Grant to help bat­tle in­va­sive spot­ted lantern­fly

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Michelle Mer­lin

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]

MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

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.

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