Greenhouse Consultant Elise Schillo-Lobdell receives IPM Award
by Mary Woodsen
In 2001, independent integrated pest management (IPM) scout Elise Schillo-Lobdell noticed a strange thing at Zerrillo’s Greenhouse in East Syracuse, NY. She was seeing a new type of fly—lots of them. And she was counting drastically lower numbers of pesky fungus gnats and shore flies, though Zerrillo’s wasn’t applying any sprays.
Schillo-Lobdell watched and waited, and by 2002, she was ready to present her information at a regional IPM meeting. She had discovered the first hunter flies (Coenosia attenuate) in North America. And better yet, she says, “These are highly voracious little critters and they will eat just about anything!”
“The adult hunter flies are aerial predators that attack several greenhouse pests, and the larval stage is also predacious, feeding on pests in the greenhouse soil,” says John P. Sanderson, Associate Professor of Entomology at Cornell University, whose lab is working on using this fly for biological control. “We would not have recognized it’s importance if it weren’t for Elise’s discovery.”
Along with fungus gnats and shoreflies, further research has shown that hunter flies also devour dance flies, fruit flies, leaf-mining flies, long-legged flies, midges, minute black scavenger flies, moth flies, and whiteflies. They hold great potential for being a powerful beneficial insect, notes Schillo-Lobdell.
Schillo-Lobdell’s discovery, along with her seventeen years of service to the IPM community, are the reason she has been awarded an “Excellence in IPM Award” from the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program at Cornell University. IPM brings together a wide range of pest management options to help people chose the lowest-risk method that works in their situation.
”It took a little bit of nerve to speak up at that meeting,” says Schillo-Lobdell. “Everybody else there had more degrees than I do. But I knew I was seeing something important.”
“Promoting Integrated Pest Management to a population as diverse as the ornamentals producers in New York can be a challenge, so we rely on practitioners like Elise to help us spread the word,” says Elizabeth M. Lamb, Coordinator of Ornamentals IPM for the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program. “Elise's passion for IPM ranges from the practical to the academic, allowing her to contribute at all levels.”
Schillo-Lobdell knows that it can be hard to convince growers to use beneficial insects—she’s on the ground with growers, talking them into trying new things. “It can be hard to wait for beneficials to knock down a pest. I get nervous too,” she says. “I want the crop to be clean when it goes out the door just as much as the greenhouse owner does.”
But she’s seen great success in preventing both pest problems and pesticide applications. She encourages others to take a leap of faith—much like the one she took when she decided to believe in herself and the natural enemy discovery she had made.