FEATURE ARTICLE

Biological Control On The World Wide Web

New technologies can be intimidating. A friend once remarked that he "felt like a roadkill on the side of the information super highway." While some of us are anxious to join the journey, others would prefer to wait until someone else has worked the bugs out of the system. Like it or not, technology is changing the way in which society obtains and uses information. As more and more of us are able to access the Internet, it is likely that this will become one of our primary sources of information. We decided to investigate what the Internet has to offer those of us interested in biological control. Hopefully, you can use our experiences to guide your own exploration in cyberspace.

We limited our search to the World Wide Web (WWW). The Web, as it is called, is the fastest growing section of the information highway. When this article was written there were over 27,000 web sites containing 16 million pages of information and the number of sites was doubling every 53 days. Given this immense amount of material, finding what you want can be a challenge. Our methods were simple. After logging on to the Internet, we used various "searches" to sample the information on biological control. We then used these sites to lead us to other information. Specifically, we were looking for information useful to educators and practitioners interested in applying biological control to current pest problems.

If you are not familiar with the Web, you could think of it as a giant filing cabinet full of folders. Each of those folders has a specific address. By going to that address, you open the folder, called a "site" and it's contents. Typically, each site will contain a list of sub-folders you can go to. Of course each sub-folder can have many sub-sub-folders and so on. Traversing the Internet is basically a process of searching for the folders that contain information useful to you. Fortunately, there are many built in ways to make this easy. Various search functions allow you to enter keywords, for example "biological control" or "Japanese beetle." These search engines, as they are called, will report back to you all the addresses where they found those key words. Generally, by simply clicking on the address, you can go directly to that site. What literally happens is that your computer is automatically connected via phone lines to the computer which serves that site. This could be down the hall or across the globe; it really does not matter. Depending on the amount of information to transfer and the speed of your equipment, the process usually takes only a few seconds.

A powerful feature of the Internet is that sites often point you to other related sites. So for example, while you are searching for information on predators of aphids, you may also get directed to sites that contain information on who is selling them or research aimed at improving their effectiveness.

What We Found. Our initial search resulted in more than 100 documents that included the words "biological control." This was the first indication that biological control is well represented on the Web. Among other things, there were sites on: a biological control conference for Extension personnel, biological control laboratories in Brazil and Portugal, university courses in biological control, The National Biological Control Institute, nematodes as biological control agents of insects, weed biological control, and someone's observations on katydid damage to nectarines. We really wanted to explore the connection of biological control, katydids and nectarines but we needed to press on.

One site in particular seemed to be a good jumping off place. This was the Biological Control Virtual Information Center, a part of the Center for Integrated Pest Management at North Carolina State University. Their site featured a list of 14 available links to information on biological control organizations, databases, and web sites around the world. The first site listed was the Home Page of the Association of Natural Bio-control Producers, an organization of commercial natural enemy producers. There we found a list of pests for which commercial natural enemies are available (presumably from the association's members). Following each pest was a list of fact sheets on the natural enemies that can be used against it. By clicking on the pest name, one could find various types of information including the natural enemies' biology, what stages are available, how it would be shipped, proper storage, and how and when to apply. This site is one good place to find practical information on commercially available natural enemies. Those interested in comparing products or prices will find the list of members (with addresses, phone and FAX numbers) very helpful. We chose to further explore one association member who had their own web site: ARBICO, or Arizona Biological Control, Inc. a supplier of natural enemies. Their site contained a listing of their products, fact sheets and some very nice color photographs of natural enemies. This site was also a sales catalog and contained prices and information on how to place an order.

Returning to the original search, we went to the site entitled National Biological Control Institute. The institute is a part of the USDA Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service. It contained a wealth of information of interest to biocontrol educators and practitioners. The "NBCI Store" has a list of free publications, posters and videos which are available through their on-line ordering system. Just click on what products you want, type in your address and the computer sends them an e-mail with your order. Other parts of the site contained information on upcoming events, grant and employment opportunities and newsletters of interest to biological control. This was the first site that referenced "Midwest Biological Control News."

In the NBCI site, Cornell University Biological Control Laboratory was listed under other sites of interest. Clicking on it takes one to their Guide to Natural Enemies in North America. As they described, "This guide provides photographs and descriptions of major biological control (or biocontrol) agents of major insect, disease and weed pests in North America." It also has a tutorial on the concept and practice of biological control and integrated pest management (IPM). This is an easy site to use that contains good, solid information. One of the pointers in the Cornell Guide is to a site entitled Suppliers of Beneficial Organisms in North America. This is the electronic version of the well-known booklet compiled by Charles D. Hunter of the California Environmental Protection Agency. It contains both a list of suppliers and a list of beneficial organisms sold in North America. By knowing the pest you want to control, you can look up what natural enemies are available and all the suppliers who can provide them. This is a very useful book, although the electronic version has not really been adapted to take advantage of the power of the computer. For example, there are not currently any search functions in the site, so looking up a supplier is a matter of scrolling through a rather long document. Down-loading the text is an option, or you can order the booklet free of charge.

Another Approach. Because most growers have a particular pest in mind rather than a broad topic like biological control, we also chose to do a pest-specific search. Again using a search engine we used the keywords "Japanese beetle" and "biological control" to find documents containing both phrases. Within a few seconds, a list of 26 documents appeared. Starting at the National Agricultural Pest Information System (NAPIS) a couple of clicks took us to a University of Kentucky fact sheet on Japanese beetle. It gave limited information on various generalist predators that attack Japanese beetles. It also discussed the use of the bacterium that causes milky spore disease, including the names of several commercially available products. The fact sheet cautioned that the disease controls only the grubs and that beetles can continue to fly in from nearby areas.

Another site in this search, Midwest Biological Control News, offered an alphabetical listing of topics from which we selected a recent article on milky spore versus Japanese beetle in field tests. This article mentioned that several trials showed poor control. It also suggested that some of the commercially available products were no longer for sale. At this point, we again went back to the original list of 26 documents and selected one from Cornell University on nematodes. The authors noted that Japanese beetles are susceptible to nematodes but that more evaluation of field efficacy is needed before they could be recommended. A second document posted by ARBICO listed the nematode Steinernema carpocapsae for managing Japanese beetle, giving rates of use and information about ordering.

Another site contained limited information on tachnid flies as a parasite of Japanese beetles, while another described a recent research trip to the Peoples Republic of China to collect new natural enemies of Japanese beetle. It described the collection of the parasite Tiphia popilliavora which Chinese growers use to achieve 77- 85% parasitization of beetle grubs in peanut fields.

The beauty of the Web is that all these sites were visited in about an hour and a half. One site tends to lead you to another related site and so on. One potential problem with this format is that sites are biased in where they point you. For example, a university may or may not feel comfortable pointing you to a commercial supplier and vice versa. Using a variety of searches with different keywords can help you find different types of information. Another concern is that few of the sites we visited offered definitive recommendations for biological control and there was some potentially conflicting information. For example, regarding the use of nematodes for control of Japanese beetle, one source provided specific suggestions while another stated that more research was needed to determine their applicability. Recording and considering the source of any information you pull off the Web is a good common sense idea.

Summary. Overall, biological control on the information super highway appears to us to be a very viable technology. At least we arrived at some informative destinations without feeling like roadkill! There is a wealth of material on the identification, biology, and sources of natural enemies, but a shortage of information on evaluation of their effectiveness and best methods for use. This is more a reflection of the science of biological control rather than the information technology itself. We would encourage all of you to visit all of the sites listed below in your search for biological control information.

And yes, we could not resist the idea of those nectarine-nibbling katydids and went back to investigate. The site was called "Farmer to Farmer: California Agriculture at it Best" and it contained a nice discussion of the biology of the pest and possibilities for its biological control in orchard systems. Interesting things in unexpected locations; that is part of the fun of the Internet!

To continue your search on the World Wide Web, try these sites related to biological control:

National Biological Control Institute
Biological Control Virtual Information Center
Cornell University, Guide to Natural Enemies in North America
Purdue Biological Control Laboratory
Association of Natural Bio-control Producers
ARBICO Catalog Home Page
Landscape Ecology/Biological Control Lab at Michigan State University
National IPM Database
National IPM Network
Gopher State IPM Site

- Doug Landis and Joy Neumann Landis, Michigan State University


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