COLLEGE STATION – For insects — like humans — a happy home depends on three things: location, location, location
That location, said Dr. Maria Tchakerian, assistant research scientist for the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, determines whether that insect can reproduce and spread out. Unfortunately, this often causes problems for agricultural and nursery crops.
When an exotic pest is found, Web-based mapping applications can help researchers and regulators determine whether it’s there for a ‘one-night stand’ or plans to make plans to live there permanently.
Web-based mapping applications constructed at the Experiment Station’s Knowledge Engineering Lab give scientists and regulators information on the location of the insect in Texas and clues about that area’s environment.
“The maps tell us whether it (the insect or disease) can spread,” Tchakerian said. “Does it have a host or just homes and concrete?”
The lab builds maps for the Texas Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey.
Agriculture is the second-largest industry in Texas, according to the department of agriculture. Through the national pest information system, the Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service contracts with individuals, universities and Texas Cooperative Extension to conduct surveys on pests that threaten the nation’s food supply, said Dr. Robert Coulson, Experiment Station entomologist and lab director.
The lab was established in the mid-1980s. Computers are used mimic pest management problems and offer solutions, Coulson said
Entomologists use global positioning system technology to log the precise location of the insect. The lab takes that information then maps the exact insect location within various counties. These maps keep a historical record of when and where that insect was found, Coulson said.
This allows the Texas Department of Agriculture – which the maps are constructed for – to track insects that may recur in an area and determine patterns of population or migration, he said. It’s essentially a “clearinghouse of information.”
The maps contain aerial photographs with the location of traps and insects marked. They also give the scientists a list of landowners to contact if pesticide treatment is necessary.
Tchakerian calls them “intelligent maps” because they are so easy to use by anyone with a Web browser.
Also, the maps allow regulators and scientists throughout the state to look at the same information at the same time.
“I think that’s the strength (of the maps) for the people using it,” she said. When an exotic pest is found, Coulson said, the maps are studied to see if the insect will cause a problem. If so, steps will be taken to eradicate or control the pest.
All of the information in the Web site is confidential, and only limited access is given.