Penn State received a $7.3 million federal grant to fund a team of researchers dedicated to researching and developing strategies to tackle the spread of the spotted lanternfly.
The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, will also receive $5 million in matching investments from growers and landowners who will participate in the research, said a Penn State news release.
Penn State is teaming up with researchers and extension educators from Cornell University, Virginia Tech, University of Delaware, University of Rhode Island, Temple University, Rutgers University, Northeastern IPM Center, USDA-Agriculture Research Service and USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“I am extremely grateful to the USDA for this funding as well as the growers and landowners who pledged to allow us use of their farms for this project,” said project lead Julie Urban, associate professor of entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, in a release. “Our partnerships with them and other impacted stakeholders are key to arriving at strategies for sustainable, long-term management of this pest.”
The spotted lanternfly arrived from its native Asia in 2014 and has expanded to 14 southeastern Pennsylvania counties and parts of New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland. The invasive pest weakens plants by feeding on sap and leaves behind sugary waste matter called honeydew, which promotes the spread of sooty mold that further harms the plant.
Its feeding behavior primarily threatens Pennsylvania’s nursery, hardwood, tree fruit and grape industries, which represent about $18 billion of the state’s economy.
Two spotted lanternfly sightings were reported in University Park after Penn State’s home football game against Pitt on Sept. 14, which prompted Penn State to send out a notice asking fans to check their cars for “hitchhikers.” Spotted lanternflies have latched on to cars and RVs and their egg masses resemble mud splatters, which can be easy to miss.
As Penn State has ramped up its control of the pest by requiring employees who work in the “quarantine zone” to receive training and carry lanternfly kits, researchers may have found a possible biopesticide to combat the insect’s spread.
Early results from a joint Penn State-Cornell University study show that biopesticide containing certain fungi may be effective in killing spotted lanternfly in large numbers without harming humans or the environment.
The recent grant will support a four-year project that aims to quantify the insect’s impact on at-risk crops, reduce the insect’s damage through management tactics, research the insect’s biology, ecology and behavior, develop biological control tactics and to provide immediate management solutions to specialty-crop stakeholders and the public through all the partner organizations involved.
Additionally, the grant will provide training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and early-career postdoctoral scientists, in an effort to prepare the next generation of researchers and extension educators to lead the work on future invasive species.