1. What excites you most about your work?
Many of Florida’s citizens have lots of concerns and have a hard time trying to control invasive species in their backyards. Land managers of both private and public managed areas fight invasive species too. It makes me happy to work towards finding long-term and environmentally-safe control techniques for some of these species.
2. We know you got started on your work for Brazilian peppertree (BP) biocontrol after you met our former Postdoctoral research scientist, Dr. Rodrigo Diaz, in Brazil. You helped him with his foreign exploration to identify a biocontrol agent for BP. Please – did you help find the Brazilian peppertree thrips?
The work with the BP thrips started around 1994 – the year I started pre-school – long before I even knew anything about invasive species. Many years of hard work and several highly skilled researchers from the U.S. and South America made the releases in 2019 possible. I did an experiment with the thrips last year but was not involved in any of the steps leading to its release.
3. What do you think about the BP thrips release? I know you authored an extensive Electronic Document Information System, or EDIS document about the other species. What are the next steps please?
We were all really happy with the release of the thrips, the first biological control agent of Brazilian peppertree in Florida. The EDIS document was part of a class assignment. My task was to write a piece for the Featured Creatures page from the Entomology Department (http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/). If you visit the website, you will find reliable information written for the general public about several different insect species, either beneficial or pests. The creatures featured at the site are present in the U.S., with emphasis on species present in Florida. I thought that EDIS needed a “Featured Creature” highlight about the BP thrips and it was perfect that the EDIS document was released around the same time we released the BP thrips.
4. What did you like most about working at UF/IFAS-Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce?
The UF/IFAS-IRREC was the place I learned about entomology and biological control. Even though most of the people that were at IRREC when I started in 2013, are not working there anymore, I feel that the people at IRREC are part of my family, my research family. Working at IRREC was challenging at times because of the distance from the main campus. However, because of the size of IRREC, we are able to interact with professors and students from diverse disciplines right when we needed them! We are also lucky that we have almost all the equipment we need to do out research without waiting in line for the next available time to use a specific machine, for example.
5. Your Ph.D. dissertation was “The Biological Control of Brazilian Peppertree in Florida, U.S.” I know you concluded with a summary that biocontrol is the best option to manage Florida’s invasive species. Could you please elaborate on this in your own words?
Biocontrol is a recommended technique to control Brazilian peppertree in Florida because of the extension of the areas covered with BP (approximately 280,000 hectares), the costs associated with chemical and mechanical control in such a big area are prohibitive, and some of these areas with high BP infestation are environmentally sensitive like the Everglades National Park. Once established, biocontrol agents (BP thrips) will reproduce and spread naturally, so we will no longer need to release the insect. It might take time, but if they establish it will work – like to work done with melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia).
The next steps are to study their establishment, their interactions with other arthropods, and their damage in natural populations in Florida. It’s an exciting time for the weed biological control lab led by Dr. Minteer.