Outreach Programs: Insects
|Tree and Shrub Pests
Our pest management outreach effort emphasizes getting producers and users of nursery plants to avoid pest-prone plants and use pest-resistant alternatives. We have widely distributed a URI bulletin that lists and describes ornamental plants that are sustainable in this region. We have also facilitated locating these plants through the publication of a RI Nursery Stock Source List. Revision and promotion of these lists is an ongoing process.
Our USDA-approved primary quarantine laboratory—the only such university-based lab in the Northeast—allows us to import and study potential biological control agents that do not exist elsewhere in North America. Our biological control programs concentrate on invasive insects and plants, particularly those of consequence to landscape plants in the Northeast. We are currently working on a range of pests including birch leafminer, hemlock woolly adelgid, and lily leaf beetle. We are also using insects to control invasive weeds, including purple loosestrife, Cypress spurge, and Phragmites australis (common reed). The goal of this research is to provide permanent control of key insect and weed pests and in the process, to advance the science of biological control.
Stakeholder Involvement: We select our pest problems based upon stakeholder needs presented to us by individuals (farmers, nurserymen) and organizations (North American Lily Society, Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Rhode Island Nursery/Landscape Association, Rhode Island Invasive Species Council). The biological control program has many outreach venues including the URI GreenShare program, locally-produced articles (RINLA Newsletter, Maritimes, RI Audubon Newsletter, Wild Plant Society Newsletter), presentations (RI Natural History Survey, SeaGrant and US Forest Service workshops, etc.). We regularly organize and participate in a Northeast Biocontrol Workshop through the Entomological Society of America. We provide our expertise (and our insects) to clients to solve problems with invasive species including solving the purple loosestrife problem at Roger Williams Park Zoo (and elsewhere in RI) and controlling Cypress Spurge at URI's Alton Jones Campus and at Watson Farm in Jamestown.
Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are a significant concern in Rhode Island and the Northeast U.S. Neither densely populated urban centers nor surrounding suburbs and countrysides are immune to vector-borne disease. The physical geography of the region supports diverse and abundant mosquito populations, each bringing its own health risk. The recent introduction of West Nile virus into the northeast has revealed just how vulnerable the region is to public health threats from arthropod-associated human and animal pathogens.
The focus of the current program generally falls into four research and outreach areas: 1) enhancing disease and risk surveillance; 2) improving diagnostic tools and capacity; 3) elucidating vector/microbe and vector/host interactions for the purpose of disease prevention and control; and 4) developing, implementing, and evaluating community-based disease prevention strategies. Faculty contribute to the statewide effort currently organized within the Departments of Environmental Management and Health; as well faculty currently provide critical expertise, testing capacity and facilities, and man-power to the statewide vector-borne disease program, and to Federal programs.
Our faculty have long-standing experience with mosquito pathology (LeBrun), ecology (Ginsberg and Mather) and surveillance and management of mosquito-borne diseases. The RI Mosquito Abatement Coordinator, Department of Environmental Management (Gettman) holds an adjunct appointment in our department. Primary research goals include (1) to develop mosquito pathogens (fungi, protozoa, etc.) as microbial control agents for mosquito management; (2) to assess ecological dynamics of mosquito-borne pathogens so that we can develop targeted management programs that efficiently lower human risk of infection with mosquito-borne diseases (such as West Nile Virus); (3) to evaluate environmental effects of mosquito control techniques, and to develop environmentally-benign mosquito control methods; (4) to develop rapid and specific diagnostic assays to identify mosquito-transmitted pathogens; (5) to develop early and accurate surveillance tools to predict human risk of mosquito-borne infections.
Relevance to Stakeholders - Human and animal diseases transmitted by arthropods cause immeasurable social and economic losses. Several of the infections transmitted by arthropods in the northeastern U.S. cause significant morbidity and are occasionally fatal. Social costs, including losses in tourism and recreation, pain and suffering, disability and the like further add to the toll that vector-borne diseases impose. Potential stakeholders of URI's Vector-borne Disease Program then, include those interested in being apprised of and suppressing vector-borne disease risks (citizens, visitors, small business owners, pet owners, health care providers, insurers) as well as public safety and public health authorities, and the pest control and pharmaceutical industries.
Statewide mosquito surveillance results are disseminated to public health and medical authorities, and to the general public. Faculty are involved in policy issues related to vector-borne disease at the state level. They engage in applied research aimed at evaluating pest management strategies and other public health practices. They support local and regional medical and public health community with information, training, and specialized testing capacity and facilities. They provide technical advice and research support to the U.S. Department of the Interior and serve as the primary source of vector-borne disease guidance for the National Park Service. They interact as consultants to industry, providing knowledge, research materials, and access to specialized research tools and techniques. They provide information concerning vectors and vector management to professional groups and citizens.