Published on 11/22/06

Research-industry relationship helps fight termites

By Jamie Hamblin
University of Georgia

Despite their size, termites make their presence known in Georgia in pronounced and expensive ways.

"Termite damage and control costs in Georgia exceed $125 million annually," said Ray Noblet, entomology department head in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

CAES professor of entomology Brian Forschler heads the department's urban entomology research program. With help from the Georgia Department of Agriculture, he and his colleagues study many pests, such as ants, roaches and flies. All have caused problems in Georgia homes and across the South.

But "in the Southeast," Forschler said, "most pest control operators agree that termites are the most threatening of all household pests."

Forschler's program is responsible for research on Formosan termites. This particularly threatening species builds large colonies and tends to attack in high numbers, making it hard to contain.

Other research in the program has focused on termites' biology. These studies have revealed a number of things that help create effective control programs:

* The average termite spends 70 percent of a day stagnant.

* Termites live in groups of around 60,000. But they occasionally join other groups to produce larger, yet temporary, populations.

* Although few houses are actually infested with termites, every residential property in Georgia has termites in the yard.

Developing successful and environmentally safe control programs for termites is vital to Georgia's future, Noblet said. Such programs, he said, "will depend on continued collaborative work and joint efforts."

Forschler's research is a good example. From its beginning, the urban entomology researchers and pest control operators have developed a symbiotic relationship. They help each other.

Every two years, Georgia pest control operators are required to pay a recertification fee. The Department of Agriculture collects these fees and gives a portion to Forschler's research program, since the research can benefit the industry.

Since the early 1990s, the program receives continuing funding to direct research toward the pest control industry's interests. What began as $25,000 of annual funding expanded to a biennial $90,000 research grant.

Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin recently gave the program a check for the latest of these grants. The funding goes toward performing field research and hiring postdoctoral associates, graduate assistants and student workers.

Through the Department of Agriculture, pest-control operators' support helps the UGA scientists help the pest-control people who protect Georgia homes. Relationships like that are taking a big part in the fight against termites, which seem to do pretty well on their own.

(Jamie Hamblin is a student writer for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Jamie Hamblin is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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