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Category: Plant and Animal Health

Changes in a Key Source of Honey Bee Nutrition

A honey bee pollinating a flower

Goldenrod pollen is a key protein source for honey bees in the fall. Photo by David C. Smith, Williams College

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers who are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.

Honey bee health and climate change would both rank high on anyone’s list of hot topics in agriculture these days.

Lewis H. Ziska, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist, with what is part of the Northeast Climate Hub in Beltsville, Maryland, knows this. He also knows that any study involving both honey bees and climate change should be carefully conducted and cautiously interpreted.  Ziska has been studying the effects of climate change on plants since 1988. He has been focusing on how rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels accompanying climate change are affecting a wide range of plants—from important food crops to noxious weeds. Read more »

Biocontrol Staff Are Modern-Day MacGyvers in the Fight Against Invasive Beetle

Oobinator 2.0 on a tree

The streamlined design of Oobinator 2.0 improved the distribution of the wasps—each Oobinator containes 50 wasps that could be positioned at four distinct locations throughout the field site. Stingless wasps disperse in the field to search for EAB eggs that will serve as a host for its offspring.

Emerald ash borer (EAB) beetle is an invasive wood boring beetle, first detected in July 2002 in southeastern Michigan. The pest attacks and kills ash trees and it is responsible for the death and decline of tens of millions of ash in 25 states. EAB lives under the bark and when people move EAB-infested firewood they unknowingly move the pest. During EAB Awareness Week (May 22-28) leave HungryPests behind and don’t move firewood.

Do you remember the eighties television show MacGyver? Science genius turns secret agent. Each week Angus MacGyver—armed with only a pen, aerosol spray can and a Swiss Army knife—successfully disarms the bomb and saves the day! The following week, it’s a shoe horn, jumper cables and a screwdriver…then a thermos, belt buckle….you get the drift. Sixty minutes of ingenious, nail-biting problem-solving.

Although the show’s final episode aired almost 25 years ago, the spirit of Angus lives on at the USDA’s Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) biological control production facility, where USDA is strategically rearing natural enemies to combat this destructive pest.  Mass rearing biocontrol agents (stingless wasps) is a delicate process that’s time-sensitive, labor-intensive, and laden with problem-solving opportunities. Read more »

Smokejumpers Help Ohio Fight Beetle Fire

Smokejumpers joining the search for Asian longhorned beetles

Smokejumpers join the search for Asian longhorned beetles.

Smokejumpers are a unique breed.  They are people who are willing to jump, really parachute, out of an aircraft to provide a quick attack on forest fires. While smokejumpers are highly trained, experienced firefighters, they are also expert tree climbers. These firefighters usually work in rugged terrain, but travel all over the country to fight fires. Recently they traveled to Tate Township, Ohio to fight a fire of a different kind.

In April, the U.S. Forest Service sent smokejumpers to help the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) combat the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) by climbing trees in Tate Township, Ohio, about 40 minutes outside of Cincinnati. The beetle is destroying trees in this area and the goal is to find infested tree quickly before the insect starts to emerge in May as adult beetles from the inside infested trees. Read more »

Rabies and Vampire Bats

A vampire bat in Mexico

A vampire bat in Mexico. Photo by Luis Lecuna, USDA APHIS, International Services, Mexico.

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. For APHIS, changes in environmental conditions will increase the likelihood of shifts in the distribution and nature of current domestic diseases, invasive species and agricultural pests.  These changes will likely influence the dynamics of invasion and establishment of these diseases and pests, and therefore much of APHIS’ work. Understanding and adapting to these changes is therefore critical to meeting our mission.

Vampire bats rank high on the list of animals that scare us the most. Spooky Halloween tales of their blood-sucking, nocturnal, and secretive habits have likely led to their bad reputation. The fact that some also carry and spread the deadly rabies virus doesn’t help.

The common vampire bat feeds on the blood of Central and South American wildlife and livestock. They also sometimes bite and feed on the blood of people. Recently, vampire bats have been documented within 35 miles of the Texas border. This has caused concern and speculation about the potential movement of vampire bats to areas within the United States as a result of rising global temperatures. To gain a better understanding of the likelihood of such movement, USDA-APHIS geneticist Dr. Toni Piaggio with the Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center partnered with U.S. Geological Survey scientist Dr. Mark Hayes to analyze and map the potential distribution of vampire bats under various climate scenarios. Read more »

Welcoming the U.S. Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Jack Shere

Dr. Jack Shere, USDA's Chief Veterinary Officer

The new face of USDA/APHIS Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Jack Shere, is also a familiar one.

Dr. Jack Shere, a long-time employee of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), was recently named USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer leading APHIS’s Veterinary Services program.

Dr. Shere joined APHIS in 1990 and has held a variety of field and leadership positions – serving as the area commander during the exotic Newcastle disease outbreak in 2003 and spending many weeks in Iowa during the 2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak where he represented USDA and Secretary Vilsack.  Dr. Shere also spent several years in private veterinary practice prior to joining APHIS. Read more »

The Little-Known Threat to Wild Turkeys

Turkeys in Texas engaging in courting

Turkeys in Texas engaging in courting before laying eggs, which are increasingly at risk from feral swine. Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Spring brings new life to the fields and forests and wild turkeys are one of the most interesting spectacles this time of year. Male turkeys gobble and strut to attract the attention of hen turkeys. Hens, in turn, go off and lay their eggs- one egg each day until the clutch is complete and the hens then begin incubation.

Unfortunately, this spring more than ever, wild turkeys across the U.S. are facing an increasing threat from a new and rapidly expanding population of nest predators…feral swine. Feral swine, also known as wild pigs, feral hogs, and wild boars, are not native to North America and are the descendants of domestic swine which either escaped or were liberated. In some cases, feral swine are intentionally released to create new hunting opportunities. But these opportunities come at the expense of other wildlife, including ground nesting birds such as the wild turkey. Feral swine are highly adaptable and can learn to seek out turkey nests even before the hen starts incubation, consuming the eggs when left unprotected. When a partially completed clutch is depredated, the hen is forced to start over, depleting vital reserves within herself as well as risking lower nest success and chick survival. Read more »