Let's hear it for biocontrol.
You've seen lady beetles, aka ladybugs, preying on aphids.
But have you seen an assassin bug attack a spotted cucumber beetle?
How about a crab spider munching on a stink bug?
All biocontrol, part of integrated pest management (IPM).
If you access the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website or more specifically, this page, you'll learn that "Integrated pest management, or IPM, is a process you can use to solve pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment. IPM can be used to manage all kinds of pests anywhere–in urban, agricultural, and wildland or natural areas."
Or, UC IPM's more in-depth definition:
"IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties. Pesticides are used only after monitoring indicates they are needed according to established guidelines, and treatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism. Pest control materials are selected and applied in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial and nontarget organisms, and the environment."
Think of biocontrol as beneficial: "Biological control is the beneficial action of predators, parasites, pathogens, and competitors in controlling pests and their damage. Biological control provided by these living organisms (collectively called "natural enemies") is especially important for reducing the numbers of pest insects and mites, but biological control agents can also contribute to the control of weed, pathogen, nematode or vertebrate pests."--UC IPM
Yesterday we witnessed an incredible case of biocontrol in action.
At Bodega Bay's Doran Regional Park, Sonoma County, we spotted a great blue heron stepping stealthily through a thatch of ice plant in the Jetty campground. It was 6:30 in the morning. As campers slept in their recreational vehicles a few feet away, the great blue heron just kept stepping silently through the ice plant. One step. Another step. And another.
And then it happened. Its long sharp beak speared a rodent. Yes, they eat rodents. It crunched the body from head to toe, breaking the bones, and then swallowed it whole.
Not a pretty picture, but a simple case of biocontrol, compliments of a hungry heron.
"Him" is Vernard Lewis, who terminated termites, bugged bed bugs, and controlled cockroaches.
As Pamela Kan Rice, assistant director of News and Information Outreach, University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) wrote in her wonderful feature story this week on his retirement:
"He built a villa for termites, delighted school children with giant cockroaches, did “time” at San Quentin State Prison, traveled the world looking at insects and, in 2016, Vernard Lewis was inducted into the Pest Management Professionals' Hall of Fame. On July 1, UC Berkeley's first African American entomologist retired from a 35-year career as an urban entomologist, the last 26 years as a UC Cooperative Extension specialist."
We asked Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, and integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology and a past president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), for their comments:
"Vernard was The Expert for anything termite in California," Kimsey said. "He was the best; knowledgeable, personable and engaged. I'm really annoyed that he retired."
Can you imagine anyone building a home, Villa Termiti, just for termites? Or, rather, to do research?
Wrote Pam Kan-Rice:
"In the early 1990s, the UC Cooperative Extension specialist needed a place to test drywood termite detection and control methods. The College of Natural Resources wasn't keen on infesting a building with destructive pests near UC Berkeley's historic buildings, but ultimately allowed Lewis to construct the Villa Termiti in Richmond, about six miles north of campus."
"Villa Termiti has since hosted ants, subterranean termites, wood-boring beetles, and bed bugs for subsequent research projects."
Lewis, born in Minnesota and the oldest of 10 children, gleefully recalled his fascination with bugs when he moved from Minnesota to Fresno to live with his grandparents for six years. “California has a lot more bugs because Minnesota is frozen six months out of the year,” he said wryly. “During recess, while other kids were kicking balls, I was catching grasshoppers and feeding them to harvester ants.”
Lewis was also known for mentoring young scientists at UC Berkeley and stimulating children's interest in science. He joined the Oakland Unified School District's City Bugs project to educate K-12 school teachers and students about insects, life sciences and biodiversity.
He liked to bring live props and engage his audience. He recalled the time in 1993 when he brought a Madagascar hissing cockroach to show to 300 students at Claremont Middle School, Oakland. You guessed it. The center of attention escaped and both the cockroach and the kids ran for cover. (Well, they ought to visit the Madagascar hissing cockroaches in the Bohart Museum of Entomology. The roaches are part of the insect museum's live "petting zoo.")
Vernard Lewis led a fascinating and productive life. Be sure to read Kan-Rice's entire piece on Vernard Lewis on the UC ANR blog.
You'll note that:
- He showed his can-do attitude with: “My high school counselor said I wasn't bright enough to go to college. I took offense to that,” said Lewis, recalling his high scores on IQ tests administered in the 1950s and 1960s. “I asked him what was the best university in the country. He said, ‘UC Berkeley,' so I decided to go there.”
- He went on to receive three degrees from UC Berkeley: his bachelor of science degree in agricultural sciences in 1975; his master's degree in entomology in 1979; and his doctorate in entomology in 1989.
- He was fondly known as "Killer" at San Quentin Prison because as head of vector control (contract work), he exterminated bed bugs and cockroaches there from 1986 through 1988.
- The ESA featured him in its book “Memoirs of Black Entomologists,” published to spotlight African-American entomologists and to encourage black students to pursue careers in the life sciences.
Bottom line: UC ANR has lost a great scientist, researcher, collaborator, colleague and friend to retirement. Lynn Kimsey is still annoyed that he retired, but the termites, bedbugs and cockroaches--not so much.
It's hosted by the UC Davis Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, also known as BAE.
"There are steadily growing concerns about how global and sustainable agricultural production and food security can be maintained in the 21st century and beyond," Nansen says. "It is expected that arthropod pest management in agricultural systems will face profound challenges, as pesticides are being faced out, pests are developing resistance to pesticides, and because growing conditions become less predictable due to climate change and diminishing availability of water for crop irrigation"
"Many arthropod pest outbreaks occur in crops initially being exposed to abiotic stress, such as, drought or unbalanced fertilizer applications. In these cases, an arthropod pest outbreak may be a symptom or consequence of sub-optimal crop management regime."
Nansen's presentation is about "remote sensing of crop stress and how it can be used to minimize risk of pest outbreaks, as crop reflectance data provide insight into some of the mechanisms that are driving pest population dynamics, both temporally and spatially."
At UC Davis, Nansen is focusing on four major themes: host plant stress detection, host selection by arthropods, pesticide performance, and use of reflectance-based imaging in a wide range of research applications.
Born and educated in Denmark, Nansen received his master's degree in biology from the University of Copenhagen in 1995 and his doctorate in zoology from the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark in 2000. He accepted positions in Portugal, Benin, United States, UK and Australia before joining the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in January as an assistant professor. His international experience also includes being an international exchange student at the University of Lisbon, Portugal and a visiting professor at Northwest A&F University, Yangling, China.
“Agricultural entomology has given me so many opportunities to travel and work internationally, and that has been extremely rewarding,” he said. “I am passionate about food production and how to produce food ‘smartly' – so that it is profitable and also environmentally sustainable. And insects are critically important in manipulated food webs, such as, a crop field, forest, orchard, or horticultural greenhouse. I enjoy studying their ecological roles in these systems and how we can use that information to develop smarter ways to produce food.”
“Even though Denmark is a very small country (5 million people),” Nansen said, “it has been at the forefront of agricultural research and production for many decades."
Nansen previously held faculty positions at Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and most recently at the University of Western Australia. As a university employee, the most common way to “create impact” is by influencing the minds and interests of students, but also of particular stakeholders,” he said.
“While working in Texas, we developed a very effective sampling method for an important insect pest in potato fields, and a 4th generation potato grower (Bruce Barrett) actually changed his management strategy because of our sampling method: he purchased the equipment needed and hired people specifically to conduct insect sampling, as he saw how use of this method could save him thousands of dollars on insecticide sprays--because he would now have a much better idea about when and where to spray. Recently, in Australia we demonstrated to farmers that sub-optimal maintenance of their stored seed grain led to loss of crop vigor and therefore a loss in crop yields. That is, if the seed grain is poorly managed, then stored grain infestations will likely occur, and these beetles will damage the kernels so they don't germinate. We provided simple guidelines for how the grain storage practices could be improved, so quite a few farmers are now following our guidelines to optimize the vigor of their seed grain.”
“Sometimes, we can go further and actually develop tools or gadgets which end-users may find useful. As an example, we have developed a freely available phone app to optimize pesticide spray applications based on weather and spray settings (http://agspsrap31.agric.wa.gov.au/snapcard/). The main goal with this phone app is to guide farmers so that they obtain the best possible spray coverage--to reduce risk of pests developing resistance--and to encourage them NOT to spray pesticides under unfavorable conditions.”