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Feb. 27, 2017

MSU lands nearly $1 million in grants to fight invasive species

Three Michigan State University researchers received nearly $1 million in grants to help prevent and control invasive species in Michigan.

The grants are part of the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program through the state’s departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources and Agriculture and Rural Development.

Deb McCullough, professor of forest entomology ($314,453), and her team will work to protect Michigan forests through improved detection and control methods that target hemlock woolly adelgid, a tree pest. First detected in the United States in 1951, the hemlock woolly adelgid is a small, aphid-like insect native to Asia. Infested hemlocks generally die within six to 10 years of becoming infested. 

“In the eastern U.S., hemlock woolly adelgid has killed thousands of hemlock trees in forests and landscapes,” McCullough said. “This invader wasn’t found in Michigan until 2015, when localized infestations were discovered near Lake Michigan. Although hemlock trees in landscapes can be protected with systemic insecticides, more than 150 million hemlocks in Michigan forests are threatened.”

McCullough and her team will access several datasets to better protect the distribution of hemlock in Michigan forests. They also will evaluate the importance of cold winter temperatures and microclimate effects on adelgid survival. The group will link the hemlock maps and climatic data to identify areas where hemlock woolly adelgid impacts are likely to be severe. These results can be used by forest managers and property owners to prioritize pest survey efforts and to develop long-term plans for dealing with this invasive pest. 

Monique Sakalidis, assistant professor of forest pathology ($388,733), and her team will work on refining Michigan-specific oak wilt control measures. Oak wilt is a serious disease of oak trees affecting mainly red oaks. The trees often die within a few weeks after becoming infected. The disease also affects white oaks, but because they are somewhat more resistant, the disease progresses more slowly.

“Oak wilt is responsible for the widespread decline of oaks across the United States – 24 states and 829 counties,” Sakalidis said. “In Michigan, oak wilt has been detected in 56 counties and has the potential to kill 149 million red oak trees across 3.9 million acres of Michigan forestland in private, state, local government and federal ownership.”

Sakalidis and her team will study the epidemiology, biology and population genetics of oak wilt. They will monitor fungal spore production and host tree susceptibility, and evaluate molecular methods to identify infected trees and the source of spread.

Amos Ziegler, biogeographer ($251,835), coordinates the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network, which provides publicly accessible resources for the identification and statewide reporting of invasive threats. This regional resource consists of more than 15,000 registered users, species identification resources for more than 350 invasive plants and animals, and smartphone technology for reporting observations in the field.

“Biological invasions associated with invasive species are a leading threat to ecosystem health,” Ziegler said. “Early detection of new invasions represents the strongest barrier to future establishment of potentially damaging threats. Given the generally lengthy lag between invasion and establishment and the difficulty in managing certain species once they’re established and subsequently in outbreak, early detection stands as a clear weapon in this battle.”

Ziegler and his team will continue to support early detection and response, control and restoration, and collaborative outreach and education needs associated with invasive species management.

This year the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program awarded more than $3 million in grants to 17 studies across the state. Since it was started by the Legislature, more than $11 million in grants have been awarded to local governments, nonprofits and institutions for management, education and outreach, and innovative control methods.