Feature Article

The Midwest Institute for Biological Control

As seen on the pages of this newsletter, the Midwest region is very active in biological control. Hidden from the general readership, but critical to the future use and expansion of biological control in the Midwest, is the necessary education and training of the next generation of scientists. Most Midwestern land-grant colleges have only a single biological control specialist, meaning that education and course offerings at these universities tend to depend on the instructor's background and training, and students may receive a fairly narrow training in biological control.

Because of the need to give the best possible education and the opportunity to build on the strengths and activities in biological control around the Midwest, the Midwest Institute for Biological Control was formed in 1991. Using the resident expertise among a consortium of biological control practitioners at Midwestern universities, a series of specialized short courses was developed and taught to improve and broaden biological control education in the Midwest. The rationale behind each course has been to offer specialized training in some specific aspect of biological control-with the kind of detail that may not be practical to offer in a general course, but that can be taught in small groups, in intense settings, by experts in the field. These courses have ranged from underlying theories and analytical models used in biological control to very practical applications of biological control in real-world settings.

Each course has been taught by a team of biological control specialists, with the course location rotating among institutions. Courses to date have included: Theories and Models of Biological Control, Purdue, 1991 & 1996; Insect Pathology, Illinois, 1992; Biology of Entomophagous Species, Iowa State, 1993; Applied Aspects of Insect Biological Control, Michigan State, 1994; Insect Parasites, Predators and Pathogens, Illinois, 1995; and International Aspects of Biological Control, taught at the Pan American School of Agriculture, Honduras, 1997.

The Institute course planned for summer 1998 is scheduled to be held at Iowa Sate University (date not yet selected), and will be based around presentations and discussions on specialized topics, including habitat manipulation and management for biological control, and biological control in annual crop habitats. As planned, this would include a plenary address on each topic, followed by several presentations by scientists, students and (hopefully) extension specialists working in the field, followed by extensive discussion on the topic. Details will be announced in the next issue of MBCN.

The Institute is seen as a model for the development of multi-state cooperation in university instruction. The Institute has been funded through grants from the National Biological Control Institute (USDA-APHIS), University and Agricultural Experiment Station support and registration fees. In addition to the courses, the Institute has developed a companion workbook, a reference library for curriculum development, and work is proceeding on an electronic primer for course remediation and long-term reference, using CD-ROM/multimedia technology.

As an example of a course offering, the course in summer 1997 had its genesis in recognition of the lack of experience Midwestern students had with working overseas. Because many important pests are exotic, the tactic of importing exotic natural enemies is critical to the long-term control of the pests. Many students currently are working on biological control of exotic pests, countless others in the field are faced with the task of using exotic natural enemies, yet few know details about how the natural enemies were found or the intricacies of their importation. Tales of foreign exploration for natural enemies by some of the legendary figures in biological control (e.g., A. Koebele, J. G. Myers, P. DeBach), fill the pages of textbooks, but offer little insight into the actual "doing" of the work, and conventional courses do not allow "hands-on" experience.

To remedy the lack of hands-on experience, instructors designed a course around several key components: 1) field work to simulate actual exploration for natural enemies of pests, including tentative field identification and biology; 2) training in quarantine, shipment and receipt of the natural enemies, and the applicable regulations involved; 3) doing this in a real-world setting. Fortunately, the Pan American School of Agriculture offered ideal teaching and quarantine facilities, nearby field sites, and ability to host the instructors and students. Thirteen "students" (eleven grad students, one research scientist, and a greenhouse manager) from Universities of Wisconsin, Iowa State, Purdue, Michigan State, Kentucky, and Illinois, along with five instructors from Purdue, Illinois, USDA-ARS, and the Pan American School of Agriculture, participated in the one-week course in Honduras.

Activities included searching for and collecting fall armyworm eggs in a maize field in the hopes that some might yield egg parasitoids, collecting any information about the site, and returning the eggs to the lab to package for "shipment." Some guidelines were given about packaging, but primarily students were encouraged to experiment, trying (and recording how) various ways of packing the eggs to enhance successful emergence of the egg parasitoids later. Students carried their boxes of eggs with them all week (simulating time for shipment to travel to the US), then opened the boxes at the end of the week, carefully using techniques they would use in a US quarantine, relating to the others the techniques they used and whether any eggs were parasitized and had live parasitoids. Another exercise had the party travel to search for herbivores as possible weed biological control agents. From earlier explorations, herbarium and insect collection records, the weed and associated herbivores were known to occur along a road at a certain elevation in the western part of Honduras. After a long drive there, we were surprised to see that the local road crew had cut down all of the weeds just days before! Although this limited the search for and collection of herbivores, it showed the kinds of surprises that may accompany foreign exploration.

Since 1991, over 160 students have received specialized training in one or more of the Midwest Institute courses, from more than two dozen experts and practitioners. Although the students have been primarily graduate students, there also have been a number of extension educators, technicians and industry professionals. The wide array of students and the broad range of expertise of the instructors has led to a more-rounded education than could be received at any one institution.

The examples from Honduras show the kinds of specialized training students have received in biological control at the Institute courses. Even though students might not anticipate carrying out foreign exploration, using simulation models or identifying insect pathogens during their careers, participation in the Midwest Institute courses has given them exposure to these topics. That exposure, and the perspectives received from a range of practitioners, will provide the next generation of scientists an appreciation for the importance of these many topics to the continued wise, and successful, use of biological control.

- Rob Wiedenmann, Illinois Natural History Survey


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