Graduate Students in Nepal Uncover the Impacts of Climate Change and Invasive Weed Species Spread

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Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab

Jul 27, 2021

Anju Sharma Paudel
Anju Sharma Paudel

This post is written by Sara Hendery, communications coordinator for the Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab

Virginia Tech’s Feed the Future IPM Innovation Lab is celebrating the work of 27 students funded by one of its projects. 

The IPM Innovation Lab collaborates with Tribhuvan University and the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute to assess the spread of invasive weeds over the last 30 years — based on elevation and under different climate scenarios — in central Nepal. The project has found that as climate change events continue to occur, invasive weeds are spreading faster and higher than ever before. 

Over the course of this six-year project, many research findings have been uncovered by graduate students supported by the project’s funding. Post-graduation, those students are now working at high levels within the Nepal government, universities and the private sector. They have also participated in more than 45 international and national conference presentations and published more than three dozen research papers in national and international scientific journals, with more being developed.

“Student research, with the guidance of experts and advisors, has been at the helm of some of the most exciting research to come out of this project,” said Pramod Jha, Professor Emeritus at Tribhuvan University and the project lead. “Some have uncovered, for example, incredibly valuable biocontrol options for some of Nepal’s most pressing invasive weed issues as well as assessed the shrinking land availability of critical food crops communities depend on. These students are just at the beginning of recognizing the long-term impacts of climate change and this initial research will propel them into future careers where they can actually see their work come to life.”

Take, for example, soon-to-be graduate Seerjana Maharjan. Maharjan is earning her Ph.D. from Tribhuvan University, researching the ecology and management of the invasive weed Parthenium hysterophorus, which causes human, animal and environmental health issues. Her research considers the possibility of winter rust as a biocontrol agent of parthenium and projects the increased suitable habitat of parthenium under future climate scenarios. Post-graduation, Maharjan will serve as a scientific officer in Nepal’s Department of Plant Resources, Ministry of Forest and Environment

Dol Raj Luitel also works as a senior scientific officer in Nepal’s Department of Plant Resources, Ministry of Forestry and Environment. Earning his Ph.D. at Tribhuvan University, Luitel’s research explores the impact of climate change on distribution, production and cropping patterns of finger millet and buckwheat along altitudinal gradients in Nepal. His research assesses the medicinal value of finger millet, the declining habitat of buckwheat under future climate scenarios, and the important nutrients that can be found in finger millet and soil at varying elevations.

Ghanshyam Bhandari earned his Ph.D. from the Agriculture and Forestry University, researching insect diversity of maize and eco-friendly management practices of maize stemborers. Bhandari’s research also assesses the performance of traps for capturing maize insects and farmer perception of climate change in relation to maize cultivation. As a current research officer at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), Bhandari is assisting the IPM Innovation Lab in developing biological control efforts of the invasive fall armyworm in Nepal. 

Hom Nath Giri earned a Ph.D. from the Agriculture and Forestry University and currently serves as an assistant professor of horticulture at his alma mater. His research explores the growth of cauliflower at different ecological zones in Nepal, the effect of nitrogen on the post-harvest quality of cauliflower, and efficacy testing of pesticides against the cabbage butterfly in Nepal.

Anju Sharma Paudel earned a Ph.D. from Tribhuvan University, her research focusing on the management of the invasive weed Ageratina adenophora. Post-graduation, Paudel is continuing to develop her research, predicting the current and future distribution of Ageratina adenophora in Nepal and whether stem-galling of the invasive weed by the biocontrol agent Procecidochares utilis is elevation dependent.

The IPM Innovation Lab supported Ram Asheswar Mandal, a postdoctoral student at Tribhuvan University, over the course of the program. Mandal’s research assesses the impacts of climate change and biological invasion on livelihoods.

The IPM Innovation Lab has also supported 21 master’s-level students in the same project, many of whom now work as agricultural officers for the Nepal government or as lecturers at local universities.

Muni Muniappan, director of the IPM Innovation Lab, said the involvement of students in this project is a win-win for both students and research.

“Students are eager to address the biggest problems of our time,” he said, “whether it be food insecurity, resource limitations, climate change impacts or other constraints. Students bring to these global challenges new perspectives and out-of-the-box thinking that is exactly what is needed to help move the science forward. In return, they receive real-life, hands-on experience in their own country as well as other countries, which further nurtures their problem-solving abilities.”

Graduating master’s students funded by the project includes:

  • Sagar Khadka, Tribhuvan University: Decomposition of Eichhornia crassipes of different fungi in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal. 
  • Bidya Shrestha, Tribhuvan University: Impacts of climate change on biodiversity utilization by smallholder farmers. 
  • Pristi Dangol, Tribhuvan University: Changes in the life history traits of the invasive weed Lantana camara in central Nepal.
  • Yashoda Panthi, Tribhuvan University: Diversity of invasive alien plant species and their impacts on provisioning services in a village of Lamjung district. 
  • Ganga Shah, Tribhuvan University: Distribution of vulture species and its nest site from lowland to highland in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal.
  • Vishubha Thapa, Tribhuvan University: Food access and threats to vultures in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal. 
  • Vivekanand Mahat, Agriculture and Forestry University: Hygiene behavior of the honey bee (Apis cerana. F. and Apis mellifera L.) and diversity of flower visitors in rapeseed (Brassica campestris var. toria). 
  • Sarita Sapkota, Agriculture and Forestry University: Relative abundance of dung beetles and their role in nutrient cycling in Terai and mid hills of Nepal. 
  • Ramesh Upreti, Agriculture and Forestry University: Fruit thinning and defoliation effects on the quality and yield of papaya (Carica papaya) cv. Red Lady under net house conditions at Chitwan. 
  • Madhu Sudan Ghimire, Agriculture and Forestry University: Evaluation of indigenous cultivation of potato against late blight (Phytopthora infestance L.) in Okhaldhunga, Nepal.
  • Pratiksha Sharma, Agriculture and Forestry University: Climate resilient maize production among Chepang and non-Chepang communities in Chitwan, Nepal. 
  • Srijana Paudel, Tribhuvan University: Spatio-temporal distribution of Mikania micrantha in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal. 
  • Abhisek Singh, Tribhuvan University: Spatio-temporal distribution of Ipomea carnea ssp fistulosa and spatio-temporal distribution of Lantana camara in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal. 
  • Sita Gyawali, Tribhuvan University: Spatio-temporal distribution of Chromolaena odorata in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal. 
  • Sandeep Dhakal, Tribhuvan University: Spatio-temporal distribution of Lantana camara in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal. 
  • Sanjeev Bhandari, Tribhuvan University: Climate change and its impacts on fodder availability in Puranchaur, Kaski district.
  • Himal Yonjon, Tribhuvan University: Spatio-temporal distribution of Eichhornea crassipes in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal. 
  • Chandra Paudel, Tribhuvan University: Impacts of Lantana camara on associated species. 
  • Binod Malla, Tribhuvan University: Impacts of Mikania micrantha on associated species. 
  • Aarati Chand, Tribhuvan University: Impacts of Parthenium hysterophorus on associated species. 
  • Nitu Joshi, Tribhuvan University: Impacts of  Chromolaena odorata on associated species.

This invasive weed modeling project is one of nine projects the IPM Innovation Lab currently manages. Since the program’s inception in 1993, it has funded the research of more than 600 students worldwide.FILED UNDER:AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTIVITYCLIMATE AND NATURAL RESOURCESEDUCATION AND EXTENSION




Satellites Capture Spread of “Mile-a-Minute Weed” from Space for Improved Food Security on the Ground


Mapping Climate Change, Invasive Species, and Semblances of Hope


IPM Program Prepares Farming Communities in Nepal for Impacts of a Changing Climate


2020 Integrated Pest Management Research, Data and Findings: A Look Back

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Wasp larvae (yellow) kill a cabbage butterfly caterpillar—which might have survived had it been infected by a virus, first. SILVIA REICHE/MINDEN

Deadly viruses help moths and butterflies fight off parasitic wasps

By Mennatalla IbrahimJul. 29, 2021 , 2:00 PM

Moths and butterflies have long fallen victim to two deadly threats: parasitic wasps and viruses, which battle each other over their lepidopteran hosts. Now, a new study shows some viruses transfer their weapons to infected moths and butterflies, arming them with the genes to make parasite-killing proteins.

Many species of wasps and flies lay their eggs inside other insects, giving their young a source of food and a safe place to develop—and killing the host in the process. But even though moths and butterflies are favored hosts, some species, including armyworms, cutworms, and cabbage butterflies, have shown a strange resistance to a plethora of wasp parasites, such as Cotesia vanessae and C. kariyai.

To find out what was going on, entomologist Madoka Nakai and her team at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology infected northern armyworm larvae with a common pox virus before introducing the immature insects to various parasitic wasp species. Whereas uninfected larvae succumbed to the parasites, the infected larvae—and their plasma—killed almost every parasite, aside from the basket-cocoon parasitoid Meteorus pulchricornis. Researchers then identified two proteins in the infected armyworms, which they called parasitoid killing factor (PKF), that they thought might be toxic to the parasites.

Next, insect pathologist Salvador Herrero and colleagues at the University of Valencia found genes in both insect-infecting viruses and moth and butterfly hosts that could make PKFs. An analysis of the lepidopteran family tree suggested the PKF genes were transferred multiple times from the viruses to the lepidopterans. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Herrero says. “The insect survived the infection from the virus, acquired one of these genes, and now has protection against another enemy, the parasitoid.”

To show that it was the PKF proteins that were doing the killing, University of British Columbia, Okanagan, molecular biologist David Theilmann and colleagues infected bertha armyworms with two baculovirus species, MacoNPV-A and MacoNPV-B. They found that the infected armyworms successfully resisted braconid wasp larva parasites (C. vanessae). Meanwhile, beet armyworms, whose own genes make PKFs, were also able to kill the parasites. When scientists knocked out the genes that produced the PKFs in the beet armyworms, many more parasites survived, suggesting the PKFs were responsible for the parasite deaths, the researchers write today in Science.

To find out how the PKFs were killing the parasites, scientists exposed braconid wasp larva to beet armyworm and infected northern armyworm plasma. DNA fragments and signaling molecules in exposed cells suggested PKFs had caused affected cells to explode.

“We all arrived at these genes from slightly different directions. Putting our research together created this very interesting story about the biological arms race occurring on a very large scale between multiple pathogens, wasps, and hosts, which we now know are also fighting back,” Theilmann says.

But the researchers also found an interesting twist—at least one of the PKF-harboring viruses is transmitted to moths and butterflies by the basket-cocoon parasitoid, protecting the very wasp whose larvae can survive its assaults. That suggests that even though PKFs can help the lepidopterans, they may also give an advantage to some parasitic wasps.

The new work should help researchers understand why moths and butterflies often resist parasitoids used as pesticides for crops and forests, Herrero says. But when it comes to fully understanding the complexity of this evolutionary arms race, many questions are unanswered, Theilmann says. For example, his team still doesn’t know why some viruses have genes for PKF and others don’t. They also don’t know whether all PKFs function in the same manner.

“I think this is a good first step,” says Michael Strand, an entomologist at the University of Georgia who specializes in parasite-host interactions. By identifying these new proteins, he adds, the new study has paved the way for important future work. Meanwhile, the researchers plan to investigate where these virus-host-parasite interactions typically take place in the wild. They also want to track down PKF’s specific targets—and see whether any other genes play a similar, toxic role.Posted in: 


Mennatalla Ibrahim

Mennatalla Ibrahim

Mennatalla Ibrahim is a Diverse Voices in Science Journalism intern for the News section of Science. She is an undergraduate at the University of Maryland studying communication and community health.

Parasite or poisoner

  1. Michael A. Funk

 See all authors and affiliations Science  30 Jul 2021:
Vol. 373, Issue 6554, pp. 530-531
DOI: 10.1126/science.373.6554.530-a

Cordyceps, a genus of fungi that parasitizes insects (such as the cricket shown here), uses small molecules such as the cytotoxic cyclic peptide cordyheptapeptide A to help take over their hosts.IMAGE: MORLEY READ / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Cordyceps fungi are bizarre and disturbing parasites that infect insects, sometimes compelling them to exhibit strange behaviors that help disperse fungal spores to new hosts. These fungi produce a number of small molecules that presumably help in this type of takeover and could have valuable applications in medicine. Klein et al. synthesized and characterized the cytotoxic cyclic peptide cordyheptapeptide A, along with a number of variants, to establish the structure-activity relationship and identify the cellular target(s). Cytological profiling suggested a mechanism of action similar to that of protein synthesis inhibitors. The authors confirmed that elongation factor 1A, which is crucial in ribosomal protein synthesis and is a common cytotoxic target, is also a target for this group of cyclic peptides.

ACS Chem. Biol. 10.1021/acschembio.1c00094 (2021).

Science Newsfrom research organizations

Fruit fly offers lessons in good taste

Study shows food choice decisions require taste input

Date:July 27, 2021Source:University of California – RiversideSummary:The fruit fly has multiple taste organs throughout its body to detect chemicals, called tastants, that signal whether a food is palatable or harmful. It is still unclear, however, how individual neurons in each taste organ act to control feeding. To explore this question, a team used the fly pharynx as a model to study whether taste information regulates sugar and amino acid consumption at the cellular level.Share:FULL STORY

What can the fruit fly teach us about taste and how chemicals cause our taste buds to recognize sweet, sour, bitter, umami, and salty tastes? Quite a lot, according to University of California, Riverside, researchers who have published a study exploring the insect’s sense of taste.

“Insect feeding behavior directly impacts humans in many ways, from disease-carrying mosquitos that seek human blood to pests whose appetite can wreak havoc on the agricultural sector,” said Anupama Dahanukar, an associate professor of molecular, cell and systems biology, who led the study appearing in the Journal of Neuroscience. “How insect taste neurons are organized and how they function is critical for a deeper understanding of their feeding behavior.”

The fruit fly has multiple taste organs throughout its body to detect chemicals, called tastants, that signal whether a food is palatable or harmful. It is still unclear, however, how individual neurons in each taste organ act to control feeding. To explore this question, Dahanukar’s team used the fly pharynx as a model to study whether taste information regulates sugar and amino acid consumption at the cellular level.

Dahanukar explained animals rely heavily on the sense of taste to make feeding decisions, such as consuming nutritive foods while avoiding toxic ones.

“In mammals, taste information is encoded by specialized cells present in taste buds of the tongue,” she said. “Taste receptors expressed in these cells can detect different chemicals. Molecular and functional differences in receptors expressed in different cells allow recognition of different tastes, such as salty, sour, sweet, bitter, or umami.”

Several new studies in flies indicate individual taste neurons can detect compounds belonging to more than one taste category, raising some questions about the distinct behavioral roles of individual taste neurons. If many classes of taste neurons are activated by sugar, for example, how does activation of just one class of taste neurons affect behavior?

Dahanukar’s team answered this question by genetically engineering a fly in which only a single defined class of pharyngeal neurons is active. The team then tested this fly in different feeding experiments to understand what the fly can or cannot do compared to animals that have all their taste neurons intact.

“We found single-taste neurons are capable of responding and activating behavioral responses to more than one tastant category — sweet and amino acids in our study,” said Yu-Chieh David Chen, the first author of the research paper. “We also found that a single tastant category — amino acids in our study — can activate multiple classes of taste neurons.”

The team also tested flies that had no functional taste neurons. Such flies were incapable of making any proper feeding decisions, no matter the food choices — whether these were two attractive stimuli, one attractive and one aversive, or one nutritive and the other nonnutritive.

The researchers found food choice decisions cannot be made in the absence of taste input; the latter is critical for ensuring appropriate food choice and feeding behavior. Further, flies that had pharyngeal sweet taste neurons as the only source of taste input were consistently able to select more palatable food.

“Altogether, our results argue for the existence of a combinatorial coding system, wherein multiple neurons coordinate the response to any given tastant,” Dahanukar said.

The study is the first to directly test the impact of loss of all taste neurons on behavioral responses to tastants of different categories. It is also the first to test whether a single class of taste neurons is sufficient for food choice and feeding behavior.

“Along with several other recent studies in the field, our work also invites revisiting some established ideas about how insect taste is organized,” Dahanukar said. “Rather than encoding tastes as in mammals, flies appear to encode some combination of valence — attractive versus aversive — and tastant identity.”

Her team anticipates that knowing how taste neurons work in flies will facilitate insect studies of greater health or agricultural importance.

“We are building tools for asking the same sorts of questions in mosquitoes,” Dahanukar said. “Such studies could offer potential targets for manipulating feeding behaviors of pests or disease vectors in surveillance or control strategies.”

She acknowledged that her lab has only evaluated a single taste neuron within the system it set up, with many more remaining to be studied.

“We are interested in understanding what these neurons sense and how they act, individually and as part of a group, to control parameters that lead to either promotion or cessation of food intake,” said Vaibhav Menon, a graduate student in Dahanukar’s lab and a co-author on the study.

The team plans to apply some of the same strategies to investigate how feeding behavior is controlled in mosquitoes.

The study was supported by the Whitehall Foundation, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and UCR Agricultural Experimental Station. Chen was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Student Research Fellow at UCR.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California – Riverside. Original written by Iqbal Pittalwala. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Yu-Chieh David Chen, Vaibhav Menon, Ryan Matthew Joseph, Anupama Arun Dahanukar. Control of Sugar and Amino Acid Feeding via Pharyngeal Taste NeuronsThe Journal of Neuroscience, 2021; 41 (27): 5791 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1794-20.2021

Cite This Page:

University of California – Riverside. “Fruit fly offers lessons in good taste: Study shows food choice decisions require taste input.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 July 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210727171549.htm>.


Plant root-associated bacteria preferentially colonize their native host-plant roots

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Lotus japonicus and Arabidopsis Thaliana

Plants, including crops such as rice and wheat, obtain their essential mineral nutrients and water through their roots, making them an important interface between plants and the soil environment. The roots of land plants associate with a wide range of microbes – including bacteria – that are recruited from the surrounding soil and assemble into structured communities known as the root microbiota. These microbial communities are sustained by the plant host, which provides them with nutrients, primarily in the form of organic carbon compounds secreted by the root. In turn, these commensal bacteria mediate multiple processes that are beneficial to their plant host, such as providing defense against pathogens, improving nutrient mobilization from the soil and positively impacting growth. Given their importance for plant health, the study of the root microbiota has evolved into a promising research field that aims to understand how these interactions occur, and could eventually help increase the yield and resilience of crop plants. Although it is well known that plants secrete diverse small molecules into the soil via their roots that serve as chemoattractants for root colonization by a subset of soil-dwelling bacteria, the degree of active selection performed by the host and the extent to which root-associated microbial communities are adapted to specific plant species remain largely unknown. In a new study published in Nature Microbiology, a team of researchers from the Department of Plant-Microbe Interactions at the MPIPZ in Cologne, Germany, and Århus University in Denmark, aimed to gain a deeper understanding of these complex multi-species interactions.

As a first step in this quest, they established a comprehensive collection of root-derived bacteria from the model legume Lotus japonicus, a small proportion of which are symbiotic bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen for plant growth. Together with an already established culture collection from roots of the model crucifer Arabidopsis thaliana, synthetic microbial communities (SynComs) were designed to explore the microbiota assembly of different plant species. Although the bacterial communities of the two plants were similar, the researchers observed a clear preference by these bacteria to colonize their native host. This preference was mediated by a higher competitiveness displayed by multiple bacterial species when colonizing their host of origin compared to those originally isolated from the other host.

Strikingly, host preference was only observed in a community context, where different microbes compete among each other, but not when individual bacterial species were allowed to colonize the plant roots in the absence of competition. Analysis of gene expression of both plant species when interacting with different synthetic communities further showed that this process was at least in part driven by the host. Intriguingly, root colonization by native and non-native SynComs exhibited contrasting gene expression profiles for a number of well-known regulators of plant immunity. Based on this observation, the authors then hypothesized that native strains have a competitive advantage when colonizing the roots of their corresponding host plant via the formation of species-specific host niches. To test this hypothesis, the scientists performed a series of complex experiments, where SynComs from different host species were allowed to invade already established root-associated bacterial communities in host and non-host plants. Their results showed that native SynComs had a competitive advantage when invading an already established microbiota in their host plant, indicating that adaptation of commensal bacteria to their native plant species leads to increased invasiveness and persistence.

To quote Kathrin Wippel, first author of the study: “We were amazed to learn that root colonization by native and non-native SynComs resulted in differential transcriptional reprogramming of plant roots, possibly contributing to the formation of specific root niches for native commensal bacteria. These findings indicate that diverse soil-dwelling bacteria associate with and prefer a specific host plant, similar to pathogens or beneficial symbionts of plants.” These findings could have a meaningful impact on agriculture, as they highlight the importance of competitiveness between different bacteria and the impact of host preference for successful root colonization. Probiotic inoculants tailored to specific crop plants with an enhanced capacity to invade and persist in standing microbial communities could help overcome the variation in efficacy of currently used biologicals in agriculture.



Nature Microbiology



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Click here to view in browser.   SIL’s NEW Soybean Rust Crash Course and Rust Spray Calculator available now!
JULY 29, 2021 Soybean field with heavy rust pressure (brown patches) interspersed with strips that were treated for soybean rust with fungicide. Photo credit: Sikora et al.   Soybean rust is one of the most significant diseases that affects soybean yield. It can spread quickly and cause up to an 80% loss in yield. It’s a frustrating challenge for producers and breeders, but there are practices and management techniques that growers can employ to ensure a good return on investment for their soybean production.

SIL’s new course, the Soybean Rust Crash Course, is designed for growers, practitioners, breeders, and researchers to learn how to identify the disease, scout for disease at the optimal stage, and manage the disease before it’s too late.     The Soybean Rust Crash Course is free and includes four modules: 1. The Pathogen and symptoms; 2. Scouting; 3. Management; and 4. For breeders and researchers, more information on data collection and varietal resistance.

Module 3 covers disease management and includes a Rust Spray Calculator, designed to aid in environmentally responsible and economically feasible decision-making on whether or not fungicides should be used to control rust outbreaks. The calculator bases recommendations on growth of the crop and rust pressure, and then determines the economic gain that can be achieved by considering a grower’s local fungicide cost, labor cost, and grain price.   The Rust Spray Calculator provides growers with evidence-based decision making on whether they should use fungicides to control rust observed in their fields.   The importance of scouting a field from beginning bloom to full seed development cannot be overemphasized. Finding the disease before it takes over provides an opportunity to spray with fungicide and save up to 80% of yield. The Soybean Rust Crash Course, combined with the Rust Spray Calculator, provides specific recommendations for growers, from scouting techniques and identification of soybean rust, to analyzing the potential economic benefits of spraying. For breeders and researchers, the course goes into more depth about plot-level data collection and the current state of varietal resistance.

Successful completion of the Soybean Rust Crash Course will result in a Certificate of Completion that can be shared on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.   SIL’s Disease Management program has several other resources that complement the new Soybean Rust Crash Course and Rust Spray Calculator including: The Field Guide to African Disease, Pests, and Nutrition Deficiencies The Guide to African Soybean Seedborne Diseases and Pests The Soybean Rust Disease Bulletin The Soybean Innovation Lab Disease and Pest ID Board on Facebook The Rust Hot Spot Map – see below You can find several other free courses at SIL-University   The Tropical Soybean Information Portal (TSIP) features a Rust Hot Spot Map. The map is a tool containing trial and operator information on rust disease incidence and severity over seven seasons and 57 locations. To view the Rust Hot Spot Map, click on the pathogen icon on the left side of the map located on the TSIP homepage.     Like On Facebook Like On Facebook Follow On Twitter Follow On Twitter Visit Our Website Visit Our Website Contact Us Contact Us   Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research (Soybean Innovation Lab)
1301 West Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801 * Tel. (217) 333-7425 * soybeaninnovationlab@illinois.edu  

Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘PestNet’s Tales from the Pacific – Taro leaf blight’

PestNet’s Tales from the Pacific – Taro leaf blight

Hi Everyone

The new PestNet website is up and running: www.pestnet.org.

I have written a couple of stories, and put them under Archives. Take a look and if you are interested in taro, taro leaf blight or taro lethal viruses diseases, see them under “Tales from the Pacific”. 

I decided to write a story about Taro Leaf Blight for several reasons:
  • Why did it take 5 years to get donor funding to deal with the disease when it hit Samoa in June 1993 and wiped out the crop in 6 months?
  • How much did luck have to do with getting a program started?
  • Why did results fall far short of my expectations?
  • And, importantly, I wanted to ask:
  • what were the lessons learned, if any?
    • how did they help in dealing with similar pest incursions?
    • how does the disaster of taro leaf blight compare with a recent invasion of the coconut rhinoceros beetle, Oryctes

I have written it in a non-scientific way so that it could be read by a wide audience, as I think there’s a lot to learn from the taro leaf saga and there is still much to doI

If you are interested in taro, its most deadly pathogen, but also broader issues of food and nutritional security of an important but unresearched mainly subsistence crop, then take a look at the story:

Go to PestNet > Archives (from the main menu) >Tales of the Pacific > Taro leaf blight and click on the image
Or click on: Taro leaf blight: my 50-year role in its downfall on the front page, and click on the image
Or go straight to the story at: https://www.pestnet.org/the-taro-leaf-blight-story/  and click on  the image

By the way, the same disease got into West Africa for the first time in 2010 and has done a lot of damage there.

If you have any tales on plant protection, please share.



Fall armyworms eating rice leaves in a flooded field. Entomologists seek emergency-use exemption to help rice growers in ‘epic’ battle against armyworms.

Mary Hightower, U of A System Division of Agriculture | Jul 22, 2021SUGGESTED EVENT

Events Page - Farm Progress Show 2021

Farm Progress ShowAug 31, 2021 to Sep 02, 2021

University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture entomologists are seeking an emergency exemption to allow for the use of Intrepid to help control armyworms that threaten the state’s 1.24 million acres of rice. 

“This is the biggest outbreak of fall armyworm situation that I’ve ever seen in my career,” Gus Lorenz, extension entomologist for the Division of Agriculture, said Wednesday. “They’re in pastures, rice, soybeans, grain sorghum. It’s epic.”https://d4100051ff2b64e2ac90e81feaf8c9c5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Lorenz said the Section 18 request to enable use of Intrepid should be submitted to the Arkansas State Plant Board by Friday.

Intrepid is a growth regulator that’s approved for use in just about every other row crop but is not labeled for use in rice.

“This armyworm thing started about three to four weeks ago,” he said. “It’s continued to build from that time. It’s from the Boot heel of Missouri down to Louisiana.”

Eaten to the ground

Gus Lorenz51326207237_6519faedbd_o.png

Sweep net full of armyworms. Taken July 21, 2021.Lorenz said he received a call from a producer in “south Arkansas, that they’d eaten his bermudagrass pasture to the ground. It was a 30- to 40-acre pasture. And he wasn’t even calling about the pasture. He was calling about his rice crop. He said his rice was being eaten to the ground.”

“Fall armyworm is a particularly voracious caterpillar,” said Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the Division of Agriculture. “They have a tendency to surprise us because adults lay very large egg masses but the earliest instar larvae eat very little. It’s not until they get older and start to spread out that they consume most of the food in their life cycle.

“This is why we go from zero to TREAT seemingly overnight,” Hardke said.

Why a Section 18?

51327145063_f633537f6a_o.jpgExtension entomologist Nick Bateman examines a rice field in Jefferson County on July 21, 2021 for fall armyworms. (U of A System Kurt Beaty)

Typically, armyworms can be managed well using pyrethroids, but Lorenz said “when this outbreak first started, we got reports out of Texas and Louisiana that they weren’t getting control. We’re getting failures.”

Lorenz said he and colleagues ran some quick tests, spraying this year’s armyworms with pyrethroids “and we got 48% control.”

In cattle-heavy parts of the state producers use another insect growth regulator called Dimilin to manage armyworms, but in row crop country, “they just don’t carry it. It’s just not available,” Lorenz said.

Fellow extension entomologist Nick Bateman said, “another problem with using Dimilin is the pre-harvest interval. The pre-harvest interval on Dimilin is 80 days which will lead to major harvest issues.”

“We’re limited on the options in control for rice,” he said. “It’s not just a problem of row rice. We are also seeing them in flooded rice, all through the field. They are eating rice all the way down to the waterline.”

Lorenz said rice growers in California sought and received a Section 18 exemptions over the last three years. “We felt like that was our best option.”

Arkansas farmers who managed to replant after the floods and heavy rain in June have young, tender plants that are highly attractive to armyworms.

“Those crops are extremely susceptible to damage from armyworms,” Lorenz said.

What’s next

“My concern is that if we get another generation of them, the next wave could be unbelievable,” he said.

The first generation of armyworms matured into moths in Texas and Louisiana and flew northward. Now that they’re in Arkansas, “We’re making our own generation, which is what makes it so dangerous,” Lorenz said.

There’s also a chance that, depending on the environment, “the population could collapse,” he said. “There are some natural controls out there. When you get a big buildup a lot of things can happen. There are a lot of naturally occurring pathogens that can help control them.”

Some agents in southwest Arkansas found armyworms that had fallen victim to a naturally occurring virus. Lorenz is hoping that virus may provide another option for control in the future.

Arkansas is the nation’s leading rice producer. 

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Virginia Tech’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management is hiring a Country Program Manager for the Feed the Future Bangladesh Integrated Pest Management Activity (IPMA), an associate award funded by the USAID mission in Bangladesh. This activity will address managing current and emerging pest and disease threats of crops, human and institutional capacity building in Bangladesh, and developing, implementing, and scaling up IPM packages for rice, maize, mango, sesame, mung bean, sunflower, lentil, potato, groundnut, eggplant, and bananas. The Country Program Manager will manage the activity in Bangladesh and coordinate with the relevant international and national organizations/institutes/agencies in implementing the activity. See below for further details.

Virginia Tech Feed the Future Bangladesh Integrated Pest Management Activity (IPMA)

Terms of Reference (TOR)

Position:       Country Program Manager

Project:          Feed the Future Bangladesh Integrated Pest Management Activity (IPMA)

Work Site:     Dhaka city with travel to Dhaka, Khulna, and Barisal divisions, Cox’s Bazar, and Bandarban districts. In some cases, the whole country needs to be covered.

Report to:      Principal Investigator

Supervising:    Deputy Program Manager, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, Accountant, Driver, Sweeper, Office assistants, and security guards.

Project Background: In Bangladesh, land scarcity, agricultural intensification, and rapid population growth are major issues related to food security. Pests and diseases cause nearly 50 percent crop loss. The IPMA project, an associate award funded by the USAID mission in Bangladesh, will operate for three years from August 1, 2021. It will address managing current and emerging pest and disease threats of crops, human and institutional capacity building in Bangladesh, and developing, implementing, and scaling up IPM packages for rice, maize, mango, sesame, mung bean, sunflower, lentil, potato, groundnut, eggplant, and bananas. Collaboration in-country with CIMMYT, FAO, value chains, and local institutions and agencies is required.

Job Summary: The Country Program Manager (CPM) will take guidance from and report to the Principal Investigator of the IPMA. S/he will manage the IPMA in Bangladesh and coordinate with the relevant international and national organizations/institutes/agencies in implementing IPMA. S/he will keep constant communication with the AOR of the IPMA project and the Principal Investigator. S/he will prepare and submit reports as specified in the Cooperative Agreement. 

Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Work with the Project Management team to develop a comprehensive workplan to meet the IPMA goals and objectives.
  • Coordinate with CIMMYT, FAO, and relevant Bangladesh government institutions such as the Department of Extension, academia, financial institutions, judiciary, media, private sector, and value chain actors.
  • Coordinate and prepare monthly reports, quarterly reports, annual reports, success stories, and other reports as needed.
  • Organize workshops/symposia/meetings/conferences/webinars related to the project.
  • Communicate with the AOR and Principal Investigator regularly and respond to their requests promptly.
  • Manage IPMA progress and ensure compliance with the workplan.
  • Participate in project monitoring and evaluation activities.
  • Monitor, identify, and initiate or stimulate producing scientific and/or popular publications collaboratively.

Required Qualifications and Skills:

  • Master’s Degree in a subject related to Agriculture and/or administration
  • Significant international experience in the agricultural sector
  • At least 7 years relevant professional work experience
  • Prior experience working in IPM, agricultural research or extension, value chain/market system development projects or other institutions.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills in English
  • Experience with academic research programs
  • Evidence of inclusive leadership
  • Familiarity with project management approaches, tools, and phases of the project lifecycle
  • Ability to work effectively at all levels in an organization
  • Problem-solving and root cause identification skills; strong analytic and decision-making abilities
  • Ability to take direction and to focus on and follow through on priority activities and assignments; ability to effectively handle multiple tasks without compromising the quality, team spirit, and constructive working relationships with all colleagues
  • Excellent organizational skills, attention to detail, and flexible work style
  • Demonstrated ability to handle confidential and/or sensitive information
  • Computer Skills: Proficient in MS Office and internet applications

Preferred Qualifications and Skills:

  • PhD in a relevant field, preferably in Entomology, Plant Pathology, or a field related to integrated pest management.
  • Knowledge of and experience with USAID rules and regulations

How to Apply

To apply, please send the completed application found at this link Application and resume/CV by email to: FTFBIPMA.Employment@gmail.com, with “IPMA Country Program Manager” in the subject heading. Applications will be reviewed beginning on 1 September 2020, and the position will remain open until filled. Only short-listed candidates will be contacted. Recruitment is contingent upon the successful award of the project; this document should not be construed in any way to represent a contract of employment.

Virginia Tech is an equal opportunity and affirmative action employer. Women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, and protected veterans are strongly encouraged to apply. Anyone having questions concerning discrimination or accessibility should contact the Virginia Tech Office for Equity and Accessibility.


DNA barcodes decode the world of soil nematodes

To understand soil ecosystems and contribute to advanced agriculture





The research team of Professor Toshihiko Eki of the Department of Applied Chemistry and Life Science (and Research Center for Agrotechnology and Biotechnology), Toyohashi University of Technology used a next-generation sequencer to develop a highly efficient method to analyze soil nematodes by using the 18S ribosomal RNA gene regions as DNA barcodes. They successfully used this method to reveal characteristics of nematode communities that inhabit fields, copses, and home gardens. In the future, the target will be expanded to cover all soil-dwelling organisms in agricultural soils, etc., to allow investigations into a soil’s environment and bio-diversity. This is expected to contribute to advanced agriculture.


Similar to when the UN declared 2015 to be the International Year of Soils, there have recently been many efforts worldwide to raise awareness of the importance of the soil that covers our Earth and its conservation. Diverse groups of organisms such as bacteria, fungi, protists, and small soil animals inhabit the soil, and together they form the soil ecosystem. Nematodes are a representative soil animal; they are a few millimeters long and have a shape resembling a worm. They play an important role in the cycling of soil materials. Many soil nematodes are bacteria feeders, but they have a wide variety of feeding habits, such as feeding on fungi, plant parasitism, or being omnivorous. In particular, plant parasitic nematodes often cause devastating damage to crops. Therefore, the classification and identification of nematodes is also important from an agricultural standpoint. However, nematodes are diverse, and there are over 30,000 species. Additionally, because nematodes resemble one another, morphological identification of nematodes is difficult for anyone but experts.

The research team focused on “DNA barcoding” to identify the species based on their unique nucleotide sequences of a barcode gene, and they established a method using a next-generation sequencer that can decode huge numbers of nucleotide sequences. They used this to analyze nematode communities from different soil environments. Initially, four DNA barcode regions were set for the 18S ribosomal RNA genes shared by eukaryotes. The soil nematodes used for analysis were isolated from an uncultivated field, a copse, and a home garden growing zucchini. The PCR was used to amplify the four gene fragments from the DNA of the nematodes and determine the nucleotide sequences. Additionally, the nematode-derived sequence variants (SVs) representing independent nematode species were identified, and after taxonomical classification and analysis of the SVs, it was revealed that plant parasitizing nematodes were abundant in the copse soil and bacteria feeders were abundant in the soil from the home garden. It was also determined that predatory nematodes and omnivorous nematodes were abundant in the uncultivated field, in addition to bacteria feeders.

This DNA barcoding method using a next-generation sequencer is widely used for the analysis of intestinal microbiota, etc., but analyses of eukaryotes such as nematodes are still in the research stage. This research provides an example of its usefulness for the taxonomic profiling of soil nematodes.

Development Background

Research team leader Toshihiko Eki stated, “Through genetic research, I have been working with nematodes (mainly C. elegans) for around 20 years. As a member of our university’s Research Center for Agrotechnology and Biotechnology, I came up with this theme while considering research that we could perform that is related to agriculture. As a test, we isolated nematodes from the university’s soybean field and unmanaged flowerbed and analyzed the DNA barcode for each nematode. Bacteria feeders were abundant in the soybean field, and that was used for comparison with the flowerbed, where weed-parasitizing nematodes and their predator nematodes were abundant. This discovery was the start of our research (Morise et al., PLoS ONE, 2012). If that method using one-by-one DNA sequencing was the first generation, the current method using the next-generation sequencer is the second generation, and we were able to clarify characteristics of nematode communities representing the three ecologically different soil environments according to expectations.”

Future Outlook

Currently, the research team is developing the third-generation DNA barcoding method which involves purifying DNA directly from the soil and analyzing the organisms in the whole soil instead of isolating and analyzing any particular soil-dwelling organisms. They are currently analyzing the soil biota of cabbage fields, etc. They are aiming to precisely analyze how communities of soil-dwelling organisms including microbes change with crop growth, clarify the effects that cultivated plants have on these organisms, and investigate biota closely related to plant diseases. If this research moves forward, crops can be cultivated and managed logically based on biological data in agricultural soils, and it can contribute to advancing smart agriculture in Japan, such as in the prominent Higashi-Mikawa agriculture region and beyond.


This research was performed with the support of the Takahashi Industrial and Economic Research Foundation.


Harutaro Kenmotsu, Masahiro Ishikawa, Tomokazu Nitta, Yuu Hirose and Toshihiko Eki (2021). Distinct community structures of soil nematodes from three ecologically different sites revealed by high-throughput amplicon sequencing of four 18S ribosomal RNA gene regions.
PLoS ONE, 16(4): e0249571.

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