Grant to help battle invasive spotted lanternfly
Penn State received a $7.3 million federal grant that will be used to bring more graduate, undergraduate and postdoctoral students into the growing field of spotted lanternfly research.
The four-year grant, announced Monday, comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is complemented by more than $5 million in matching funds from participating crop growers and landowners, according to a news release from Penn State.
The university is working with several institutions across the country with a combined 37 researchers and extension people involved in spotted lanternfly work, said Julie Urban, the project lead and an associate professor of entomology at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
Urban said the grant’s longevity makes it unique because lanternfly grants are typically for a year.
“To get best and brightest involved, we need multiyear funding to train students and postdocs. That’s what we’ll be able to do with this project,” she said. “We’ll be training the next generation of scientists who will be on the front lines of the next invasive species we see.”
The federal and state and have allocated millions to fighting the spotted lanternfly in the last few years. The winged pest is believed to have first landed in Berks County in 2012 and since has spread to 14 counties in Pennsylvania and parts of New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland. Officials are taking a three-pronged approach to combating the bug, with the federal government focused on the outer edges of the infestation, the state focused on the quarantine zones, and Penn State focused on educating people about the spotted lanternfly scourge.
The bugs, native to parts of Asia, harm trees, grapevines and other agricultural products by feeding on them and by excreting a sticky-sweet substance that leads to mold and hinders plants’ ability to photosynthesize.
Little was known about the insects when they were discovered in 2014, and now researchers are trying to learn more about their biology, their natural enemies, how they spread and how best to kill them.
The grant will go toward quantifying the lanternflies’ impact on crops and developing management tactics, research on the bugs’ biology and behavior, finding long-term and immediate management solutions and training.
Scientists have been challenged by an inability to successfully hatch and complete the life cycle of lanternflies in lab conditions. A USDA researcher in Maryland is trying to build a colony, Urban said.
Another USDA researcher is looking at the lanternfly’s natural enemies and has collected parasitoid wasps, known for laying their eggs inside lanternfly eggs.
Urban said there’s a range of research going on, from studying the effects of pesticides and fungi on lanternflies to how much they’re costing farmers to her own work on the types of bacteria that coevolved with lanternflies and help feed them from the inside out.
Morning Call reporter Michelle Merlin can be reached at 610-820-6533 or mmer[email protected]
Penn State received a $7.3 million federal grant that will be used to bring more graduate, undergraduate and postdoctoral students into the growing field of spotted lanternfly research. The four-year grant, announced Monday, comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is complemented by more than $5 million in matching funds from participating crop growers and landowners.