Introduced to IRREC by our former co-worker Dr. Rodrigo Diaz, Ph.D. student Patricia Prade helped with studies to identify a possible natural enemy arthropod against the Brazilian peppertree, one of Florida's most formidable invasive species.
It was during Patricia’s final year of studies at the Universidade de Blumenau in Brazil when Rodrigo was seeking help to search for an insect that fed on Brazilian peppertrees in their native habitat. University officials introduced Rodrigo to Patricia and to Dr. Marcelo Vitorino, and together the three scanned local forests for native species: the Brazilian peppertree, and the insect that kept the tree at its normal size, which is diminutive when compared to the massive, out-of-control tree stands growing in central and south Florida. Dr. Overholt, Rodrigo and Dr. Manrique had also located psyllids from the same genus attacking Brazilian peppertree in Bahia and Espirito Santo.
Patricia was at that time about to complete a Master of Science degree in Forestry and Conservation at the Brazilian university. IRREC Professor Emeritus Dr. Bill Overholt, who was a member of her graduate committee, had supervised her master’s degree. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Forestry, also at Universidade de Blumenau.
A native of Santa Catarina, just south of Rio de Janeiro, Patricia had been considering a Ph.D. at the time when she met the IRREC scientists. Rodrigo asked Patricia to consider earning her doctorate in Entomology at IRREC and encouraged her to apply with UF.
Today, Patricia is working under the direction of Dr. James Cuda in Gainesville and IRREC’s new assistant professor of Entomology, Dr. Carey Minteer. Dr. Minteer and Patricia are collaborating with Dr. Cuda, to prepare for an anticipated release of the psyllid Patricia, Rodrigo and Veronica collected in Brazil. Expected to fight the invasive nature of Florida’s unique version of the Brazilian peppertree, the psyllid controls the trees’ growth in Brazil. The research conducted by Patricia during her master’s degree at IRREC found that the psyllid would have the same effect in Florida on the Brazilian peppertree, so that the trees will no longer drain the state’s water resources and outcompete its natural ecology.
“In Florida, the trees grow so close to each other and it is hard to control just with chemicals,” said Patricia. “I am excited because we have an opportunity to solve this problem with the right biological control agent and that’s important to me and to Florida’s natural lands.”