The recent government shutdown due to a stalemate in Congress over funding for 2014 is impacting research on insects that will affect the lives of many Americans, according to the Entomological Society of America (ESA).
In addition to the closing of government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, and the Environmental Protection Agency, many scientists at universities and other research institutions are affected as well. For some entomologists, the timing couldn't be worse because the insects they study in the field must be observed in the late summer to early fall in order to determine their regional populations and how they prepare for the winter.
"An important part of the seasonal biology of the brown marmorated stink bug is its movement to protected places for the winter," said Dr. Douglas Pfeiffer, a Virginia Tech entomologist working with USDA scientists. "Just when entomologists are getting set to take advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to better understand the brown marmorated stink bug, federal research funding is put in park."
The invasive brown marmorated stink bug causes millions of dollars in damage to fruits and vegetables each year and is found in more than 40 states.
"Any delays in our research, such as the one we're facing now, will also delay possible solutions for managing the stink bugs, and will ultimately cost farmers and consumers millions of dollars."
The government shutdown is also affecting research on the emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive insect that has killed tens of millions of ash trees throughout the United States.
David Jennings, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Maryland who is working on using tiny wasps from Russia to control the EAB, recently relocated to a USDA research facility in Delaware to continue his work. However, because of the shutdown he cannot enter the lab.
"Because of the shutdown, my colleagues and I are prevented from studying a possible management tool that could greatly benefit American forests," he said. "The optimal time to release EAB parasitoids is the summer, and this research shutdown could mean that we won't be ready to release them by the 2014 season, setting us back an entire year in our efforts to control the EAB."
The shutdown may also hurt farmers and growers by denying them tools to fight invasive insects, such as the Asian citrus psyllid, that have the potential to do billions of dollars' worth of damage. New insect control products currently under review by the EPA may not be approved in time for next year's growing season due to the closing of the agency.
"The shutdown of government means a shutdown of research, and those effects will last for years," said ESA President Rob Wiedenmann. "The shutdown may also affect regulations for approving new crop pesticides at the time when growers are ordering next year's seeds. The effects of those delays or lack of approvals will not be seen until next year's crop is harvested."
The Entomological Society of America is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Founded in 1889, ESA today has more than 6,500 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students, and hobbyists. For more information, visit http://www.entsoc.org.