July 15, 1998

TEAM Leafy Spurge Releases Biocontrol Insects
By Steve Merritt
TEAM Leafy Spurge Technology Transfer Specialist

SIDNEY - Nearly two million leafy spurge flea beetles have been collected and redistributed to demonstration sites and landowners throughout the Little Missouri River drainage in Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming.

It's all part of a new push by TEAM Leafy Spurge, a group of researchers and educators from state and federal agencies who are stepping up efforts to control the devastating weed using a host of integrated management methods, including biocontrol.

"That's a lot of flea beetles to collect in two short weeks," said Bob Richard, director of the USDA-APHIS Biocontrol of Weeds Laboratory in Bozeman and head of TLS operations. "If you placed them end to end, you'd have a line of flea beetles 8 1/2 miles long."

The group's coordinator, Chad Prosser, was pleased with the effort.

"We moved a lot of flea beetles in a short period of time," he said. "TEAM Leafy Spurge's first collection and redistribution effort was a success."

The tiny, host-specific beetles feed on leafy spurge leaves as adults but cause the most damage as root-feeding larvae. They are used in conjunction with other Integrated Pest Management tools such as herbicides, sheep or goat grazing, tillage and burning to provide effective, economical leafy spurge control.

Leafy spurge infests 600,000 acres of rangeland in Montana and more than five million acres in 29 states from the west coast to the Midwest. A native of Eurasia, the invasive noxious weed is particularly a problem on western grazing lands, where it reduces range productivity, plant diversity and land values.

The weed has a staggering economic impact, with losses in productivity and control totaling more than $144 million in Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming. Some experts say that figure will increase dramatically if leafy spurge is allowed to spread.

Prosser said the TLS research and demonstration sites will be monitored over the next four years to determine the combinations of control techniques that provide the most effective and economical leafy spurge control. These integrated control techniques, he said, will vary based on ecological conditions, land usage and the desired outcome of the control efforts.

TEAM (The Ecological Area Management) Leafy Spurge is a five-year IPM research and demonstration program funded and led by the USDA-Agriculture Research Service in partnership with the USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service. Its goal is to provide landowners and land managers with proven leafy spurge control techniques based on IPM control technologies.

TEAM participants include the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, state departments of agriculture, state Extension Services and Agriculture Experiment Stations, land grant universities, county weed supervisors, ranchers and land managers.

For additional information on TEAM Leafy Spurge, biocontrol of leafy spurge or Integrated Pest Management, contact Prosser at 406-433-9403 (cprosser@sidney.ars.usda.gov).

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