Grant funds help regional effort to combat spotted wing drosophila

April 29, 2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The effort to combat an invasive fly called the spotted wing drosophila, which threatens fruit crops in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, got a boost today with a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Specialty Crop Research Initiative to fund a $5.8 million grant.

An independent panel of reviewers rated the grant proposal as 'exceptional' and recommended grant funds be distributed among a team of scientists from Oregon, Washington and California for research and extension over a period of four-and-a-half years, pending some administrative processes.

"The spotted wing drosophila poses a critical issue that needs to be addressed," said Tom Bewick, a USDA national program leader in horticulture. "The multi-state team behind this grant is the best group to deal with the issue."

The USDA grant requires matching funds, much of which have come from fruit growers in affected states, including pledges of $4 million of in-kind Oregon contributions.

"This effort involves a big network of cooperators, including scientists of many disciplines, growers of many kinds of fruit, and state, provincial, and federal agencies, all working together to monitor and control this fly," explained Vaughn Walton, an OSU horticultural entomologist who oversees a rapidly expanding compendium of information online for growers and researchers.

The grant will allow the research team to intensify monitoring and field research during the upcoming growing season and to expand investigations of life history, reproduction and effective controls. Earlier this year, the research team received $225,000 in emergency funding from the Oregon Legislature to implement a broad-based monitoring and education plan.

"We are already seeing a few adult spotted wing drosophila emerge in orchards and berry fields as the weather warms," said OSU entomologist Amy Dreves, who leads field investigations of the fly's life cycle and reproduction timing. "We've developed a monitoring and reporting system designed to help us track the fly's activity throughout the West Coast and provide early alerts to growers."

Last fall, the spotted wing drosophila, an invasive vinegar fly native to southeast Asia, first flew onto the radar of fruit growers from California to British Columbia. Damage from the fly was rapid and intense. California lost a significant portion of its cherry crop; Willamette Valley growers lost up to 20 percent of their blueberries and raspberries and up to 80 percent of their late-season peaches.

Since then, 20 principal investigators from Oregon State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, and Oregon Department of Agriculture have joined colleagues in California and Washington in a multi-state, multi-agency effort to combat the tiny fly that threatens much of the West Coast fruit industry.

The stakes are high, and both growers and scientists are concerned. The fruit industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in Oregon, Washington and California. Tests have confirmed that the spotted wing drosophila will feed on a wide range of grapes, berries, cherries, peaches and plums grown commercially in the region.

And unlike other vinegar fly species, the spotted wing drosophila prefers ripe ready-to-harvest fruit.

For more information, see the Spotted Wing Drosophila website.

Author: Peg Herring
Source: Amy J. Dreves, Vaughn Walton