The Forecaster interviews Groden about brown-tail moth research

The Forecaster interviewed Eleanor Groden, a professor of entomology at the University of Maine and director of UMaine’s brown-tail moth research project, about her recent findings. The brown-tail moth is an invasive species that damages hardwood trees and shrubs, and its hairs can cause a rash and breathing issues in humans, the article states. The project is in collaboration with the Maine Forest Service, and is focused on determining the cause of the brown-tail moth’s spread throughout Maine and eco-friendly ways to stop it, The Forecaster reported. Groden’s study involved feeding treated leaves from Harpswell to the caterpillars to determine the effects. Groden said the treatment includes “biological materials” that are temperature dependent like insects’ physiology, prompting researchers to test results in a controlled-temperature lab setting. Some methods tested include using a naturally occurring fungal pathogen that multiplies and kills larvae in the nest, and a bacteria. Using both together reduced caterpillar survival more effectively than either method used alone, according to Groden. But so far, the research shows brown-tail moth caterpillars are surviving in the lab longer than expected when fed treated leaves. “We don’t want to jump to conclusions about what happened in the field at this point; we were hoping we would see lower survival of the caterpillars fed in the lab,” said Groden. “That said, they were taken care of in the lab, so under more stressful conditions maybe they would’ve succumbed to mortality. Once we get all of our data analyzed we’ll be able to say what happened in the field.” The treatment options used in the study are less toxic than traditional insecticides, and most of what the research team works with is certified organic and only lasts about 12 hours after being sprayed. It also breaks down in UV light and generally impacts only insects, the article states.