ISU researchers studying wasps to combat invasive soybean pest


An Iowa State University researcher is studying ways to combat soybean aphids, such as those pictured here. (Matt Kaiser/Iowa State University News Service)
An Iowa State University research team is studying ways to combat soybean aphids, such as those pictured here. (Matt Kaiser/Iowa State University News Service)
Nick Fetty | June 14, 2016

Researchers at Iowa State University are studying a stingless wasp species as a way to combat agricultural pests such as the soybean aphid.

Aphids began posing a serious threat to Iowa soybeans around 2000. Since that time the invasive insects have reduced crop yields by 40 percent during outbreaks and have led to a 130 percent increase in insecticide use on affected fields. The aphids are native to Asia and are suspected of being brought to the United States by travellers transporting plants.

The researchers are studying the Aphelinus glycinis, a stingless wasp that serves as a predator to aphids, at ISU-affiliated research farms this summer. Not only will the researchers be studying the effectiveness of the Aphelinus glycinis in reducing aphid populations but they will also study ways  the Aphelinus glycinis responds to the environment and affects Iowa’s ecosystem.

The research team consists of Matt Kaiser, a pre-doctoral associate in ISU’s Department of Entomology; Matthew O’Neal an associate professor in the Department of Entomology; and Keith Hopper, research entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The idea of introducing one species as a way to reduce the population of an invasive species is a concept known as “biological control.”

“If there’s a pest causing harm to humans or the environment, you can find other organisms that reduce that harm by suppressing the pest’s population. That’s what we refer to as biological control,” Kaiser said.

The use of stingless wasps to combat invasive species is currently being tried by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to combat the spread of the invasive emerald ash borer in wooded areas near Fairfield. Similar biological controls were credited as helping to save California’s citrus fruit industry in the late 1980s.

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