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New University Of Florida Facility Will Study Biological Controls For Invasive Plants, Pest


Walter Tabachnick, (772) 468-3922, ext. 112
William Overholt, (772) 468-3922, ext. 143
Ronald D. Cave, (772) 468-3922, ext. 145

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Officials from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will break ground 10 a.m. Wednesday (10/23) as construction begins on a $3.8 million quarantine and research facility at UF’s Indian River Research and Education Center.

The 17,000-square-foot facility, authorized by the Florida Legislature in 1999 and scheduled for completion in May 2004, will be used by scientists to contain, evaluate and release organisms for biological control of invasive plants and pests.

“The quarantine facility’s primary mission will be to use natural enemies to combat the growing number of exotic, invasive plants and arthropods that have been identified throughout Florida,” said Tabachnick, interim director of the Indian River Research and Education Center. “Plants such as the Brazilian peppertree and insects such as the Mexican bromeliad weevil have had a negative impact upon the state’s crops and natural habitats.”

Bill Overholt, a professor of entomology and nematology who will work in the facility says state and federal scientists will evaluate extensively all biological control organisms before they consider releasing them into Florida’s environment. The research will ensure that insects, mites and nematodes being used for control will not feed on unintended plants or other living matter.

According to Overholt, biological control will improve the state’s environment and economy by combating invasive plants and arthropods.

“Exotic arthropods like the Mexican bromeliad weevil threaten to cause the extinction of one of Florida’s most beautiful, native and endangered plants – the bromeliad, or airplant,” said Ronald Cave, an assistant professor of entomology and nematology.

Researchers at the facility also may study invasive arthropods such as the Asian citrus psyllid, the cycad scale and the pink hibiscus mealybug and invasive plants including the air potato, cattley guava and tropical soda apple.

Tabachnick said that once established, biological control agents can be self-sustaining and normally require no additional expenses in contrast to high, recurrent costs for mechanical and chemical controls.

“The facility and its programs represent another significant addition to the research capabilities of the Treasure Coast, which is rapidly becoming one of Florida’s premier research regions,” Tabachnick said.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and UF/IFAS will jointly use and manage the quarantine and research facility.

Tabachnick said State Sen. Ken Pruitt “was instrumental in championing the state funding for the new facility and the program.”

Michael Martin, UF’s vice president for agriculture and natural resources, will host Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the facility in Fort Pierce. He also will recognize Pruitt, who will attend the event, for his support and leadership in securing funding for the facility. Others who will participate include Tabachnick and Cave from UF/IFAS and Connie Riherd, a representative for Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center was established in 1947 to serve agricultural and natural resources research and education needs of Florida with special emphasis on St. Lucie, Okeechobee, Martin, Indian River and Brevard counties. The center is one of 14 UF/IFAS research and education centers statewide.