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Tom Perring

Professor of Entomology
Tom Perring
Date Palm Industry
Every 60 days, California gains a new and potentially damaging invasive species—that’s six new species each year. And economic loses to California are estimated at $3 billion. This year’s newest pest? The Red Palm Weevil. A very serious threat to California’s landscape plantings of ornamental palms—a $70 million per year industry. That’s where Professor Perring’s research comes in. By developing environmentally and economically sustainable Integrated Pest Management programs, he can reduce the use of harmful chemicals while at the same protecting the agricultural commodity.

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Arthropod Vectors of Plant Pathogens
  • Biology, Ecology, and Control of Agriculturally-Important Mites
  • Integrated Pest Management, Date/Ornamental Queen Palms
College: Affiliation:

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Entomological Society of America Excellence in Teaching Award (2002)

Q&A

Q: Why is your work important?
California receives a new pest introduction every 60 days or so. Some of these “exotic” introductions have grown into very damaging pest problems. For example, when the carob moth, a serious pest of dates, arrived in California in 1987, farmers had a single method of control—malathion dust. The dust, which was blown up into the tall palm trees with insecticide dusters, had a deadly effect on many other non-target organisms. UCR scientists isolated and identified key components of the sex pheromone that female moths use to call male moths. Through years of development and testing, and working with a private company to produce a pheromone “mimic,” we now are able to distribute this mimic and impede the male’s ability to find female—if they don’t mate, females do not lay viable eggs. This environmentally benign mating disruption strategy is serving as a replacement for the very damaging malathion dust.

By developing environmentally and economically sustainable Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs for insect and mite pests of agricultural crops, we can reduce the use of chemicals that may harm the environment, while at the same protect the agricultural commodity so that farmers can be economically successful, and consumers can have access to safe foods.

Q: What are the major applications of your research?
The development of Integrated Pest Management Programs that utilize a suite of pest-mitigating strategies within a holistic framework that is economically and environmentally sustainable.

Q: What is the ultimate goal of your research? What challenges are left to achieve?
The development of IPM that is sustainable. As far as the challenges, we recently learned that the mating disruption strategy was not very effective. Therefore, we need to identify the unique attributes of these gardens, so we can understand the limits of the mating disruption strategy and implement other aspects of the IPM program.

Q: What is the biggest myth about your research?
First: farmers want to spray insecticides to kill pests in their fields, and they are not interested in alternatives. Farmers have a tremendous respect for the environment; many of them live and raise their children on the farms where they sometimes have to use insecticides. Second: commodities which have been managed with insecticides are not safe. While this may have been true in the past, modern insecticide chemistries are very safe and have specific target sites within insects that are not harmful to humans. Third: the development of IPM programs can be done quickly and without considerable investment. Truth is, research is expensive and it doesn’t always result in useable IPM strategies. IPM is complex by its very nature, and it takes considerable financial and human resource investments to bring strategies to fruition.

Q: What does “Living the Promise” mean to you?
UCR isn’t just a place where a bunch of students, faculty, and staff come together each day and engage in random interactions; it is a place where dedicated men and women engage one another to learn and grow and discover new knowledge. We have an amazingly diverse campus which brings folks of all backgrounds together and on which we can be intentionally inclusive. I believe that this provides us, all of us on campus, an extraordinary opportunity to interact with one another and truly “live the promise.”

Q: In your spare time, what are you reading?
Currently I am reading a biography of Norman Borlaug, a plant breeder who lived during a period of our nation’s history when hunger unraveled the fabric of American life. And “Three Cups of Tea”, a story of Greg Mortenson who started a movement in the early 1990s to build schools for girls in the poorest regions of Northern Pakistan and Afganistan.

Q: What advice do you have for students graduating in the next five years?
Study what you love. Don’t get too hung up on what your job will be or if you will make money. There will always be jobs for the best candidates, and the best candidates are those who are passionate about what they do.