MITPPC awards $3.8 million to fight invasive species in Minnesota

November 19, 2019
Five workers wearing hard hats remove a diseased elm tree that is dying from Dutch elm

The Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants & Pests Center (MITPPC) at the University of Minnesota has awarded $3.8 million in dedicated funding to 12 new research projects that will protect Minnesota’s forests, prairies, wetlands and agricultural resources from invasive species. 

The projects include work on the prevention and management of high-priority invasive weeds, diseases and insects, including Dutch elm disease, Palmer amaranth, emerald ash borer, and non-native Phragmites.

“Minnesota continues to prove it is a national leader in efforts to manage terrestrial invasive species,” said Rob Venette, director of MITPPC. “MITPPC is marshaling the talents of the entire University and its partners to come up with exciting new solutions.”

All work was selected as part of a competitive proposal process and through rigorous peer-review. In summary: 

  • PREVENTING TREE DISEASE: This work will develop DNA technology to help land managers detect deadly Heterobasidion root rot of pines and other serious, windborne tree diseases early. Team Lead: Robert Blanchette (Plant Pathology)
  • MANAGING JUMPING WORMS: This research will enlist the help of citizen scientists to track the spread of soil-damaging jumping worms in Minnesota and find options for control. Team Lead: Lee Frelich (Forest Resources)
  • BREEDING DUTCH ELM-RESISTANCE: This project will breed native, Dutch elm disease-resistant trees for a planting program in Minnesota. Team Lead: Benjamin Held (Plant Pathology)
  • HANDS-OFF PHRAGMITES DETECTION: This study will use state-of-the-art remote sensing technology to detect non-native Phragmites, a tall invasive grass, across Minnesota’s wetland landscapes. Team Lead: Joseph Knight (Forest Resources)
  • FORECASTING INVASIVE WEEDS: This work will forecast the seasonal growth of two devastating weeds with economic and human health consequences – Japanese knotweed and wild parsnip – to better time management decisions in our regional climate. Team Lead: Rebecca Montgomery (Forest Resources)
  • BIOCONTROL OF REED CANARYGRASS: This research will explore whether a newly discovered strain of rust fungus could be used for safe and effective biocontrol of reed canarygrass. Team Lead: Pablo D. Olivera Firpo (Plant Pathology)
  • EAB MANAGEMENT IN VR: This project will take members of the public on a virtual reality trip through forests managed for emerald ash borer, in an effort to survey perception of control efforts. Team Lead: Ingrid Schneider (Forest Resources)
  • RAPID DIAGNOSIS OF TREE DISEASE: This study will develop rapid, in-field diagnostic tests for Dutch elm disease, Heterobasidion root disease in pine and thousand cankers disease in walnut and wingnut. Team Lead: Abdennour Abbas (Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering)
  • CONTROLLING BUCKTHORN WITH NATIVE TREES: This work will explore how native tree plantings can be used to prevent buckthorn regrowth after removal. Team Lead: Peter Reich (Forest Resources)
  • GENETIC CONTROL OF INSECTS: This research will continue to develop a means of controlling the fruit crop pest spotted wing drosophila through reproductive engineering. Team Lead: Michael Smanski (Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics)
  • SENSING OAK WILT FROM THE AIR: This work will use state-of-the-art remote drone sensing to detect oak wilt at the forest canopy level. Team Lead: Jeannine Cavender-Bares (Ecology, Evolution and Behavior)
  • TESTING FOR PALMER AMARANTH SEEDLINGS: This project will develop a test to confirm the identity of Palmer amaranth seedlings, which are easily confused with other pigweed species, and evaluate the economic benefits of field-based vs laboratory-based testing. Team Lead: Don Wyse (Agronomy and Plant Genetics)

To date, MITPPC has invested nearly $17 million in terrestrial invasive species research with the support of the Minnesota state government. 
Funding for many of these projects was provided by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, as recommended by the Legislative and Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

To learn more about MITPPC research and funding priorities, please visit