Skip to main content

New Facility At UF Indian River Research And Education Center Will Test Biological Controls For Exotic Pests

Chuck Woods (352) 392-1773 x 281

Walter Tabachnick, (561) 778-7200, ext. 124
John Capinera, (352) 392-1901, ext. 111
Ken Pruitt, (850) 487-5088

View Photo
View Photo

FORT PIERCE, Fla.—Florida’s battle against the growing number of exotic, invasive plants and pests will be enhanced by a new $3.8 million quarantine and research facility now under construction at the University of Florida’s Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce.

The 17,000-square-foot facility, authorized by the Florida Legislature in 1999 and scheduled for completion in May 2003, will be used by scientists to contain, evaluate and release non-pathogenic organisms for biological control of invasive plants and pests, said Walter Tabachnick, professor of entomology and interim director of UF’s Fort Pierce center.

“Security features at the facility will be designed to prevent accidental escape of organisms,” he said. “Biological control organisms — insects, mites or nematodes — will be extensively evaluated by state and federal scientists before being considered for release into the Florida environment.”

The quarantine and research facility will be jointly utilized and managed by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“The facility and its programs will have a positive impact on crops and natural ecosystems across the entire state,” Tabachnick said. “At present, the unavailability of adequate quarantine space delays the testing and release of effective biological control agents. The facility will accelerate the integration of biological control technology into invasive plant and agricultural pest management efforts.”

John Capinera, professor and chair of UF’s entomology and nematology department in Gainesville, said examples of invasive plant species include melaleuca, hydrilla, water hyacinth and Brazilian pepper. Agricultural pests include the brown citrus aphid, Asian citrus psyllid, giant white fly and the anticipated invasion of the pink hibiscus mealybug.

Candidate bio-control organisms will be taken to a “phase one” quarantine facility operated by FDACS in Gainesville. Promising bio-controls will then be relocated to UF’s new “phase two” facility in Fort Pierce for additional evaluation, multiplication and possible release. Research will be conducted in cooperation with U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists at Fort Pierce and Fort Lauderdale, as well as scientists at other UF and FDACS facilities.

“Melaleuca trees, hydrilla, water hyacinth and other exotic species are invading the Everglades, St. Lucie Basin, Central Florida lakes and other aquatic habitats of the state,” Capinera said. “Their growth is so dense that native habitats are being replaced, resulting in a notable decrease in native species of flora and fauna, loss of navigation and the deposition of decomposing plant material contributing to the loss of water quality.

“This trend, if not reversed or eliminated, will continue having a major negative impact on Florida’s aquatic ecosystems. Biological control agents are needed to provide an effective integrated management approach to control the invasive species problem in the state.”

He said quarantine bio-control programs provide a realistic long-term solution to Florida’s invasive, exotic plant problem, which now impacts more than 1.5 million acres of land and surface waters in South Florida alone.

“Reliable control of invasive species is essential to state and federal efforts to restore the environment in South Florida, including the restoration of the Florida Everglades and Lake Okeechobee,” Capinera said.

Biological control agents, once established, are self-sustaining and normally require no additional expenditures in contrast to high continuing costs for mechanical and chemical control methods, he said.

State Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, helped obtain state funding for the new facility.