Penn State was awarded a grant of $7.3 million in an effort to advance research on the spotted lanternfly.

According to a press release from Penn State news, the grant will support a multi-institutional team of researchers as they continue research and form strategies to combat the invasive planthopper species.

The project will include 37 collaborating researchers and extension educators from Penn State, the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Virginia Tech, the University of Delaware, the University of Rhode Island, Temple University, Rutgers University, Cornell University and the Northeastern IPM Center.

The allotted money was gifted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and will be matched by more than $5 million in investments from growers and landowners alike.

Though the spotted lanternfly is indigenous to China, Bangladesh and Vietnam, the insect was first found in Pennsylvania in 2014 and has led to 14 counties being quarantined.

In short, the spotted lanternfly feeds on sap, weakens plants and excretes honeydew. This honeydew promotes the growth of mold which harms the plant and attracts other insects to the plant. This phenomena can render certain outdoor areas as unusable.

The insect has been harmful to economically important crops like fruit trees, grapevines, hardwoods and the nursery industry, which make up for $18 billion of Pennsylvania’s economy.

In the press release from Penn State news, project lead and associate professor of entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences Julie Urban supported the USDA’s efforts to help combat the SLF.

“I am extremely grateful to the USDA for this funding as well as the growers and landowners who pledged to allow us use of their farms for this project,” Urban said.

“Our partnerships with them and other impacted stakeholders are key to arriving at strategies for sustainable, long-term management of this pest.”

The grant will support a four-year initiative aimed at achieving several goals.

The first goal is to quantify the insect’s impact on at-risk specialty crops and immediately develop management tactics to reduce the damage in areas where spotted lanternfly is established.

The second goal will be to perform fundamental research on the basic biology, ecology and behavior of the lanternfly, and to develop biological control tactics contributing to long-term sustainable solutions.

The final goal is to deliver immediate management solutions to specialty-crop stakeholders and the public through the extension networks of the partnering land-grant universities, USDA agencies and the Northeastern IPM Center.

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