NCERA220: Biological Control of Arthropods and Weeds

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

NCERA220: Biological Control of Arthropods and Weeds

Duration: 10/01/2016 to 09/30/2021

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Insect pests and weeds play a significant role in natural and managed ecosystems of the North Central region, perhaps disproportionately relative to other areas of the US, because of the extensive economic contribution of agriculture to the region. Management of these pests has been complicated in recent years with the arrival in the region of adventive exotic pests (such as the emerald ash borer, soybean aphid, brown marmorated stink bug, spotted-wing drosophila), the threat of establishment of warm-climate pests presented by climate change (such as the sugarcane aphid), more aggressive weed and insect management due to resistant pest populations, and the need to conserve threatened species such as pollinators and Monarch butterflies. This complex suite of issues requires an integrated and coordinated approach to pest management, including the appropriate application of biological control practices. Properly utilized, biological control can help reduce environmental contamination and off-target effects, enhance worker safety, and provide economic benefits to producers. 

Biological control has been a part of agriculture in the North Central region since 1870 when Charles V. Riley distributed parasitoids of the plum curculio, Conotrachelus nenuphar, from Kirkwood, Missouri, to other parts of the state (DeBach 1964). Since that time biological control approaches have been used to assist in managing a variety of arthropod and plant pests. Because of the similarities across the region in cropping systems, crops, pests, and natural and human landscapes, there is considerable value in shared efforts addressing effective biological control of arthropod and plant pests. The value of these shared efforts has been apparent with biological control programs directed at the soybean aphid, alfalfa weevil, emerald ash borer, leafy spurge, and other pests. The current widespread threats of the spotted-wing drosophila on various fruit crops and the sugarcane aphid on sorghum in the region underscore the need for continued coordinated efforts in biological control. Biological control efforts in the region contribute to long-term USDA goals of a sustainable food supply in changing environments, and of understanding and sustaining ecosystem function and biodiversity. Our project directly addresses these goals by coordinating cooperative research, education and outreach in biological control for the North Central Region.

Our stakeholders include farmers, land managers, homeowners, green industries, regulatory agencies, commodity groups, and the broader scientific community. The membership of NCERA220 encompasses expertise ranging from taxonomy and ecology of biological control agents, to ecology of agroecosystems, and to modeling impacts of biological control. Past collaborations of this group have produced significant outcomes in research, education and outreach. Examples include team-taught classes of the Midwest Biological Control Institute, numerous symposia at professional meetings, delivery of regional extension workshops, multi-state extramural research grants, and joint publications. Facilities in the North Central Region such as quarantine laboratories in Minnesota and Ohio, the NSF-LTER in agroecology in Michigan, and biological control research laboratories in all states ensure continued impacts on biological control in the region.

This proposal builds on the strength of our previous collaborations. For example, The NCERA 220 group has included a number of researchers over the years working on soybean aphid biological control from the early days of the invasion (e.g. R. O'Neil, G. Heimpel, D. Ragsdale, D. Landis) as well as a later period once the pest was well established (e.g. M. O'Neal, B. McCornack, M. Gardiner, J. Peterson). The NCERA meetings were used to co-ordinate grant-writing efforts, discuss scientific objectives and plan foreign exploration for biological control agents. The result was a very coordinated body of research and outreach on this pest that garnered awards from the Entomological Society of America as well as from industry for the rapid response that was mounted against this important pest in the North Central Region. Education has also been a key focus of this group. Over 225 graduate students and professionals have been trained at the Midwest Biological Control Institute annual summer workshops since its inception in 1991. Interviews with past participants indicate that value gained includes: 1) building of key skills, knowledge, and techniques; 2) forming key networking connections and collaborations; and 3) expanding interest and knowledge in concept and implementation of biological control. This new proposal directly links to our stakeholders, and addresses contemporary and future needs in biological control in the North Central Region. Advances in biological control will contribute to keep American agriculture competitive through sustainable intensification of farmscapes, thus improving food and environmental safety for the US.

Our goal is to coordinate biological control research, education, and implementation in the North Central Region. No other multistate projects address this important topic in the North Central region. Three other multistate projects in other regions address biological control of arthropods and weeds: in the Southern Region, S1058 (“Biological Control of Arthropod Pests and Weeds”); in the Western Region, W3185 (“Biological Control in Pest Management Systems of Plants”); and in the Northeastern Region, NE1332 (“Biological Control of Arthropod Pests and Weeds”). Thus, the proposed renewal would complement these existing projects.


  1. Educate stakeholders, students, extension personnel and the general public on biological control
  2. Promote collaborative research on biological control of regionally-important pests
  3. Promote the implementation of biological control in production, urban and natural systems
  4. Contribute to the national dialogue on best practices in classical biological control

Procedures and Activities

Objective 1. Educate stakeholders, students, extension personnel and the general public on biological control. (Education/Teaching)

This working group has a strong educational track record, and we propose to maintain this focus. In particular, we will continue to emphasize two educational outlets: online education and organized annual symposia. NCERA220 and its previous iteration, NCERA125, developed and will continue to develop symposia to disseminate ideas relevant to biological control. Summer short courses have been a foundational component to this working group over the years; however, limitations in travel funds have become a considerable and widespread concern. In addition, focusing our attention to online delivery methods will extend the reach for outputs generated by this group beyond the small groups that attended previous workshops. We propose to focus educational efforts on the expansion and/or development of online resources including lecture outlines and related content, webinars, reference libraries, instructional videos and images. Our rationale for this move towards online delivery is to supplement biocontrol expertise currently available, so we can provide better graduate level training to our students and staff (O’Neil and Wiedenmann 2008). 

We currently provide information about our biological control programs online through various websites. Much of our information is distributed across several platforms; e.g., Midwest Biological Control Institute curriculum on an Illinois Natural History site, the NCERA-125 annual reports on a Michigan State University server, the Midwest Carabidologists Working Group on, and numerous publications from websites across the region. Consequently, it is difficult and inefficient to find relevant content for current biological courses offered across the Midwest. We are proposing to change this paradigm by offering a single, simple tool to easily share lecture content with group members, students, and instructors outside the Midwest. Therefore, we propose to build a Lecture Module within a recent output for this group, which is an online content management system designed for managing and sharing biological control activities— 

The current infrastructure is adaptable and easily allows for seamless development of new content types and related functions. The primary function of the Lecture Module will include: 1) organizing and consolidating existing lecture materials, 2) devising an adaptable user interface that is flexible enough for group members to add/edit/organize lecture content, 3) sharing/publishing online lectures and related content to diverse audiences, and 4) flag or bookmark content for future reference and updates. All of these features will comprise the Lecture Module. We will continue to use Drupal (, an open source content management software, as the core or base for; Kansas will lead this effort and work with other group members to develop a user-friendly, online resource. This Drupal platform is highly modular, but more importantly it incorporates user-friendly, content management tools. Currently, NCERA-220 participants can easily add or maintain state reports and biocontrol activities. Lecture materials can consist of several types of content, including but not limited to: links, images, videos, files, journal articles (i.e., PDFs) and plain text. A key feature of the Lecture Module is to provide site users with background information on natural enemies and important biocontrol theories or concepts and link these to active biocontrol projects occurring at the state and regional levels; such information is not currently maintained on the IOBC website ( Online content will be available to diverse groups of stakeholders, including graduate students, visiting scholars, extension personnel, technical scientists, professors, industry personnel and federal and state scientists; Michigan and Minnesota will organize collection of relevant topics and content; Kentucky will coordinate efforts with the western biocontrol working group as well. Other working group members will share educational resources with IOBC and its members. Members of NCERA 220 also routinely serve in leadership positions in a number of regional committees (S-1055; S-1024; NCAC-15), and national (Entomological Society of America), and international (International Organization of Biological Control; Society for Invertebrate Pathology) organizations; such a resource would help in promote information related to biological control.


Objective 2: Promote collaborative research on biological control of regionally important pests. (Research) 

We aim to use NCERA220 as a forum to encourage and develop collaborative research projects on target pests or others of regional importance. Members of NCERA220 represent a mix of disciplines within entomology and pest management, addressing different aspects of the theory and practice of biological control. Our goal is to draw upon this diversity to advance both specific and more general research topics. In addition to addressing the biological control of specific pests (see below), in this renewal we will address how biological control contributes to general topics like insect resistance management (IRM) and conservation of endangered insects. By meeting annually, updating our website and sponsoring a symposium at the annual meeting of the North Central Branch of the Entomological Society of America, we will promote biological control of regionally important systems (e.g., corn-soybean, urban areas). To accomplish this goal, we will invite stakeholders and colleagues from outside the North Central Region to meet and talk on specific issues at our symposium. In addition to hosting a symposium, we will develop follow-up publications of the symposium topic in journals like American Entomologist, Journal of Integrated Pest Management, Newsletter of the North Central IPM Center, and the International Organization of Biological Control Newsletter.

Current target pests of interest will include: 1) soybean aphid, 2) corn rootworms, and 3) any emerging pest. Our research efforts are multifaceted and will encompass pest and natural enemy biology, biological control methods (classical, conservation, and augmentative), tritrophic interactions between plants-herbivores-natural enemies, effects of bacterial symbionts on interactions between biological control agents and targeted pests, impacts of environmental factors on biocontrol (e.g. temperature, soil factors, landscape structure), and impacts of pathogens on insect pests and biological control agents. We aim to use NCERA-220 as a forum to encourage and develop collaborative research projects on target pests or others that are of regional importance. Specific research plans for each target pest are detailed below. 

Soybean aphid (Aphis glycines) continues to cause problems in the North Central region and farmers need more economical and sustainable ways to manage these pests, especially organic growers. We (Iowa, Minnesota) will continue to describe the impact of natural enemies on soybean aphids, including those native to the United States and those discovered through foreign exploration in Asia (e.g., Chacon and Heimpel 2010, Desneux et al. 2009). Specifically, two new exotic parasitoids have received permission for release in the US: Aphelinus glycinis and Aphelinus rhamni. During the next 3-5 years, members of this group will release and study the impact of these species on the soybean aphid. This research effort includes examining host specificity in the lab and field, potential non-target impacts of foreign natural enemies, and post-release evaluations of natural enemy effectiveness. In addition to a classical biological control program, our members will conduct research on how bottom-up factors (e.g., rhizobial inoculants, soil properties, plant quality, and resistance status) impact soybean aphids and their control by natural enemies. We will also conduct research on the role of landscape structure in mediating interactions between soybean aphid and its natural enemy complex (i.e. predators and parasitoids) and the role of native plants in supporting and enhancing beneficial arthropods in agricultural landscapes.

The role natural enemies play in controlling rootworm (Diabrotica spp.) populations is not well understood (Lundgren et al. 2009). Members (Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri) will continue to identify key natural enemies and elucidate the importance of biological control in this agroecosystem. Focus areas include how plant diversity and pest biology impact rootworm predation by epigeal and subterranean arthropods (e.g. ground beetles, predaceous mites). Management of both rootworms and soybean aphids require development of insect resistance management plans to sustain the use of insecticides and resistant crop varieties. For example, populations of Diabrotica virgifera virgifera (western corn rootworm) have developed resistance to Bt-toxins used within transgenic corn. Natural enemies affect the evolution of resistance (Gould et al. 1991; Heimpel et al. 2005) to pesticides. As noted by Liu et al. (2014), natural enemies can delay insect resistance to Bt crops. To date, IRM for A. glycines resistance has not accounted for the potential impact of natural enemies, despite the significant mortality it suffers from natural enemies (Gardiner et al. 2009). In conjunction with our annual symposium, we will explore this topic in greater detail, exploring the role of biological control for the advancement of IRM.

Insect pests that have recently invaded the eastern part of the United States (e.g. brown marmorated stink bug, spotted wing drosophila, swede midge, viburnum leaf beetle) are spreading (NAPIS 2010), and there is a high potential that these exotics will affect the Midwest (e.g., Mika et al. 2008). At present the brown marmorated stinkbug and spotted wing drosophila are widely spread throughout the region. Economic impacts from the former are just beginning to be felt but impacts from the latter have already reached tens of millions of dollars in Michigan alone. To facilitate collaborative biological control research on these incipient target species, we will host a symposium on the topic at the North Central Branch meeting of the Entomological Society of America. We plan to stay abreast of these developing pest problems as matters for discussion and awareness.

Annual Symposia. Members of NCERA 220 are active participants in multi-year regional and national projects evaluating the biological control of these important pests. In addition, NCERA 220 has organized and co-sponsored symposia at annual meeting of the North Central Branch Entomological Society of America (NCB-ESA) since 1993. Recent symposia include:

  • 2015 (Manhattan, Kansas) How Fundamental Research Contributes to Improving Biological Control Programs. J. Nechols and D. Finke, organizers.
  • 2013 (Rapid City, SD) Shut Your Trap: Quantifying Biocontrol Services. M. Grieshop and M. Gardiner, organizers.
  • 2012 (Lincoln, NE) Advancing the Quality and Applications of Volunteer-Collected Data Using Technology and Social Engineering. B. McCornack and M. Gardiner, organizers.
  • 2011 (Minneapolis, MN) Invaders to the North Central Region from Eastern North America: Implications for Biological Control. G. Heimpel and J. White, organizers.

Given the success we have had in the past, NCERA220 will continue to organize and co-sponsor symposia at annual meetings of the Entomological Society of America North Central Branch and other regional and national symposia relevant to biological control. 

Research conducted by members of NCERA220 has demonstrated that biological control can significantly reduce the impact of several key pests affecting agriculture in the North Central region. By facilitating on-going and future research in this area, we anticipate increasing this impact for current pests (e.g. soybean aphid) and future pests (e.g. Brown marmorated stink bug). Since an increasing number of land grant universities in the north central region no longer employ faculty to focus solely on biological control, regional groups like NCERA220 allow for synergy amongst the memberships to address applied and theoretical issues related to the practice of biological control.

Objective 3. Facilitate the implementation of biological control in production and natural systems. (Extension)

Strong collaborations are in place to facilitate the implementation of biological control on arthropod pests and weeds in the Midwest. Indiana (IN), Illinois (IL), Iowa (IA), Kentucky (KY), Michigan (MI), Missouri (MO), North Dakota (ND), South Dakota (SD), and Wisconsin (WI) are actively involved in conducting baseline research on the soybean aphid (SBA), brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), spotted wing drosophila (SWD) and their biological control agents both in the Midwest and in the case of SBA, its native range. Research to improve conservation biological control is being conducted in IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, ND and SD for both these important invasive species as well as numerous other crop pests. NCERA 220 will continue to serve as a clearinghouse for both the importation and redistribution of permitted exotic natural enemies as well as information on the latest advances in conservation and augmentative biological control. Continued effort in foreign exploration and the permitting process supports these implementation efforts. Similar collaborations are also in place to manage invasive agricultural and environmental weeds common to the region. These efforts will be supported by the further development of the NCERA 220 website and additional online resources as described above; Nebraska will coordinate this activity.

Similar to objective one, the majority of our extension activities will center on the further development of the NCERA 220 website (; Kansas will maintain this resource. Specific extension products available on our website will include existing and new bulletins and fact sheets, webinar recordings, downloadable posters, slide sets, and educational videos. We will also host member profiles on the webpage that provide a brief overview of each NCERA-220 areas of expertise in biological control. 

Objective 4. Contribute to national dialog about regulatory issues of biological control. (Service)

NCERA-220 will serve as a source of information for the public, researchers, and regulators on the practice, implementation, and regulation of biological control. We will assist the North Central IPM center on federal requests for information. Minnesota will also coordinate efforts with the Nearctic Region Section of the International Organization of Biological Control (NRS-IOBC) to promote best practices in biological control.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Collaborative extension and education projects will be facilitated among NCERA-220 members to address regional issues.
  • Course and lecture materials made available online and updating and continual improvements to the project website to enhance existing biocontrol curricula.
  • Research will be conducted on biological control of soybean aphid, gypsy moth, and other invasive species, as well as research on health of biological control agents.
  • An annual symposium will be organized and sponsored by NCERA-220 at the North Central Branch meetings of the Entomological Society of America to communicate current research and issues in biological control.
  • Information on current biological control research and activities will be shared at annual NCERA-220 meetings and extended to general public through various extension activities.
  • Committee members will contribute science-based information to a national dialogue about regulatory issues related to biological control through participation in national and international professional organizations.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Project outputs will be disseminated to stakeholders using a variety of resources, both existing and new delivery platforms as they become available. Specifically, investigators will communicate findings using, but not limited to: 1) peer review manuscripts of results from research in high impact journals; 2) proposals submitted to state, industry and federal agencies for research and education funding; 3) presentations to industry, grower and science/technical audiences of results or research and/or demonstration projects; 4) articles and/or reports to industry, grower and popular publications of research results; 5) graduated students with skills and experience in the areas of biological control.

NCERA-220 will continue to organize and co-sponsor symposia at annual meetings of the NCB-ESA and other regional and national symposia relevant to biological control. At the next meeting (June 2016), we will host a symposium on "Re-envisioning Biological Control's Role In Integrated Pest Management.”


The committee annually elects a Secretary/Treasurer for the subsequent year. This person becomes committee Chair the following year. A Communications Committee consists of the current and immediate past Chair and current Secretary/Treasurer. Additional sub-committees are appointed by the Chair or elected on an ad hoc basis.

Literature Cited

Chacon, J. M. and G. E. Heimpel. 2010. Density-dependent intraguild predation of an aphid parasitoid. Oecologia 164: 213-220.

Desneux, N. P. Stary, C. J. Delebecque, T. D. Gariepy, R. J. Barta, K. A. Hoelmer, and G. E. Heimpel. 2009. Cryptic species of parasitoids attacking the soybean aphid (Hemiptera: Aphididate) in Asia: Binodoxys communis and Binodoxys koreanus (Hymenoptera: Braconidae: Aphidiinae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 102: 925-936.

Gardiner, M.M., D.A. Landis, C. Gratton, C.D. DiFonzo, M. O’Neal, J.M. Chacon, M.T. Wayo, N.P. Schmidt, E.E. Mueller, and G.E. Heimpel. 2009. Landscape diversity enhances biological control of an introduced crop pest in the north-central USA. Ecol. Appl. 19: 143-154.

Gould, F., G.G. Kennedy, and M.T. Johnson. 1991. Effects of natural enemies on the rate of herbivore adaptation to resistant host plants. Entomol. Exp. Appl. 58: 1-14.

Heimpel, G. E., C. Neuhauser, and D. A. Andow. 2005. Natural enemies and the role of resistance to transgenic insecticidal crops by pest insects: the role of egg mortality. Environ. Entomol. 34: 512-526.

Liu, X., M. Chen, H.L. Collins, D.W. Onstad, R.T. Roush, Q. Zhang, E.D. Earle, and A.M. Shelton. 2014. Natural enemies delay insect resistance to transgenic crops. PLoS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090366.

Lundgren, J. G., M. E. Ellsbury, and D. A. Prischmann. 2009. Analysis o f the predator community of a subterranean herbivorous insect based on polymerase chain reaction. Ecological Applications 19: 2157-2166.

Mika, A. M., R. M. Weiss, O. Olfert, R. H. Hallett, and J . A. Newman. 2008. Will climate change be beneficial or detrimental to the invasive swede midge in North America? Contrasting predictions using climate projections from different general circulation models. Global Change Biology 14: 1721-1733.

NAPIS 2010. National Agricultural Pest Information System. O'Neil, R. J., and R. N. Wiedenmann. 2008. The Midwest Institute of Biological Control: 17 years of a different kind of distance education. American Entomologist 54: 6-9.

Prasad, A. M., L. R. Iverson, M. P. Peters, J. M. Bossenbroek, S. N. Matthews, T. D. Sydnor, and M. W. Schwartz. 2010. Modeling the invasive emerald ash borer risk of spread using a spatially explicit cellular model. Landscape Ecology 25: 353-369.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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