IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS citizen scientists work to monitor, report invasive reptile species in south Florida

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

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FORT PIERCE, Fla. — The toughest part of wrangling a Burmese python is not pinning it down, but getting the entire 7-foot long snake into the cotton snake bag, said Ellen Butler, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Master Naturalist.

“He almost got away from me,” she said. “I frankly can still not believe that I did it. Now when I’m in the field and I come across a snake, I have a lot more confidence.”

Butler is one of several Florida Master Naturalists who learned to catch Burmese pythons to complete their Master Naturalist final project on invasive reptiles. Those who complete this project can become citizen scientists in the Everglades Invasive Reptile and Amphibian Monitoring (EIRAMP) Citizen Science Program.

These citizen scientists help researchers collect data on invasive species in south Florida and educate the public about the issue. Invasive species are animals that are not native to the region and compete with native species, which can throw ecosystems out of balance.

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UF/IFAS study: Rhesus macaques may be preying on bird eggs in Silver Springs

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

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Rhesus macaques, primates brought from Asia in the 1930s to entice more tourists to an area now known as Silver Springs State Park, likely prey on eggs of the park’s birds, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

A group of UF/IFAS researchers used camera traps next to 100 artificial bird nests baited with quail eggs near the Silver River. Researchers placed nests in shrubs and left them for 12 days, which represents the incubation period of many of the park’s songbirds, like Northern Cardinals.

Rhesus macaques preyed on 21 of the 100 nests, the study showed. Creatures other than macaques preyed on another nine nests and an unidentified predator ate eggs from five nests. The study results do not suggest rhesus macaques are destroying 21 percent of native bird nests, said Steve Johnson, a UF/IFAS associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation.

However, the study does confirm rhesus macaques in Silver Springs State Park will consume eggs when they find them in natural habitat, Johnson said.

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Radio tracking helps hunt Burmese pythons

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

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When invasive Burmese pythons are breeding, radio-tracking one python can help find and capture more, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher says.

Thus, UF/IFAS scientists say this technique can help them remove the pythons.

“This is one more tool we can add to our tool box to help us combat this invasive species,” said Brian Smith, a graduate student in the UF/IFAS wildlife ecology and conservation department and lead author of a new study documenting the radio-tagging experiment. “It is also complementary to our current removal tool, in which we drive on roads and levees to capture moving pythons. It’s complementary because it’s effective at a time of year when we do not catch pythons on the road, and also because it provides more opportunities to catch the really big, breeding females.”

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UF/IFAS researchers try to cut costs to control aquatic invasive plants in Florida

Topic(s): Aquaculture, Biocontrols, Economics, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Invasive Species

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Of all the invasive plants in Florida’s waterways, hydrilla costs the most to contain — $66 million over a seven-year period, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher says.

But UF/IFAS researchers are finding new ways to use less chemical treatment, and thus less money, to manage hydrilla.

From 2008 to 2015, state and federal water resource managers spent about $125 million to control invasive aquatic plants, according to an April Extension document co-written by Lyn Gettys, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agronomy and aquatic weed specialist. You can find the document here: http://bit.ly/28UsGoh.

Of that $125 million, about $66 million goes to control hydrilla, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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UF/IFAS Mole Cricket Biological Control Program saves state millions

Topic(s): Agriculture, Departments, Economics, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Invasive Species, Pests, RECs, Research

Howard Frank,left and Tom Walker check two-part trap that uses synthesized mole cricket calls to monitor both mole crickets and the beneficial flies that locate their hosts by sounds.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In a recent study, researchers with the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in cooperation with Florida A&M University economists estimated that a 34-year program to control invasive pest mole crickets in the state has saved cattlemen approximately 13.6 million dollars a year. Over the long term, that figure balloons to 453 million dollars.

“The partnership with the State of Florida has been crucial to controlling the mole crickets,” said Norm Leppla, a UF/IFAS professor of entomology and nematology. “The Mole Cricket Biological Control Program has been worth every penny invested by the Florida Legislature and other stakeholders in the state.”

UF/IFAS researchers remember when the mole crickets reached outbreak levels in Florida during the mid-1900s and began wreaking hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of damage to crops, pastures and turf. Cattlemen were beside themselves as they watched the tiny insects tear across their pastures like a biblical swarm of locusts. The effects were devastating, but not irreversible.

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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

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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.

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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 scientists to present plant diagnostic data at D.C. conference

Topic(s): Crops, Economics, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Invasive Species, Pests

 

Carrie Harmon photographed for the 2011 FAES Awards.  Associate In, MS.  Mycology.  Plant Pathology.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Plant Diagnostic Center will help shed light on potentially devastating plant diseases at the 4th National Meeting of the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN) in Washington, D.C.

Held every three to four years, this year’s conference will take place March 8 to 12 in the nation’s capital.

Among those representing UF will be Jason Smith, a UF/IFAS associate professor of forest pathology. Smith’s topic is titled, “Holy Guacamole: Insights into the Emerging Laurel Wilt Pandemic.”

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UF/IFAS researcher: Newly-identified fungal pathogens may help control invasive grass

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biocontrols, Environment, IFAS, Invasive Species, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have found that newly identified fungal pathogens may suppress an aggressive, invasive grass that is spreading throughout the eastern United States.

Luke Flory, an assistant professor of ecology in the agronomy department, and his team visited more than 80 sites in 18 states and conducted a multi-year field experiment. They documented the recent emergence and accumulation over time of new fungal pathogens. Flory’s results also show that the pathogens have the potential to cause declines in populations of the invasive grass, also known as microstegium vimineum.

“Invasive species, in this case an introduced grass, are often successful because they escape their natural enemies. Here, we looked for new enemies in the introduced range—pathogens that might attack the invasive species,” Flory explained. “We found that pathogens are actually reducing the growth and reproduction of the invasive grass. These results are exciting because the invasive grass may not need to be managed by other means.”

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UF/IFAS officials credit teamwork for victory over invasive Oriental fruit fly; end of quarantine means return to business as usual for Miami-Dade County growers

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Female Oriental fruit fly. Click on image for high-res version. Cutline at bottom.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The lifting of an agricultural quarantine in Miami-Dade County on Feb. 13 signaled victory over the invasive Oriental fruit fly and a return to business as usual for growers within a 99 square-mile area that includes vegetable farms, nurseries, packing houses, residential neighborhoods and much of the state’s commercial tropical fruit acreage.

Officials with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences credit the success story to determination and teamwork by a partnership of growers, landscapers, homeowners, government officials and agency personnel, and UF/IFAS Extension faculty.

“Our personnel played a vital role in bringing the quarantine to a quick ending, by facilitating clear communication between producers and agency personnel,” said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “The good guys won, and we’re proud that we helped make it happen.”

Numerous UF/IFAS Extension faculty took part in a statewide effort known as the Oriental Fruit Fly Eradication Program, or OFF Program, he said. Funded and overseen by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the OFF Program also included representatives of the FDACS Division of Plant Industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection — Plant Protection Quarantine, the Miami-Dade County Agricultural Manager’s office, Miami-Dade County officials and growers’ organizations.

“Our faculty helped growers and regulators understand each other’s point of view,” Payne said. “Both sides were very motivated and once they recognized the need for cooperation, it wasn’t difficult to build consensus on a science-based plan to eradicate the fly.” Continue reading

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