FORT PIERCE, Fla.—Pasco Avery introduced scientists, Florida crop growers and graduate students to fungi that control crop pests. A highly trained scientist who supports local youth science education, Avery was selected as one of the first scientists to be inducted into the Friends of IPM Hall of Fame with the Southern IPM Center.
Avery’s expertise is specific to entomopathogenic fungi, natural organisms present in all ecosystems. These fungi regulate harmful insects by attaching spores to their bodies, germination and penetration of the insect’s exoskeleton, eventually killing the pest.
Avery leads the Entomopathogenic Fungi Research Laboratory at the University of Florida’s Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC) in Fort Pierce, Florida. Membership in the IPM Hall of Fame is a new recognition for scientists and food producers who have made career-long contributions to the study and practice of integrated pest management, or IPM.
INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT (IPM)
“IPM is a process that scientists, crop producers and property managers use to manage insects that damage crops in a way that minimizes risks to people and ecosystems,” Avery said.
Avery works to introduce, apply and evaluate fungi, and he has enlarged the scope of IPM worldwide. Avery is a member of the International Organization for Biological Control. Stefan Jaronski, one of the world’s leading experts on fungi and a pioneer in the field, invited Avery to join the group.
Avery promotes research collaborations with scientists worldwide, including scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Avery also mentors brilliant graduate, undergraduate, and high school students.
This year, Avery will have served five years as the St. Lucie County Regional Science STEM Fair’s head judge. As a regional judge, students who sought his guidance on research projects advanced to state and international science competitions.
Avery’s former students and post-doctorate colleagues now work in prominent positions where they employ fungi for IPM. One alumnus now leads research for Bayer CropScience Co. Another graduate is about to depart employment with the Panamanian government to commence Ph.D. studies in fungi at Manitoba University, Canada.
ENTOMOPATHOGENIC FUNGI DISCOVERED
Avery’s skills and knowledge of the fungus, Cordyceps javanica, have earned him global distinction. Citations for Avery’s published work on the topic exceed 1,000. Lance Osborne, professor of entomology and associate director at the UF/IFAS Mid Florida Research and Education Center, first discovered the fungus in the mid-1980s.
“Dr. Avery has effected change throughout his career by performing solid research that provides the knowledge needed for including fungi in IPM programs,” said Ronald D. Cave, Avery’s supervisor and director of the UF/IFAS-IRREC.
Cave said Avery’s investigations involve the efficacy, compatibility and application of fungi in response to growers’ needs. In South Florida, Avery introduced growers to fungi to manage pest ambrosia beetles in more than 3,000 acres of avocado. A second segment of Avery’s work with fungi was to test its compatibility with agrochemicals growers use to protect crops from insects. The avocado growers used less chemicals when fungi was part of their IPM strategy.
Avery said the compatibility tests were necessary because food producers must use a variety of agrochemicals to protect their crops from insect pests and plant pathogens. These fungi grow naturally in these ecosystems, but it is important to determine if they are compatible with agrochemicals.
“All agroecosystems contain fungi, whether on the foliage, bark surface or in the soil,” said Avery. “Aboveground, fungi play a significant role in agriculture by naturally managing insect pest populations in various crop production systems, as they work compatibly with natural enemies.”
Avery added that fungi below ground protects plants from pathogens, supplies nitrogen directly to the roots, and increases crop yield.
Fungi has gained broader acceptance in IPM programs by Avery’s efforts to train students and technicians who advance its use to protect crops from pest insects. When Avery began his work in Florida as a postdoctoral researcher in 2007, he realized fungi was missing from IPM models and spearheaded work with fungi in Florida, said Cave.
Investigations at the Entomopathogenic Fungi Research Laboratory aim to develop sustainable IPM strategies for agroecosystems that include fungi. Avery said he aims to introduce more growers to fungal biopesticides. A second research focus is to identify fungi that grow inside plants.