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Mark Hoddle

Director, Center for Invasive Species Research
Mark Hoddle
Red Palm Weevil
Every year California’s diverse ecosystem is invaded by new, often-destructive species of exotic pests—such as the Red Palm Weevil—resulting in annual economic losses of more than $3 billion.

Professor Hoddle is utilizing biological control to combat these and other pests, in order to protect crops and to prevent economic losses in a variety of industries around the world and thus sparing native plants, animals and people from harmful residues.

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Red Palm Weevil
  • Biological control of ornamental and agricultural pests
  • Pest and natural enemy biology and behavior
  • Assessing impact of natural enemies on pest population growth
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Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Entomological Society of America Recognition Award in Entomology – National Award (2007)
  • Entomological Society of America Recognition Award in Entomology – Pacific Branch (2007)
  • California Junior Chamber of Commerce Young Farmer of the Year (2000)

Research Summary

To identify pest problems where biological control could be successful, locate and release natural enemies, and then evaluate natural enemy impact on pest population growth.

Q&A

Q: Why is your work important? How does it benefit society?
Using natural enemies to control invasive species reduces, and in some cases, completely eliminates our need for pesticides. This is good for the environment, our food and water supplies, native plants and animals and people.

These unnaturally high pest populations cause extensive economic and environmental damage as they kill their host plants and modify the environment to the detriment of farmers, home owners and the native plants and animals in California’s spectacular and incredibly unique wilderness areas.

Q: What are the major applications of your research?
The major applications of my work have been biological control of invasive pests in avocados (this has involved a lot of work in Guatemala and Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean), grapes, and citrus in California and some Pacific Island nations.

Current research programs are tackling severe pests of citrus and the gold spotted oak borer which has killed more than 30,000 oak trees in the Cleveland National Forest and is spreading. This pest has the potential to permanently change the oak dominated landscape of Southern California’s natural areas affecting recreational activities, increasing wild fire risks and threatening native animals that need oaks for food and shelter, and shaded riparian areas that hold valuable water supplies.

Q: What is biological control?
Biological control drives pest populations down to non-damaging levels by using natural enemies. I hunt for natural enemies of these pests in the countries where the pests are native and re-associate the natural enemies with the target pest in California.

Successful biological control programs are forever. For example, the very first biological control program in California was against the cottony cushionscale, a serious pest of citrus that is native to Australia. In 1888-89 a ladybug, the vedalia beetle, was imported from Australia, it only feeds on cottony cushionscale, and it completely controlled this pest within six to eight months of its release in California. This lady bug has continued to control this pest for over 120 years. The program only cost $3,000 to complete and California has benefited every year since 1889.

Q: What is primarily involved in the identification of pest problems?
Pest problems can be identified by their levels of environmental damage (e.g. gold spotted oak borer has killed more than 30,000 oaks in the Cleveland National Forest. This environmental impact is immense in terms of threatened habitat and wild fire risk.

Alternatively, pest problems may bring with them huge economic costs. An example is the Asian citrus psyllid threatening California’s citrus industry. This pest vectors a bacterial disease which is lethal to citrus. This pest-disease combination has been devastating in Florida and Brazil. Using natural enemies from Pakistan may greatly reduce populations of this pest, thereby slowing disease spread, and the frequency (and cost) of spraying trees to citrus growers. This program will also benefit homeowners who have citrus in their gardens but who don't want to spray their plants to control Asian citrus psyllid.

Q: Briefly discuss the Red Palm Weevil infestation. Red palm weevil is native to parts of Asia and has been moved into northern Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean inside palm trees. This weevil kills palm trees very fast, and it is extremely difficult to control with pesticides. It has devastated ornamental palms in urban areas, and date production areas in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel. This weevil was officially found in Laguna Beach in Orange County in October 2010. It threatens California’s iconic landscape palms in urban areas, the unique date industry in the Coachella Valley, and native palms in fragile desert areas. This invasive species is somewhat unique in that it threatens native and exotic ornamental palms in urban, agricultural, and natural areas.

Q: What types of environmental and economic problems do invasive species cause California?
Invasive species adversely affect the lives of everybody living in California and collectively they cost the commonwealth of California more than $3 billion each year. These pests degrade our wilderness areas; increase the costs of our foods; the quality of our urban areas; livestock; freshwater supplies and the coastline.

We are all negatively impacted by invasive species, and their rate of entry into California is accelerating, and the resources available to prevent their entry, and then contain, combat, and manage them after they sneak in are diminishing.

Q: How do your students inspire you?
The curiosity, enthusiasm, and drive of top tier students motivate me immensely to keep pushing towards solutions for seemingly intractable pest problems. What a privilege to be looking at new information with them.

Q: What is it about UCR that makes this a great place to do your research?
As an entomologist, I am fortunate to have unparallel opportunities to implement biological control programs against these pests. There are few places, if any, elsewhere in the world that have the world class resources, like the insectary and quarantine facility that make this work possible. Consequently, UCR is a leader in this field of invasive species management.
Mark Hoddle “I am fortunate to have unparallel opportunities to implement biological control programs against these pests.”

—Mark Hoddle
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