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The Mighty Termite: Scientists work to corral the spread

LSU AgCenter scientists continue to add weapons to their arsenal as they battle the spread of the Formosan subterranean termite in Louisiana. This pest voraciously consumes wooden structures and trees and causes millions of dollars in damages.

Believed to have entered Louisiana and other Southern coastal states in wooden crates returned from the Pacific Rim during and after World War II, Formosan subterranean termites have steadily increased in numbers. They have moved north from New Orleans and Lake Charles and now have been found in all parishes south of I-10 and I-12 as well as in north Louisiana.

The LSU AgCenter has developed programs in research and education to help Louisiana battle this odious pest. Read about these programs:

Under Attack by Termites by Gregg Henderson, research entomologist

Economics of Formosan Subterranean Termite Control Options in Louisiana by Krishna Paudel, ag economist

Using DNA Profiling to Assess Formosan Termite Control in the New Orleans French Quarter by Claudia Husseneder, research entomologist

Management of the Formosan Subterranean Termite in the New Orleans French Quarter by Dennis Ring, extension entomologist

New Orleans French Quarter Program
Management of the Formosan subterranean termites became so difficult in the French Quarter in the 1990s that some pest management companies stopped treating for termites. Local officials would receive 20 to 30 calls about swarming termites per swarm season from people in the Upper Pontalba Apartments near Jackson Square. One person reported sleeping in a pup tent inside his structure during swarm season to prevent termite alates from falling on him at night and waking him up. Buildings in the French Quarter experienced structural damage on an ongoing basis resulting in a continuous cycle of damage and repair. The situation was bleak.

In response to this problem, an areawide integrated pest management program was begun in the French Quarter  in 1998 with a goal to reduce the numbers of Formosan subterranean termites.The LSU AgCenter was part of an areawide integrated pest management effort called the French Quarter Program in New Orleans called Operation Full Stop, a nationwide termite management program. Its focus is a community-based plan using a management strategy to reduce the densities of Formosan subterranean termites. The program is a cooperative effort including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board.

Effective April 15, 2011, Congress eliminated federal funding for Operation Full Stop. The LSU AgCenter is now seeking ways to find funds to continue the research and extension program. French Quarter property owners were informed that federal payments for termite treatments by private pest control operators for individual properties would be stopped effective April 15. Any contracts with pest control operators after April 15 will be the responsibility of the property owners.

“It’s unfortunate the program is ending,” said LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson. “Since 1998 the AgCenter has been an active partner in the effort to suppress Formosan subterranean termites in New Orleans.”

In addition to the pest management contracts, the AgCenter has been providing inspection service to building owners in the French Quarter along with inspectors from the New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The AgCenter has been monitoring more than 600 in-ground stations and 100 sticky cards to track termite populations in the French Quarter. The monitoring program could continue until August 2012, based on funds that already have been distributed.

“This will allow for monitoring and follow-up to determine the results of the elimination of the pest control operator contract program,” Ring said.

During the time Operation Full Stop has been in existence, Formosan subterranean termite infestations have been reduced in the French Quarter, Ring said.

“They’re not gone, but the population has been drastically reduced,” added LSU AgCenter entomologist Alan Morgan, who has been working on the project since its inception.

“Even without federal help, people need to continue to follow the program,” Morgan said. “We hope we’ll be able to continue to provide education program to address termite problems in New Orleans.”

The federal termite initiative is one of many AgCenter programs that may be curtailed as a result of budgetary limits, said LSU AgCenter Vice Chancellor Paul Coreil. “We’re going to have to look carefully at what we’re going to be doing in the future.”

In addition to the French Quarter monitoring program, the AgCenter has been conducting several research programs to determine how to find and control termites, said John Russin, LSU AgCenter interim vice chancellor for research.

The most recent research involves a team in the AgCenter Department of Entomology that is using DNA profiles to detect individual termite colonies, determine the number of colonies infesting an area and identify the colonies producing swarming termites each year in the French Quarter, Russin said.

Their research has shown that:

– Termite colonies survived flooding following Hurricane Katrina.

– Up to 18 different colonies can infest a single building over a four-year period.

– Colonies can be eliminated with proper treatment.

– The number of colonies has been reduced by 85 percent over the last eight years, in all likelihood due to the persistent treatment effort. 

The LSU AgCenter is one of 11 institutions of higher education in the Louisiana State University System. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, it provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. The LSU AgCenter does not grant degrees nor benefit from tuition increases. The LSU AgCenter plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing the environment, and improving the quality of life through its 4-H youth, family and community programs.

Last Updated: 5/2/2012 9:10:31 AM

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