Oregon State University professor releases destructive moths and wasps into orchards

The campus of Oregon State University in 2018.

The campus of Oregon State University in 2018.

Oregon State University professor Christopher Adams released more than 4,000 codling moths into fertile orchards in the Columbia Gorge each week for the past three months.

The drab half-inch alien insects don’t look like much, but they wreak havoc when they lay their larvae inside apples, pears, walnuts, or other crops.

A 2018 analysis found that apple growers in Washington spend more than $500 million. Compensation for damages.

That’s exactly why Adams released the moth.

No, he’s not an agroterrorist. Each moth he releases into the wild is sterilized.

“These sterilized males and females fly around and mate with wild moths,” says Adams. “Because I am sterilized, there will be no descendants.”

Adams is an assistant professor of arborealology at Oregon State University’s Hood River Extension.

His summer sterilized moth releases are just one of several ongoing research projects he directs under the broad umbrella of agricultural technology known as integrated pest management.

Hood River Orchard ‘Ahead’

strategic integrated pest management (IPM) focuses on pesticides as well as stable technologies for controlling pest populations. These include the introduction of natural predators, habitat modification, and genetic manipulation.

Orchards and farmers in the Hood River area are “much more advanced than most other areas” with this type of intervention, says Adams.

The sterilized moth release from this summer is modeled after a long-standing project in British Columbia.

Since 1992, the Okanagan-Kootenay Sterile Insect Release Program has been sterilizing codling moths and releasing them into the Okanogan Valley area. 94% reduction Moth populations have decreased and pesticide use has decreased by 96%.

The Okanagan Kootenay breeding facility is the only one in the world, says Adams.

His rather modest introduction this summer aims to prove that a similar program works in the Columbia Valley region.

Early on, Adams hopes to build a breeding facility in the Columbia Gorge in the future. Instead of using radioactive cobalt, the facility uses X-rays to kill moths.

Eradication was the original goal of the BC project, but Adams said that proved untenable.

“Eradication of insects is a difficult thing,” he says. “They are very good at survival. An apple tree in the backyard is enough. It can accommodate the last remaining population.”

Nature and “pretend play”

Other projects Adams has worked on this summer include introducing tiny bees. Trisolux japonica Or the “samurai wasp”, which lays eggs in brown poisonous stink bug eggs.

Stink bugs are an invasive species native to Asia that, like the codling moth, can destroy crops.

Stink bugs have no predators in North America, samurai wasp It grows naturally in the stinkbug house. Wasps are already present in the US and Oregon.

This year, Adams released nearly 20,000 wasps that were one to two millimeters long.

“In its natural range, we can control this stink bug by 80 to 90 percent,” he says.

According to him, most orchards, especially all insects, eventually resistant to pesticides.

Playing God in natural systems can be a dangerous game, and there have been high-profile and devastating examples of failed experimental pest management. That’s exactly the case.

The toad, native to South America, was introduced to control beetle populations. However, the voracious and venomous amphibians largely ignored the beetles and instead reduced other native species while breeding like rabbits.

Currently estimated at 2 million cane toad in Australia.

That epic failure has been seared into the minds of researchers and administrators, and now the ecological ingenuity is going through multiple levels of scientific and political review, says Adams.

“I don’t think we’re in the insouciant phase yet,” he says. “If we are 18 years old and think we are 10 feet tall and bulletproof, we as a scientific community are beyond. We have a big process in place to make decisions. No one decides if it’s okay to release something.”

Eli Francovich is a journalist covering nature conservation and recreation. Based in eastern Washington, his book on the return of wolves to the western United States will be published in April 2023.

Columbia Insights is a non-profit news site based in Hood River, Oregon, focused on environmental issues in the Columbia River Basin.

This article originally appeared in the Salem Statesman Journal. OSU professor releases devastating wasps into Columbia Gorge