Monitor and Control the Formosan Subterranean Termite in Forest Resources Using an Application of a New Science and Technology Phase I

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Department of Agriculture
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Phase I
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Small Business Information
16651 W. Sprague Rd #C204, Strongsville, OH, 44136-1757
Hubzone Owned:
Minority Owned:
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Principal Investigator:
Nicholas Smilanich
(440) 234-3260
Business Contact:
Nicholas Smilanich
(440) 234-3260
Research Institute:
The Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus, FST), an exotic, cryptic pest, causes about $1 billion damage in the US annually (Lax and Osbrink). Unlike native species, this aggressive termite attacks living trees, potentially threatening southern forests and the urban/forest interface. Potential forest damage is twofold: direct damage or death to trees and indirect disruption or displacement of native termites which promote wood decomposition and nutrient cycling needed for forest ecosystem health and productivity. Unfortunately, while demand for product testing aimed at FSTs has increased, no new FST research has been initiated due to the lack of funding. FST infestations can occur in living trees, such as oak, cypress, pine, pecan and maple, destroying forestry resources. It is also known to cause major structural timber damage to homes and buildings within a few months. FSTs are serious timber pests. FSTs have been found in 11 states including: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. In New Orleans, 30-50% of the city's 4,000 historic live oak trees are believed to be infested with total damage costing the city $300 million a year. According to Raloff, in North America FSTs "create significantly bigger colonies, and therefore more damage, than do their native US cousins, which reside underground and enter buildings only to forage." Fei and Henderson state that, FSTs are "the most destructive, difficult to control and economically important species of termite in the southern United States." The goal of this project is to protect US forest products and residential and commercial structures from insect pests with a sensor device to detect the presence of damaging, cryptic Formosan subterranean termites. Attaining this goal reduces resource and economic losses associated with this pest. SDC's hypothesis is that specific organic volatiles can be good markers to differentiate destructive termite infestations in standing timber or structures from harmless emanations, e.g. gases associated with tree or plant odor, or other MVOCs. FST pheromones do not have sufficient vapor pressure for detection with a gas sensor like SDC's. However, naphthalene is associated with FST carton nests and is easily detected by SDC's chip. SDC has two objectives in this proposal: 1) establish a portable detector for sensing the presence of the Formosan subterranean termite using the existing mold detecting MVOC platform technology, and 2) demonstrate uniqueness and the concentration levels of FST marker VOC's associated with infestations of the FST. SDC is confident that discovery of FSTs is feasible by detecting this gas, or another VOC found in the carton material and that Phase II work will result in a complete sensor device that can be used effectively to detect VOCs associated with FST nest, relate those VOCs to FST infestations. This information will allow forestry and pest service workers to detect infestations of this destructive, cryptic insect and take appropriate action to prevent damage and economic loss.

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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