearing warnings from fellow birds about predators in the area, and that puts them at a higher risk of being eaten. It is also possible that the birds are hearing the alarms, but are too distracted by the noise to respond to them.

The researchers caution that they did not establish a causal link between highway noise and bird population reductions, although noise-disrupting alarm calls is a compelling possibility.

“Conservation of bird species should include decreasing noise in sensitive wildlife areas,” said Aaron Grade, who led the study as part of his master’s thesis in the UF/IFAS wildlife ecology and conservation department.

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