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Pest alert helps track changing climates

Contact: Abby Seaman, 315 787 2422,

by Mary Woodsen

Pest alert helps track changing climates

A Cornell University “trap network,” begun in 1994 to alert farmers when damaging pests were on the fly in 60,000 acres of sweet corn across New York State, may now provide a second, unlooked-for service by helping researchers track how these pests could respond to changing climates.

Corn earworm is typically a late-season pest of sweet corn in upstate New York. Earworm adults—pale brown moths—migrate north each year, often arriving in mid-August. During the first years of the trap network this left the special pheromone traps, set up in July to monitor earworms, empty for several weeks.

But an unexpected outbreak in Eden, New York, in June, 1999, prompted researchers at the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program and Cornell Cooperative Extension to start looking more closely. Since then, low numbers of earworms—with occasional spikes requiring sprays—have consistently turned up in traps in western New York from early June until the migratory flight kicks in during August.

“This is the sort of thing we anticipate seeing as climates shift,” says Abby Seaman, a vegetable IPM educator who began the trap network. “We expect that insects will expand their range and reproduce more quickly. The network is giving us an idea of what pest pressure might look like in the future.”

No one's sure yet if these early trap catches mean that corn earworm moths are overwintering in Eden, Seaman notes. “But higher trap catches of corn earworms trigger shorter spray intervals,” she says. “Since IPM management recommendations for corn earworm are based on trap catches, it's clear that earworms are already costing some farmers more than they did nine years ago.”