State Farm presents a $31,240 check toward beetle-rearing lab


State Farm presents a $31,240 check toward beetle-rearing lab

Pictured (l-r) are Eduardo Salcedo, Miami-Dade Parks NAM biologist; Craig Holloway and Jose Soto from State Farm; Terra students who will be working on the beetle-rearing project and subsequent beetle release in the spring into Kendall Indian Hammocks Park for the Bio-Control of the invasive Air Potato Vine; George Navarrette, deputy director of Miami-Dade Parks; Alexis Salcedo, Terra science teacher and project manager; Carrie Montano, Terra principal, and Jennifer Illa, Terra assistant principal.

State Farm presented a $31,240 check to the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade and students at Terra Environmental Research Institute in Kendall that will help pay for a new beetlerearing laboratory at the school to be used for the Bio-control of the Air Potato Vine project that will be run by the students. The check presentation took place on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 12:30 p.m., at the site of the new laboratory.

The bio-control method will consist of the rearing of the air potato leaf beetle, its scientific name being Lilioceris cheni (Lili), by Terra students and their subsequent release into Kendall Indian Hammocks Park, a Miami-Dade County park with more than 50 acres of “hammock” forest besieged by the invasive exotic air potato vine.

The “Lili” beetle is native to China, India, Nepal, Laos and Thailand and first was released in Florida in 2012 by USDA for biological control of the air potato. The USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Invasive Plant Research Laboratory (USDA) in Fort Lauderdale is providing the “Adam” and “Eve” initial starter beetles that will be reared in the Terra laboratory and later released into the park under NAM and USDA supervision.

In addition, Terra will be the only high school in Florida supplying the “Lili” beetle to other agencies for use where the air potato also is taking over native vegetation.

The Terra classroom laboratory is scheduled for completion by end of the year at which time a dedication ceremony will be planned, followed by a beetle release ceremony in spring/summer of 2014

 “This partnership will allow my students to engage firsthand in a very important aspect of the conservation and management of our natural areas, which is the use of biological controls in order to mitigate the effects of an invasive species,” said Alex Salcedo, Conservation Biology teacher in charge of the bio-control project

“State Farm supports service-learning because it integrates service to the community into classroom curriculum using a hands-on approach to mastering subject material while fostering civic responsibility,” said Jose Soto, State Farm community specialist in Miami. “The State Farm Youth Advisory Board is a prime example of State Farm’s commitment to education, our community and our youth.”

The air potato is a serious threat to South Florida’s environment, growing vines that are 30 to 40 feet long, stifling native plants and destroying landscaping and impacting the natural eco-system. In South Florida they have been found in various communities in Miami-Dade County including Kendall, Coral Gables, Village of Palmetto Bay, Homestead, South Miami, Florida City, Miami Gardens, North Miami Beach and unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade County.

Long standing partners for more than 15 years, the USDA and NAM began this joint venture to discover a safe and successful method for eradicating the exotic vine in 2011, when the USDA requested NAM’s help to provide a controlled living preserve in which to test the impact of the “Lili” beetle on air potato. In November 2011, the first test-release of the beetles to combat the plant took place, and again in April 2013 with the assistance of Terra students.

Results from these releases are evident already at the test sites, with leaves and whole plants clearly showing the effects from of the beetles. In those areas, the leaves look like lace patterns and many of the bulbils also have been affected, slowing the reproduction of the plant.

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