UF/IFAS Fort Pierce quarantine facility successfully battles invasive species

Bill Overholt and Jim Cuda.  Innovation Awards Portrait.  UF/IFAS File Photo.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida officials expressed thanks Monday for the $180,000 increase in the state budget that’s slated for the quarantine research facility at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce.

With the additional funding, scientists will be able to expand foreign exploration to identify new candidate biological control agents of Florida’s worst invasive plants and insects, and support intensified laboratory studies that are required to ensure agents are safe for release, said Bill Overholt, a UF/IFAS entomology professor who works at the quarantine facility.

With biological control such as one bug eating another, scientists and growers can use a sustainable, cost-effective solution to manage invasive plant and insect problems.

“The facility needs an increase in the amount of operating funds in order to reach its full potential,” said Mary Ann Gosa-Hooks, director of UF/IFAS Government Affairs. “We can do so much more, but with costs continuing to increase, while the facility continues to function on the same budget since 2004, activities are somewhat limited.”

Money also will be used to support the UF/IFAS Assessment Non-Native Plants program to evaluate the invasion risk of non-native species in the state and new species proposed for introduction, with the goal of reducing alien plant invasions in Florida, Overholt said.

The UF/IFAS quarantine facility, which opened in 2004 at the Indian River Research and Education Center, is a highly secure lab where scientists conduct research on biological controls for invasive species. Biological control uses natural enemies to control plant and insect pests. Scientists introduce, evaluate and release biological control agents to try to manage exotic weeds and insect pests in Florida.

“Florida is continually being invaded by exotic plants and insect pests from other parts of the world,” Overholt said. “Biological control, using natural enemies from the invader’s native range, is one strategy that can be used to effectively combat invasive plants and insects.

“The UF/IFAS quarantine facility in Fort Pierce is at the forefront of the battle against invasive insects and weeds, with efforts currently focused on the Brazilian peppertree, air potato, cogongrass, Mexican bromeliad weevil, cycad aulacaspsis and yellow-margined leaf beetle,” he said.

UF/IFAS scientists at the quarantine facility are working on many other projects, including:

  • Trying to establish laboratory colonies of one or more promising insect herbivores that feed on cogongrass, one of the most invasive grasses in the Southeast.


  • In collaboration with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scientists have released more than 350,000 beetles for biological control of the air potato at more than 1,000 locations in Florida since 2012.
  • Biological control of Brazilian peppertree using two insects from South America. In greenhouse trials, these insects have been shown to reduce growth of the invasive weed by as much as 89 percent. Release of the insects will begin as soon as federal approval is received.

Landowners, managers and industry use the UF/IFAS assessment when deciding whether to use non-native species in Florida. Also, FDACS consults the UF/IFAS plant assessment to help shape their regulation of invasive species.


Cutline: UF/IFAS faculty members Jim Cuda, left, and Bill Overholt, are shown in this photo. Overholt is an entomology professor at the quarantine research facility at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce. The Legislature’s final budget includes $180,000 more for the quarantine facility.

Credit: UF/IFAS

By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Bill Overholt, 772-468-3922, ext. 143, billover@ufl.edu





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Posted: June 22, 2015

Category: Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, Invasive Species, Pests & Disease, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Research
Tags: Invasive Species, Legislature

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