October 23, 2018
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Getting the jump on invasive pests before they spread in Maine

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry | BDN
Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry | BDN
The leek moth (Acrolepiopsis assectella) is an invasive pest discovered in Maine in 2017. It's larva feed on allium plants like onions, leeks and garlic causing damage and economic loss.

Think of it as an invasive pest early warning system.

There no figures kept at the state level but according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, invasive species cause more than $100 billion in harm nationwide to agriculture, natural resources and human health.

So it makes sense those working closely with those industries in the state want to stop invasive species in their tracks before they get into Maine, or control further spread if they step over state lines.

That’s where the Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey — or CAPS — comes in. It’s the national pest detection program aimed at keeping the country’s agriculture and natural resources safe from invasive insects and plants.

At the state level, Maine’s agriculture, forestry and natural resource agencies work with staff from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension with agents from the federal United States Department of Agriculture to conduct pest surveys.

Every year, according to Karen Coluzzi, state pest survey coordinator with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry division of animal and plant health, the USDA publishes a national list of 100 or so invasive plants and insects that could become a direct threat to the country’s native species.

Coluzzi and her partners from the other agencies study that list and determine which species — plant or insects — on that list could have Maine in their sights.

The idea, she said, is to ensure new introduction of harmful plant pests and diseases are detected as soon as possible before they can cause significant damage or economic losses.

Once the potential Maine invasive pests are selected, Coluzzi said she and her team then identify specific locations in the state where they could show up — farms, nurseries or other natural resource industry spots — and concentrate their efforts monitoring and surveying those locations.

How they go about surveying for the targeted pests depends largely on the species in question, Coluzzi said.

“Each pest has an approved method of collection,” she said. “Those methods are established by the science and technical branch of the USDA.”

The most common method, Coluzzi said, is placing pheromone traps at those targeted spots, which use species-specific hormones — chemicals secreted by members of that species — to attract the opposite sex.

Among those of pests concern, she said, is the “leek moth,” a member of the family Acrolepiidae and which invades plants of the Allium family including onions, garlic, leeks, chives and shallots.

It was first discovered in the US in 2009 and Coluzzi said it has been confirmed in Maine in the Jackman area and now it is among the invasives she and her fellow bug watchers are working to control before is spreads farther.

When a pest is found and identified, Coluzzi said she and her fellow CAPS team members swing into action. Like the surveying techniques, it’s dependent on the pest.

“But regardless there is a rapid response in which we delineate the area and conduct further trapping to get an idea of how extensive the infestation might be,” Coluzzi said.

From that point the response strategy could be some type of quarantine measures to prevent its movement to other areas or stronger measures to eradicate the species before it spreads.

“CAPS is really about early detection and rapid response,” Coluzzi said. “The earlier you find something, the faster you can do something about it with management, treatment or eradication and prevention.”

In an effort to get the public involved with invasive pest detection and prevention, Coluzzi is also active on social media with Maine Bug Watch on Facebook. Maine Bug Watch is primarily an informational page that alerts citizens to local, regional and national insect pest issues, she said. In addition, fun insect facts may pop up once in while also.

“It is important to remember that the majority of insects in the world are beneficial and we likely wouldn’t be alive without them, Coluzzi said. “Identifying an insect species before applying pest control is strongly recommended.”

People interested in invasive insects can follow the Facebook page and post their own sightings and share general insect information.

Coluzzi wants her Maine Bug Watch to reach a wide audience, and it appears to be working.

“I will post information about things like ticks or ask people to report on sightings of brown stink bugs,” she said. “In fact, when I posted about the brown stink bug, I gained 1,200 new followers.”

Saying she is a “one woman show,” Coluzzi said she would love to answer every insect and pest question she gets online but that is not always possible.

“I do direct people to [www.gotpests.org] which is a fantastic resource to help identify insects or and what you can do about them,” she said. “Of course, I also like to remind people that of all the insects we have in Maine, 95 percent of them are not harmful.”

As for the other 5 percent?

“We need to care about invasive species,” Coluzzi said. “History has shown us that while not all exotics are bad, there are a percentage that become ‘invasive’ and find a happy niche on a plant or other host. Because they are coming in from away, they don’t bring natural enemies and that allows their populations to grow uncontrollably.”

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