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How to Tackle an Invasive Species Crisis? Build a Collaborative Team

Brown marmorated stink bug adult and nymph

The arrival of the invasive brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), adult (left) and nymph shown here, drove a far-reaching, collaborative response by researchers, integrated pest management professionals, government agencies, and growers. A new article in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management looks back at this experience to share lessons learned for future invasive-species response efforts. (Photo by Stephen Ausmus, U.S. Department of Agriculture, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

By Tracy Leskey, Ph.D.

Tracy Leskey, Ph.D.

Tracy Leskey, Ph.D.

Brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), an invasive species native to Asia, was officially identified in the United States in 2001 from specimens collected in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Less than a decade later, by the summer of 2010, populations had exploded across the mid-Atlantic, feeding on numerous specialty crops such as apples (Fig. 1), peaches, tomatoes, and peppers as well as row crops such as corn and soybean. The result was catastrophic crop injury and millions of dollars in losses for growers. Seemingly overnight, the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) had become one of the most severe agricultural pests in the United States.

Just a few months prior to this explosion, a group of entomologists from USDA-ARS and regional land grant universities formed a BMSB Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Working Group. Their first meeting was in June 2010. Attendees listened to regional growers discuss how BMSB was causing severe problems on their farms. Nuisance problems generated by BMSB also were becoming acute; a hotel manager described frequent guest complaints generated by BMSB presence in hotel rooms. It was clear there was much to learn about BMSB and how to manage it effectively. Based on the needs raised by these stakeholders, priorities to guide future research and Extension/outreach efforts were developed by Working Group members.

These priorities also provided the framework for a successful grant proposal submitted by Working Group members to the Specialty Crop Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The goal of what eventually became known as the StopBMSB project was to “develop economically and environmentally sustainable pest management practices for the brown marmorated stink bug in specialty crops and to implement a coordinated, rapid delivery system to disseminate critical information generated from this project to specialty crop end-users.” Several members of this team and I have co-authored a retrospective article that examines the collaborative response to BMSB and lessons learned along the way, published this week in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management.

For these ambitious goals to be achieved, collaborative efforts were essential. Indeed, team members from across the country and from diverse fields began to work together to answer many critical questions regarding BMSB biology, ecology, and management. Phone calls, emails, workshops, and meetings were frequent. New information generated was immediately shared among StopBMSB team members as well as the wider community via the BMSB IPM Working Group and StopBMSB listservs.

For affected growers, the need for information to stave off the threat posed by BMSB was critical. The StopBMSB team responded by generating short-term management solutions and delivering this information in nearly 800 Extension and outreach talks that reached an estimated 22,000 stakeholder contacts. An associated Stakeholder Advisory Panel provided valuable feedback annually, ensuring that stakeholder needs and research, Extension, and outreach priorities were being met. Their recommendations led to the production of a national pocket-sized stink bug identification guide, a “crops at risk” infographic, other informational tools (Fig. 2), and provisional guidance documents for managing BMSB in specialty crops (Fig. 3) by the StopBMSB team.

BMSB SCRI research team, 2012

Figure 4. Not long after the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) became a serious crop pest in the United States, a large working group of researchers formed and earned a grant from the Specialty Crop Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to support efforts to mitigate the pest’s impact. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Leskey, Ph.D.)

Additionally, information generated by the team was amplified by the project’s website (www.StopBMSB.org) which has had more than 400,000 visitors since its launch in 2012. Team members worked with media sources such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NPR to discuss research findings and created an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History featuring BMSB and the Asian egg parasitoid Trissolcus japonicus to amplify the project’s reach to millions of members of the general public, enabling them to learn about the serious issues generated by invasive species.

Ultimately, the rich outputs generated by the large and dedicated group of research and Extension personnel (Fig. 4) and the approximately 200 undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers who received specialized training as part of the project have resulted in a highly successful project that reduced the impact of BMSB in cropping systems and provided a template for future collaborative efforts combatting other invasive species.

Tracy Leskey, Ph.D., is the entomology research leader and director of Innovative Fruit Production, Improvement, and Protection at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service’s Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virginia. Email: tracy.leskey@ars.usda.gov.

2 Comments »

  1. I live in whatcom county, wa state. I have seen these insects wintering over in my patio and under wood scraps. When I find them, I crush them..Ruth.

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