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CU, USDA team to curb two invasive, poisonous vines

With no known enemies in North America, two types of invasive vines are growing rampant in forests and fields, threatening reforestation, fragile butterfly populations and bird habitats.

The vines are pale and black swallow-wort, and to find a biological control to stem the growth of and their steady conquest of local ecosystems in the northern United States and Canada, Cornell University is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), which operates a federal laboratory at Cornell.

Pale and black swallow-wort -- twining vines recently classified as invasive species and members of the milkweed family -- have rapidly spread since the mid-1990s. The plants are lethal hosts for monarch butterfly larvae and alter ground cover and affect habitat for grassland birds. And, if that is not enough, the plants are growing with increasing vigor in some maize and soybean fields and are altering forest regeneration patterns.

Native populations of pale swallow-wort (Vincetoxicum rossicum) in Ukraine and black swallow-wort (V. nigrum) in southwestern Europe are kept in check, though, by native natural enemies. Natural enemies to plants often include moth caterpillars, beetles, flies and diseases.

"They've been here more than 100 years but have exploded in the last 10 to 15 years, and it will still be a minimum of 10 years before we can even release a natural enemy to control their growth," said Antonio DiTommaso, associate professor of weed science at Cornell.

"The collaboration between Cornell and the USDA involves studies of the plants' biology to identify weak links in the life cycle that should be targeted, if possible, for biological control," said Lindsey Milbrath, a USDA-ARS research entomologist at Cornell, adding that introducing any agent will require federal approval. "Our research will help guide the selection of an effective agent."

Milbrath, whose funding fro
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Source:Cornell University News Service


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