MSU entomologists join $5.4 million effort to develop sustainable management of spotted wing Drosophila

The new grant aims to develop systems-based integrated management programs of the invasive fruit fly spotted wing Drosophila, a major pest of fruit.

Rufus Isaacs
Rufus Isaacs, professor in the MSU Department of Entomology.

Entomology professor Rufus Isaacs’ lab is joining nine other land-grant universities in a new multi-million-dollar grant awarded by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture to improve pest management of spotted wing Drosophila (SWD).

Native to Asia, SWD is a tiny fly that was first detected in in the U.S. in California in 2008 and has since emerged as a devastating pest of berry crops and cherries throughout the U.S., valued at $5.8 billion in damage annually. It affects soft-skinned fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and cherries.

Michigan is a major producer of highbush blueberries and other susceptible crops. The farm gate value of blueberries often exceeds $100 million from 22,000 acres, with the majority shipped to markets across the U.S. and internationally. Since its arrival in Michigan in 2010, SWD has made pest management in this crop much more complicated and expensive, and the MSU blueberry research and Extension team has been working with Michigan growers to explore effective management.

This new project will build on the previous work to develop control strategies in response to the crisis situation created after the detection and widespread distribution of this devastating invasive pest in all fruit-growing regions of the U.S. The team made substantial progress by refining monitoring tools, developing effective insecticide-based management programs, identifying effective cultural controls and screening native and exotic biological control agents to address the drosophila invasion.

With the new funding, the team at MSU plans to build on the existing knowledge to increase adoption of effective SWD control approaches in Michigan blueberry farms. “We need to get the research out of the lab and the experiment stations and onto farms where it can be evaluated in the real world,” says Isaacs. “This project will emphasize Extension efforts to demonstrate new techniques such as combining different monitoring, pruning, mulching and spraying options to maintain control while reducing costs. We look forward to working closely with the Michigan Blueberry Commission and growers across the state.”

The goal of this new project is to pivot away from crisis response to build a long-term, integrated approach to managing SWD. The research team, led by professor Ashfaq Sial from the University of Georgia, will work with region- and crop-specific teams of growers. Their objectives will be to implement best management programs, evaluate alternatives to insecticides, assess and reduce the risk of insecticide resistance development, and develop and disseminate actionable recommendations that enable producers to optimize pest management decisions for sustainable SWD management. They will also develop economically based decision-aid tools to increase profitability and evaluate the impact of these initiatives.

The entomologists will work with economists and social scientists to help develop the next generation of solutions to this troublesome pest. Ultimately, implementing these solutions will directly contribute to the long-term profitability and sustainability of farms and farmers nationwide.

The project runs for the next four years and is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Research initiative.

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