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PPMN passes the 20-year mark

The Prairie Pest Monitoring Network (PPMN), now in its 20th year, continues to provide timely crop insect pest risk and forecasting tools for growers and the industry across Western Canada. As technology and forecasting tools advance, so does the ability of the network to provide relevant insect pest information related to scouting, identification and monitoring tools and information, plus links to provincial monitoring and support relevant to the Canadian Prairies.

March 1, 2017  By Donna Fleury

The PPMN Blog. The Prairie Pest Monitoring Network (PPMN)

In 2015, the PPMN took advantage of new technology and moved to a regular blog with its own email subscription service to improve timely access and keep users regularly updated on emerging issues, especially during the growing season.

“The network was developed 20 years ago and is based on a unique integrated level of collaboration amongst various partners who are active in extension, research and field monitoring across the Prairie provinces,” says Jennifer Otani, pest management biologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and network co-ordinator. “The network’s ongoing collaboration amongst federal, provincial and university entomologists, plus the integration of vast provincial networks of co-operators, generates the invaluable benefits of increased monitoring on a Prairie-wide scale using scientifically valid monitoring methods for multiple economically important field crop pests. And, as insect pests change and evolve on the Prairies, so does the network because its participants are able to meet and discuss what we’re observing in the field and in our research, what’s working and what trends are we seeing and, even more importantly, what’s emerging as important insect pest issues and where do our research gaps exist.”  

The network researchers and collaborators combine data collection and their modelling expertise to develop insect pest risk maps and forecast maps for each province. The data is also used to develop and improve various bioclimatic modelling efforts, led by Owen Olfert, a research scientist at AAFC Saskatoon and one of the founders of the PPMN. Based on the data and risks identified, network participants work together to identify emerging pest issues and research gaps, which helps participants, growers and the agricultural industry address critical insect pest issues. Examples of forecast maps include the Prairie-wide annual grasshopper forecast and wheat midge forecast maps. Both are released by mid-January and can help growers as they make their seeding decisions.


“The wheat midge forecast map identifies areas of high risk across the Prairies in January so growers hopefully use that information to seek out midge-tolerant cultivars to manage their risk,” Otani says. Likewise, the risk maps for bertha armyworm, cabbage seedpod weevil, swede midge, diamondback moth, wheat stem sawfly and pea leaf weevil all help growers and the agricultural industry review the previous growing season and identify areas of high risk so scouting can be prioritized for the next season.

During the growing season, the network helps keep growers, the agricultural industry and the general public informed by generating a weekly update. Each weekly update is a synthesis of scouting information, bioclimate predictions for significant economic pests, the rates of development for various insect stages, updates from provincial entomologists, plus links to relevant information. It’s all geared to help growers increase their knowledge of what to look for, how to look for it, and when to time their scouting to best manage and protect their crops.  

“Historically, over 20 years, key stakeholders and participants were part of an email list that received weekly updates or risk and forecast maps, and then distributed that information through their networks,” Otani says. “However, as things changed and the distribution lists became increasingly difficult to manage with fewer people, the network decided to try a new approach with an online blog in 2015. We were looking for an efficient way to get information out quickly and potentially increase its accessibility. The blog now allows us to post the weekly updates online, either as a downloadable file or a series of searchable posts, and we can get it up very quickly.”

The blog offers additional benefits to participants, including the ability to subscribe and receive automatic email updates within 12 hours of an update being posted. The blog is fairly smartphone-friendly, too, so growers can access the weekly update’s scouting and monitoring tips plus hyperlinks, all while standing in the field. “We are trying to provide reliable information that is seasonally relevant in a format that is accessible and even links growers with additional resources like provincial sources and contacts,” Otani says.

During the growing season, the weekly updates profile seasonally appropriate information for insect pests – whether it’s scouting tips and details from predictive modelling work (which indicates what stages of which pests might be present that week), or highlights of emerging issues that growers should be scouting. Many subscribers review the current temperature, precipitation and wind trajectories. In 2015, reviewing this information helped time deployment of diamondback moth pheromone traps.

One of the surprises has been the popularity of the “insect of the week” feature posted on the blog throughout the growing season by Erl Svendsen with AAFC Saskatoon. Starting in 2015, an insect pest was featured every week in a post that linked directly to the pages of AAFC’s “Field Crop and Forage Pests and their Natural Enemies in Western Canada: Identification and Management Field Guide.” In 2016, natural enemies were featured weekly. “We’re excited that it’s popular because it’s showing us that people want to learn more about what’s in their fields,” Otani says. “Not all of those six- and eight-legged things in the field are pests. We hope growers are recognizing that their pest management decisions, particularly when densities remain below economic threshold, will have an impact on these organisms.”

Otani reminds growers that although the risk and forecast maps and weekly updates are great tools for keeping on top of potential insect pests, in-field monitoring is still critical. “The risk and forecast maps, along with the weekly updates, are best used as an outline or guide to be used by growers and agrologists so they can plan and build their own scouting plan. Ultimately growers need to be in their fields and actively monitoring, and absolutely remember that the maps and weekly updates are at a regional scale so it’s vital to get out and confirm what’s in individual fields so you can make informed decisions.”

Monitoring remains the foundation of the network and allows researchers to better understand these economically important insect pests in terms of the crops they affect and how pest densities change over time and geography. The monitoring data is also very important in helping establish priorities for research and future directions for research programs and bioclimatic modelling strategies.

Bioclimatic models improve predictions
The long-term monitoring information and extensive database of the Prairie Pest Monitoring Network (PPMN) supports another important research project focused on bioclimatic modelling. Led by Owen Olfert, a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Saskatoon, the bioclimatic modelling long-term project is the foundation of the risk and forecasting components of the network. Olfert and his team have developed several robust models that use the monitoring data to help growers and industry prepare for established and new insect pest problems. Olfert and his team work with other scientists around the world to develop the best models possible.

“Through our bioclimatic modelling, we can assess the risk and forecast potential outbreaks of the various crop insect pests across Western Canada,” Olfert says. “There are three groups of insect pests that we are concerned about, including native species [e.g. grasshoppers, bertha armyworms], invasive alien species [e.g. cabbage seedpod weevil, wheat midge] and insects that arrive during the growing season on wind trajectories [e.g. diamondback moth]. The native species tend to be cyclical and have natural enemies that help with control, however the invasive alien species are a major concern and require a collaborative effort to develop management strategies.”

Researchers have developed very robust bioclimatic models for most of the major insect pests and they have a good start on several others in terms of what might happen with changing weather patterns and climate. Warming conditions can affect insects by extending their growing season and life cycle, alter the timing of spring emergence and increase the rate of reproduction and development.

“One of the most important concerns of warming conditions is winters are expected to be milder and reduce the overwintering mortality of some of our insect pests,” Olfert says. “As climate changes, the distribution and abundance for many of these insects is expected to shift further north. For example, cabbage seedpod weevil is currently found mostly in the southern half of Saskatchewan, but with warming temperatures the population could easily shift north into more typical canola growing areas. With our models in place, we can have a bit of an advanced window to develop and transfer new IPM or mitigation tactics.”
Having bioclimatic models in place also puts pest alerts out in advance and helps growers in these potentially new high-risk areas be more proactive in monitoring and assessing their risks. The models tend to focus on Western Canada, but are usually applicable for North America. The growing season monitoring data are used to validate existing models and to provide advance notice of new insect pests. For example, when cabbage seedpod weevil first appeared in southern Alberta, researchers worked with collaborators in Europe to develop bioclimatic models to predict the potential range and relative abundance of the insect pest and begin advance work on biological control.

“We are continuing to develop new bioclimatic models for new emerging insect pests and their natural enemies to predict the potential impact of climate on insect pest distribution and density,” Olfert says. “We will also continue to update existing models to ensure we are providing the best risk and forecasting maps possible, as well as address changes in growing conditions, climate and new crops. These models and tools help us keep growers and industry prepared to adapt to new management strategies and IPM mitigation tactics to manage existing and new crop insect pests.”

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