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Virginia Tech Demonstrates New Method to Treat Ash Firewood

Ash logs undergoing vacuum treatment to kill emerald ash borer larvae.  (U.S. Forest Service)

Ash logs undergoing vacuum treatment to kill emerald ash borer larvae. (U.S. Forest Service)

The shiny green one-half-inch-long, one-eighth-inch-wide emerald ash borer has destroyed tens of millions of ash trees in the U.S. since the beetle’s discovery in 2002 in Detroit.

The real Ash trees comprise around seven percent of the trees in eastern U.S. forests. In urban areas, ash trees make up about 50 percent of street trees.

Ash trees are important both economically and ecologically. A wide array of  products are made from ash wood, including baseball bats, tool handles, pool cues, furniture, cabinets, oars, and acoustic and electric guitars. Ash seeds are an important food source for birds, mice, squirrels, and other small mammals. Ash trees also provide essential habitat for cavity nesting birds, such as woodpeckers, owls, and wood ducks. Read more »

New International Wood Packaging Standard Stops Bugs Dead in their Tracks

Several hundred non-native forest insect species have become established in the U.S. Recent arrivals, such as this adult Asian longhorned beetle, have killed millions of trees and altered urban landscapes in the Northeast and Midwest. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Kenneth R. Law, courtesy of Bugwood.org)

Several hundred non-native forest insect species have become established in the U.S. Recent arrivals, such as this adult Asian longhorned beetle, have killed millions of trees and altered urban landscapes in the Northeast and Midwest. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Kenneth R. Law, courtesy of Bugwood.org)

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Wood makes great packaging material—it’s inexpensive, abundant and versatile—but there’s one drawback: destructive forest pests stowaway in the pallets, crates and dunnage (wood used to brace cargo) used in international shipping. Over many years, international trade has resulted in the inadvertent introduction of many non-native wood-feeding pests and plant pathogens in the U.S. and throughout the world. Some of these non-native insects, including the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorned beetle, have become highly invasive and caused serious environmental and economic impacts.

But an international standard for wood packaging material is slowing the inadvertent export of invasive bark- and wood-boring insects, according to a study conducted by Robert Haack, a research entomologist with the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Lansing, Mich., and a team of scientists. Researchers found as much as a 52 percent drop in infestation rates in the U.S., where the standard was implemented in three phases between 2005 and 2006. The study was published May 14 in the journal PLOS ONE. Read more »

Preventing Disease Spread through International Collaboration

Dr. Fernando Torres, (left) APHIS Director of the Plum Island Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL), shows Under Secretary Avalos (center) and Jessica Mahalingappa (right) a sample to demonstrate one diagnostic tool that staff use at FADDL.

Dr. Fernando Torres, (left) APHIS Director of the Plum Island Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL), shows Under Secretary Avalos (center) and Jessica Mahalingappa (right) a sample to demonstrate one diagnostic tool that staff use at FADDL.

Two departments, one mission.  That’s the reality for scientists working at Plum Island Foreign Animal Disease Laboratory in New York.  The island—owned and operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—is critical to the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) mission to protect U.S. livestock from the introduction and spread foreign animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.  It provides a biologically safe and secure location for APHIS scientists to diagnose animal diseases.  For two weeks this spring, Plum Island was the site of an important component of our agriculture safeguarding system: sharing expertise and experience to build and strengthen the training, skills and capabilities of other nations, also known as international capacity building.

USDA and DHS welcomed 26 veterinarians responsible for evaluating animal disease outbreaks from 11 Spanish-speaking countries to a training called the International Transboundary Animal Disease (ITAD) Course, funded by the Organismo International Regional de Sanidad Agropecuaris (OIRSA).  The course, provided entirely in Spanish, helps familiarize veterinarians with ten of the most serious animal diseases. The trainings provide a highly-trained global network capable of readily identifying and containing these diseases around the world, minimizing damage to animal agriculture and people’s livelihoods. Read more »

A New Weapon in the Fight to Protect America’s Ash Trees is Under Evaluation

Photo of S. galinae by Jian Duan, Research Entomologist, USDA ARS Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit

Photo of S. galinae by Jian Duan, Research Entomologist, USDA ARS Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit

May 18-24, 2014 is Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week

In our efforts to preserve and protect American ash trees from the damaging and invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) beetle, APHIS is working diligently to find and implement solutions that have the potential to successfully conserve this beautiful natural resource. Spathius galinae (S. galinae) just could be that newest weapon in the arsenal.

The tiny stingless wasp, about the size of a typical mosquito, targets and attacks EAB larvae living under the bark of ash trees.  Crawling along the bark ridges and furrows, S. galinae somehow senses EAB larvae hidden below.  The wasp not only accurately locates its target, but also is able to determine relative size—showing preference for large EAB larvae.  Once a suitable larva is detected, the female wasp uses its long egg-laying organ (ovipositor) like a hydraulic drill to bore down through the layers of bark and deposit between 5 and 15 eggs on its host.  After the eggs hatch, the wasp offspring feed on the EAB larva, eventually killing it.  A new generation of S. galinae emerges in about 35 days. Read more »

Boston Beats the Asian Longhorned Beetle

Retiring APHIS State Plant Health Director for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island Patty Douglass inspects ALB damaged wood in Massachusetts.

Retiring APHIS State Plant Health Director for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island Patty Douglass inspects ALB damaged wood in Massachusetts.

One of the things I consider a highlight of my career and that I will always remember is our successful response to the July 2010 detection of the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) in Boston, Massachusetts.  As I attended the May 12 ceremony commemorating the eradication of the ALB infestation in Boston and listened to the speakers share their thoughts about what it took to get us there, I had a deep sense of appreciation for the partnership among the state and federal cooperators who worked together to bring us to that day.  It was swift action and continued diligence that protected Boston’s trees from further destruction.

APHIS and its cooperators were able to accomplish the goal of eradicating ALB in Boston in less than 4 years.  Thanks also go to a community member who reported the infestation early.  That early detection and report resulted in the loss of only 6 infested trees.

But as I celebrate our first victory over the invasive pest in Massachusetts, I am compelled to ask you to remain vigilant in inspecting your trees regularly for signs of the beetle and report any suspicious damage to your State Plant Health Director. Read more »

APHIS Geneticist Finds New Way to Track Invasive Pythons

Can you find the snake? A Burmese python peeks out from its hiding place in Florida. APHIS Wildlife Services experts are developing new tools to help track and remove this invasive species. Photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service

Can you find the snake? A Burmese python peeks out from its hiding place in Florida. APHIS Wildlife Services experts are developing new tools to help track and remove this invasive species. Photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service

How do you find something that doesn’t want to be found – something that has evolved to be cryptic, elusive, and stealthy?  That is the question asked of APHIS geneticist Dr. Antoinette Piaggio. She and others at the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) – the research arm of the APHIS Wildlife Services program – are investigating new ways to track and locate invasive Burmese pythons.

Burmese pythons have made a home in Florida competing with and feeding on native wildlife. Experts agree that new tools and techniques are crucial to monitoring and controlling the spread of this elusive snake.

“Burmese pythons are semi-aquatic and can be very hard to detect given their elusive nature and cryptic coloration,” states Piaggio. “We’ve developed a new detection method that uses environmental DNA, thereby eliminating the need for seeing or handling snakes.” Read more »