Researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences are part of a new, multi-state project to study the brown marmorated stink bug.

The research is funded by a recently announced $5.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture through its Specialty Crops Research Initiative.

The three-year project is aimed at developing economically and environmentally sustainable pest-management practices for the brown marmorated stink bug, which has caused millions of dollars worth of crop damage and become a major homeowner nuisance since it first was found in the United States, near Allentown, in the late 1990s.

Penn State will receive nearly $900,000 of the grant to study stink bug biology and behavior, develop monitoring and management tools and practices, and provide Extension education programs to disseminate new knowledge to crop producers.

"It's too early to put a dollar value on crop damage this year, but the apple industry alone estimated losses of about $37 million as the result of stink bug infestations in the mid-Atlantic region in 2010," said Greg Krawczyk, extension tree-fruit entomologist at Penn State's Fruit Research and Extension Center in Biglerville.

Krawczyk, who leads the Penn State portion of the project, noted that crop damage this year appears to be lower than last year, though it varies from region to region. "Growers who experienced big losses last year managed this pest better during this season, but some individual growers still suffered losses of up to 60 percent," he said.

Because the brown marmorated stink bug is native to Asia, it has few natural enemies in North America, allowing populations to grow largely unchecked. The pest is known to feed on as many as 300 host plants and migrates readily, further complicating control.

Krawczyk said one of the goals of the research is to develop control tactics that rely on the principles of IPM, or integrated pest management. IPM utilizes a variety of methods -- including biological controls, pheromones for mating disruption and other techniques -- that help minimize pesticide use.

He explained that some broad-spectrum pesticides that are effective against stink bugs also kill the beneficial insects tree-fruit growers rely on as part of IPM programs. "That upsets the balance in the orchard ecosystem -- allowing other pests to become more of a problem -- and could reverse much of the progress we've made in IPM, which has helped Pennsylvania growers to reduce pesticide use by as much as 75 percent in recent decades."