REALLY BUGGING US: Invasive insects threatening area’s trees, crops
With yet another growing season upon us, those in the agriculture industry are keeping an eye out for an insect that, while less than an inch long, has the potential to wreak havoc on crops of nearly every variety.
On another front, a fierce battle is being waged to protect the region’s ash trees from a new predator that has been attacking them with alarming speed.
The brown marmorated stink bug and the emerald ash borer are but two invasive species that have found their way into the region and now are threatening the Hudson Valley’s environment and economy.
Invasive species are defined by the state Department of Environmental Conservation as any species that are “non-native to the ecosystem ... and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”
Each year, non-native species arrive in the U.S. as uninvited hitchhikers in cargo holds or ballast water of ocean-going ships, and as exotic imports to be sold in nurseries and pet stores.
But not all become invasive, said Leslie Suprenant, director of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Office of Invasive Species. Most, she said, are either “benign or beneficial,” noting that among the non-native species to America is the honey bee.
“We have thousands of introduced species; the vast majority we don’t have to be concerned about,” agreed Bernd Blossey, an assistant professor in the department natural resources at Cornell University. Blossey, considered an expert on invasive species, estimates about 5,000 non-native plant species have established self-sustaining populations in North America. Of those, about 500 are considered invasive, he said.
According to a report by Stephanie Radin, the agriculture/horticulture issue leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess County, the number of persisting non-native species is about 1,405. In 2010, 68 of those were ranked as having a “high” or “very high” invasive nature, she said in the report.
The brown marmorated stink bug, whose scientific name is Halyomorpha halys, and the emerald ash borer, whose scientific name is Agrilus planipennis, are considered among the most highly invasive species currently found in Dutchess and Ulster counties.
Right now, officials say, the emerald ash borer is a particular threat. Continued...
The emerald ash borer, which arrived in Michigan from Asia in the early 1990s, now is found in 14 states and is responsible for killing more than 100 million ash trees.
The infestation in Ulster County is between 10 and 15 years old and is believed to be one of the largest, if not the largest, satellite populations outside the original area in Detroit. Ash stands around northern Ulster County, including Saugerties and Woodstock, have been ravaged by the beetle, said Meredith Taylor, coordinator of the Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership.
“If what happened around Detroit and Toronto happens here, basically we will lose 99 percent of the ash trees,” Blossey added.
New York has more than 900 million ash trees, representing about 7 percent of all trees in the state. In some places, Blossey said, ash trees make up 10 percent of the forest, so a large-scale loss would be “extremely visible.”
In an effort to prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer, New York state has issued quarantine orders for several counties, including that Ulster and Greene prohibit firewood from being transported more than 50 miles within the county or across county lines. Taylor said she expects the state also will issue a quarantine order for Dutchess County.
Additionally, a statewide campaign is under way to tag ash trees. In a number of locations, emerald ash borer traps have been set up to trap the beetles to monitor their spread.
Elsewhere in the region, an effort is under way to track the brown marmorated stink bug, another invasive insect from Asia, first discovered in the U.S. in 1998. Its name comes from a foul odor it can emit when threatened.
“The threat is the damage it can do to agricultural crops,” said Peter Jentsch, a senior agent for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County who is heading research into the stink bug and its impact on agriculture. “It feeds on anything green, and it’s incredibly prolific.”
After wintering (often in people’s homes), the stink bug begins to feed in late May and early June, and it attacks a wide variety of crops.
“It’s been found on over 300 plant species ... all beans, legumes, tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, field corn, soybeans, stone fruit, grapes, berries. ... It’s extremely diverse in its feeding habits,” Jentsch said. “It’s a formidable pest, to say the least.” Continued...
In 2010, the stink bug swept through the Mid-Atlantic apple crop, causing an industry-estimated $37 million loss.
Locally, the stink bug is not yet considered an economic pest, but there have been some “hot spots” in the area, including Highland and Marlborough,” Jentsch said. And with about 30 percent of the state’s apple crop grown in the Hudson Valley, the potential impact to the region is of particular concern, he said.
“We’re very concerned, especially this year, because New York state lost so much of its crop due to early freeze that resulted in the loss of flowers and fruit,” Jentsch said. “The remaining crop is very valuable.”
Amy Hepworth, owner of Hepworth Farms in Milton, said her crops suffered some damage from the stink bug during the 2011 growing season.
“We had significant damage in our Mutso (apple) crop,” she said, adding that other crops, particularly some of those planted along hedgerows, also fell prey to the insect.
Hepworth has been working with Jentsch and Cornell Cooperative Extension to study the pest and gain an understanding of how to control it.
“We’re still trying to understand some basic aspects of its biology,” Jentsch said. “The insect’s size and its ability to feed on lots of different plants really makes it unpredictable.”
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County is asking residents who see a stink bug to collect it and submit to the agency to help it collect, verify and document the insect’s spread.
Jentsch has been monitoring the bug using black light traps developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has been investigating the possible use of the Tree-of-Heaven, an invasive species from China that attracts the stink bug, as a “trap tree.”
Blossey said great strides have been made in eliminating the introduction of non-native species through ballast waters carried by ocean-faring ships, but the horticulture trade lags far behind in preventing the introduction of new non-indigenous species. Continued...
“We’re creating the invasive species for the next generation,” Blossey said. “They are brought in to have an economic benefit, and a decade or two later, we are spending vast amounts of money to get rid of them. Society always pays the cost, while the individual reaps the benefits.”
AT A GLANCE
A SAMPLING of invasive pests in New York state and the damage they can do:
• Early in the 20th century, chestnut blight arrived in North America and has wiped out the American chestnut tree.
• Zebra mussels arrived here from their native Caspian Sea in the late 20th century and have altered ecosystems, clogged pipes and ruined beaches.
• Near the start of the 21st century, the mosquito-borne West Nile virus came here from Africa and has proven fatal to both birds and humans.
• The Asian longhorned beetle arrived within the lumber used for packing crates and has forced the cutting down of shade trees.
• The emerald ash borer first was identified in New York in 2009. It attacks all species of ash trees and kills them within three years of egg infestation.
• The Swede midge first was found in New York in 2005 and could decimate broccoli and cabbage crops.
• Didymo, a slimy algae also known as “rock snot,” is invading trout-fishing streams, potentially affecting aquatic habitats and food sources.
• Additional invasive species found in New York include Japanese knotweed, purple loosestrife, black wallow-wort, hemlock woolly adelgid, mile-a-minute vine, Japanese barberry and the northern snakehead fish.
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