Chancellor's Friday Letters

Public Money, Public Good

Public Money, Public Good

December 9, 2011

Dear Friends,

It’s the holidays soon, and sometimes unexpected guests drop in.  And if they end up staying, they can cause real trouble in the neighborhood by themselves, and if they bring some other unsavory friends along, well, all heck can break loose in the neighborhood.

That is exactly what is happening at my residence this week.

And I am so grateful that the genius of UCR faculty has found a way for me to get these guests out of here before they cause real and unwanted trouble.

The unwanted guest that flew in to my backyard recently is the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP; http://cisr.ucr.edu/asian_citrus_psyllid.html), which is a small flying insect that creates havoc for citrus trees, and causes billions of dollars in losses when it gets a hold in commercial groves, as it has in Florida and many other places around the world.

ACP was first discovered in California in 2008 in areas well to the south and now west of Riverside including LA…the fact it is now found here is deeply troubling.  In addition to the damage ACP causes by itself, it is also a carrier – a vector – for a bacterial disease Huanglongbing (HLB), which is one of the most destructive diseases of citrus worldwide.

The Asian citrus psyllid multiplies quickly, travels far and wide, and is difficult to spot.  If the psyllid and HLB were to become firmly established in California, the disease would devastate the citrus industry.  Controlling it with pesticides is costly because the chemicals have to be sprayed on crops every season, let alone the unintended negative impact of such treatments.  Moreover, because many citrus groves and trees are in close proximity to residences, there are strong public and political concerns regarding widespread pesticide usage.

The director of UC Riverside’s Center for Invasive Species Research Mark Hoddle and his wife Christine operate on the frontiers of citrus pest control and eradication.  They have made multiple sojourns over the last 18 months to Pakistan, with the specific goal of finding a natural predator for the ACP bug – with apparent success.

They have discovered a natural enemy of the psyllid in a tiny black wasp, Tamarixia radiate, which actually lays eggs inside the psyllid and destroys it.  The Hoddles have been studying Tamarixia for months and find that it poses no risk to the environment.  It is very close to being cleared for release from quarantine in California for the biological control of the psyllid.

Consequently, in the 7.5 acre bio-control grove of citrus trees behind my home where the ACP was discovered recently, our scientists have decided the very best approach is to spray insecticide around the two outer rows of trees, effectively keeping the psyllids in the center of this grove, and any others out.  And in this center area of the grove, we will soon open a few plastic vials containing a couple of hundred of Tamarixia parasitoids.  They will build a larger population, attack and kill the pest ACP, and this will be the first step along the path to establishing this natural enemy throughout southern California.

This research is moving forward with a real sense of urgency.  But in the meantime, commercial citrus growers have no alternative other than to use pesticides to eradicate the psyllids from their groves, the same approach that we have taken on all of our citrus at UCR other than the bio-control grove.

When we know for certain that Tamarixia will control the psyllid, spraying with insecticides can be stopped.

Good for us. Good for California. Good for the worldwide citrus industry.

This is the University of California…Bringing the knowledge and research of its faculty to sustain and improve our quality of life.



Tim White, Chancellor

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The bell tower rings
David Christensen, University Carillonneur, will give a concert from atop the bell tower tomorrow from 3 to 4:30 p.m. He has selected secular music, including Christmas and Hanukkah.

A very shy bumblebee
A species of bumblebee that has not been spotted since 1956 has been found again and identified by UCR entomologists, with support from the Friends of the UCR Entomology Research Museum. The discovery should get the ball rolling on more work to examine “Cockerell’s Bumblebee.”

UCR writer has novel ideas
UC Riverside Distinguished Professor Susan Straight has a blog on the KCET Web site called “Notes of a Native Daughter.” She writes about Southern California history and demographics, murals in the area, the diversity of this Inland region, and citrus heritage, among other subjects, always with her trademark depth and insight.

Find out what else is going on at UCR: http://www.ucr.edu/happenings/

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