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USDA Awards $7.3 Million Grant to Penn State for Spotted Lanternfly Research

by Linda Jones McKee
October 17, 2019
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Spotted Lanternfly, male left, female right. Photo: Penn State entomologist Greg Hoover 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded a $7.3 million grant to Penn State to support an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional 37-member team of researchers working to learn more about the invasive pest, the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), and to develop strategies for the long-term management of the insect.

The spotted lanternfly (SLF) were first found in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014 and have since spread across southeastern PA. A total of 14 counties are now included in a quarantine zone, which is an attempt to limit the expansion of their territory. Colonies of SLF have recently been found in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and the insects have been reported in small numbers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Originally from China, India, Japan and Vietnam, the SLF is a plant hopper that feeds on the sap of grapevines, apple trees, hardwood trees such as maple, and more than 70 other species. In addition to weakening the plants by sucking the sap, the SLF excrete a sugary “honeydew” that attracts other insects and promotes the growth of a sooty mold, all of which can make outdoor areas unusable, especially in residential areas.

Heather Leach, an extension associate in entomology at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences whose specialty is the SLF, told Wine Business Monthly that while the insects feed on multiple species, research in Pennsylvania is focusing on vineyards because there has been so much damage done by SLF on vines in the state. The USDA grant is being matched by investments by growers and landowners who have agreed to participate with the researchers and allow them to use their farms for the SLF project.

“We’re excited about this grant,” Leach said, “This is a big, sustained grant covering four years. Our research had been on year by year funding, and this will allow us to add graduate and undergraduate students to the program, and really help expand our knowledge.”

Currently, the interdisciplinary research team includes vineyard extension educators, entomologists, insect behaviorists, toxicologists, viticulturists, plant physiologists and plant pathologists from Penn State University, Cornell University, Virginia Tech, the University of Delaware, the University of Rhode Island, Temple University, Rutgers University and the Northeastern IPM Center. The USDA-Agricultural Research Service and the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are also collaborating on the SLF project.

The four-year initiative funded by the grant has several goals, including:

  • To quantify the insect’s impact on at-risk specialty crops and immediately develop management tactics to reduce the damage in areas where SLF is established;
  • To perform essential fundamental research on the pest’s basic biology, ecology and behavior, and to develop biological control tactics contributing to long-term sustainable solutions; and
  • To deliver immediate management solutions to specialty crop stakeholders and the public through the extension networks of the partnering land-grant universities, USDA agencies and the Northeastern IPM Center.

More information about the SLF is available at the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.


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