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Floridians passionate about, but puzzled by, endangered and invasive species

Topic(s): Conservation, Invasive Species, Research

 

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Floridians would likely support a 1 percent sales tax bump to prevent and eradicate disruptive invasive species, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences public opinion survey shows.

The survey also shows that residents say they’re not as up to speed on endangered and invasive species as they would like to be.

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UF/IFAS is crawling with excitement as annual Bug Week nears

Topic(s): Announcements, Entomology and Nematology, Household Pests, IFAS, Invasive Species, Pests

Bug Week

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is hosting its second annual Bug Week May 19-23 with activities for students, families and bug lovers around the nation.

“The UF Department of Entomology and Nematology is one of the best in the country,” said Ruth Hohl Borger, assistant vice president for UF/IFAS Communications. “Bug Week is a great opportunity for our researchers to excite the imaginations of children – and children at heart – about the bugs that live among us.” (more …)

UF/IFAS researchers start to pinpoint biological control for Brazilian peppertree

Topic(s): Biocontrols, Crops, Entomology and Nematology, IFAS, Invasive Species, Pests

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A South American insect could help control the invasive Brazilian peppertree in places where it supplants critical habitat for many organisms, according to University of Florida and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists.

Brazilian peppertree has clusters of hundreds of small, red berries, and grows about 10 feet per year, to about 30 feet. It is native to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The tree has moved around the world as an ornamental plant and has become invasive in several states and countries, including Florida, Texas and Hawaii as well as Australia, New Zealand and some Caribbean islands.

In Florida, Brazilian peppertree has infested nearly 700,000 acres in the central and southern regions. It has been particularly abundant in the Everglades. In general, the trees take over space where native plants should be. Animals such as white-tailed deer, the Florida panther and migratory birds that depend on native vegetation, such as mangrove, for food and shelter are deprived of that habitat.

“This can have cascading effects through the food chain,” said Bill Overholt, an entomology professor at UF’s Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce.

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New study finds Burmese pythons have homing sense

Topic(s): Invasive Species, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If you pick them up and drop them in a new location, most snakes will move rapidly but erratically, often traversing the same terrain before giving up and settling into their new digs.

Burmese pythons aren’t most snakes.

A team of researchers including scientists from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has discovered that the giant snakes – which have invaded and affected the food chain in Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve – can find their way home even when moved more than 20 miles away.

The findings, to be published March 19 by the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, change how researchers understand pythons’ behaviors and intellect.

“This is way more sophisticated behavior than we’ve been attributing to them,” said Frank Mazzotti, a UF/IFAS wildlife ecology and conservation professor based at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. “It’s one of those things where nature makes us go ‘wow.’ That is truly the significance of this.”

In 2006 and 2007, researchers captured 12 pythons and surgically implanted radio transmitters that allowed them to track the snakes’ movements. As a control group, they returned six of the snakes to the spot of their capture and turned them loose.

The remaining six snakes were taken to spots ranging from 13 to 22 miles away from where they had been captured and turned loose. To the researchers’ surprise, the snakes oriented themselves toward “home” and maintained their bearings as they traveled.

And although it took between 94 and 296 days for five of the six snakes to get within three miles of home, partly due to it being the snakes’ dormant season, the reptiles kept that orientation – a clear signal to scientists that the snakes have both “map” and “compass” senses.

The relocated snakes appeared to use local cues at the release site to understand their position relative to home (the map sense), and appeared to use cues along the way (their compass sense) to ensure that they remained on track, although the researchers don’t yet know what those cues are: smell, perhaps the stars, light or some kind of magnetic force.

Mazzotti said it’s helpful for researchers to know that the snakes move purposefully through their environment, but in reality, it’s not that much help.

“It amps up a little bit our concern about the snakes, but given all the other things we know about pythons, the amount of increasing concern is minor,” he said.

The Burmese python has been an invasive species in South Florida since about 2000 likely stemming from accidental or purposeful releases by former pet owners. The largest python found in the Everglades area had grown to more than 18 feet.

The snakes suffocate and eat even large animals, such as deer and alligators, and in 2012, a research team that included Mazzotti found severe declines in sightings in python-heavy areas of native animals including raccoons, opossum, bobcats and rabbits.

In 2012, the federal government banned the import and interstate trade of four exotic snake species: the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda, and North and South African python.

Besides Mazzotti, the team of authors behind the Biology Letters paper include lead author Shannon Pittman, a doctoral candidate at University of Missouri-Columbia; Kristen Hart, a United States Geological Survey researcher, Michael Cherkiss, a USGS senior wildlife biologist; Skip Snow, a United States National Park Service biologist, Ikuko Fujisaki, a quantitative ecologist with the Fort Lauderdale REC, Brian Smith, a USGS biologist and Michael Dorcas, a Davidson College biology professor.

A link to frequently asked questions:

http://www.usgs.gov/faq/categories/10721/4751

Contacts

Writer: Mickie Anderson, 352-273-3566, mickiea@ufl.edu

Source: Frank Mazzotti, 954-577-6338, fjma@ufl.edu

Photo caption: A snake handler displays a Burmese python for onlookers at the 2013 Python Challenge event at the Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie, Florida. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Local residents can give up exotic animals at UF pet amnesty event April 16

Topic(s): Announcements, Conservation, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Invasive Species

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Exotic pets can be fun, but if animals become too big, too costly or too difficult to manage, the enjoyment may disappear and owners may start looking for ways to make the animals do the same.

Unfortunately, some of these pet owners turn their critters loose in the wild – that’s one reason Florida has more invasive reptile and amphibian species than any other place on Earth. In fact, the Sunshine State is now home to so many Burmese pythons that earlier this year officials held a competition to capture and remove the huge constrictors, which are blamed for decimating native wildlife.

To discourage future releases of unwanted pets, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to present the area’s first Exotic Pet Amnesty Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16.

The event is free and open to the public. Animals will be accepted with no questions asked at the Straughn IFAS Extension Professional Development Center, 2142 Shealy Drive, just off S.W. 16th Ave. near the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.

Simultaneously, there will be an educational display on the J. Wayne Reitz Student Union colonnade.

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Study: UF/IFAS weed science program ranks high for research publishing

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Environment, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Invasive Species, New Technology, Research

 Pigweed

Pigweed, pictured here, poses one of Florida’s biggest weed-management challenges. UF/IFAS photo by Thomas Wright

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Integrated weed management, or IWM, is a management option for crop producers who want to fight weeds using every available technology; it involves three activities – scouting, prevention and control – coordinated to discourage weeds from growing in the first place.

Producers have been slow to adopt IWM, but a team of scientists with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences say it can be a sustainable, affordable choice.

In fact, the team publishes so much research on the subject that they earned UF several top five results in a recent study that assessed the productivity of weed science teams worldwide.

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UF entomologist Roxanne Connelly leads American Mosquito Control Association

Topic(s): Announcements, Conservation, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Families and Consumers, Green Living, Household Pests, IFAS, Invasive Species

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When questions arise about mosquito control, University of Florida entomologist Roxanne Connelly is one of the state’s most sought-after experts. Now, that expertise has earned her the presidency of a national organization.

Connelly, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, was inducted Feb. 27 as president of the American Mosquito Control Association at the association’s annual meeting in Atlantic City, N.J. She’ll serve a one-year term.

“I’m very pleased about it,” Connelly said in a March interview. “Holding this position is really an honor for me because I was elected to it.”

The election happened at the 2010 AMCA annual meeting, where members voted Connelly to a four-year leadership stint. In 2011 she began by serving a one-year term as vice president, then another year as president-elect, and now president. In 2014 she’ll become immediate past president.

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UF School of Forest Resources and Conservation sets Spring Celebration for April 5-6

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Biocontrols, Biofuels, CALS, Conservation, Crops, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, Forestry, IFAS, Invasive Species, New Technology, Research

Austin Cary Memorial Forest. UF/IFAS Photo by Dawn McKinstry.

UF/IFAS file photo of Austin Cary Forest palmetto and pine, by Dawn McKinstry

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — This spring, the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation has two reasons to celebrate:

One is the annual SFRC Spring Celebration on April 5-6. Here, alumni and friends of the School reconnect, recreate and learn about SFRC’s latest achievements.

The other reason: This year’s celebration includes a special milestone — groundbreaking for the new Austin Cary Forest Learning Center at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 6.

Dignitaries speaking at the groundbreaking include UF President Bernie Machen and UF Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources Jack Payne.

“This groundbreaking marks a huge step forward for the School of Forest Resources and Conservation,” Payne said. “Thousands will benefit from activities on-site at the new Learning Center, and many programs taught here will be offered via distance education to audiences statewide and beyond.”

The 7,800 square-foot building will facilitate education and outreach events at Austin Cary Forest. It’s larger and better-equipped than the conference center it replaces, said Tim White, director of the School. That facility fell victim to a fire in July 2011.

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UF/IFAS expert: Female mosquitoes become savvy about other-species suitors

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Families and Consumers, Household Pests, IFAS, Invasive Species, RECs

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Talk about meeting Mr. Wrong.

Female yellow fever mosquitoes sometimes contend with the courtship and mating efforts of males from another, competing species – the Asian tiger mosquito.

She’s naïve, he’s sneaky. Both species spread dengue, a viral disease that’s a major human health threat.

In an ironic turnabout, Florida dengue cases may rise in the near future due to female yellow fever mosquitoes becoming savvy about the false-flag suitors, leading to increased yellow fever mosquito populations, says an expert with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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Soil “transplants” may hinder Diaprepes weevil in flatwoods citrus, UF/IFAS researchers say

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biocontrols, Citrus, Environment, Invasive Species, New Technology, Pests

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Adult Diaprepes citrus weevil. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service. Click here for high-res image.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Diaprepes citrus weevil is often more abundant in finely textured, poorly drained flatwoods soils than in the sandy soil varieties of Florida’s Central Ridge; perhaps that’s because sandy soils seem to host more species of nematodes that prey on insects.

Researchers with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science have taken those observations and turned them into a potential management technique, using “transplanted” soil and nematodes to grow flatwoods citrus. Their results appear in the January issue of the journal Biological Control.

In the study, researchers conducted experiments at a weevil-infested flatwoods citrus grove in Osceola County. They planted 50 trees in oversized holes filled with sand, and 50 trees in native soil, then introduced predatory nematodes to most of the trees. For the next four years, researchers monitored nematode and weevil populations and checked tree health.

The results showed there were more predatory nematodes of more species — and fewer weevils — in the root zones of trees planted in sandy soil. By the study’s end, 21 trees in native soil had died of weevil herbivory, compared with three trees in sandy soil. Surviving trees in sandy soil also had 60 percent greater trunk diameter and produced 85 percent more fruit than those in native soil.

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