Feedstock Development programs

Assessing the Potential Impact of Insect Pests and Plant Pathogens on Biomass Production of Miscanthus x giganteus and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

These two plant species are highly promising biomass sources, and insects and pathogens can cause diseases that can have a serious impact on production. This project seeks to identify such threats and to study possible control strategies.

program Highlights

2014 Highlights

Host plant resistance to lesion nematodes would be desirable for Miscanthus and sugarcane, two related bioenergy crops.  Currently, no cultivars of sugarcane are resistant.  We screened ~300 M. sinensis genotypes and found highly resistant individuals, indicating that it should be possible to breed Miscanthus and sugarcane (via introgression) for resistance to lesion nematodes.

2013 Highlights

Over six years, investigators within with our program undertook the challenge to assess the likelihood that insect pests, plant pathogens, and nematodes could affect Miscanthus and switchgrass biomass production. Further we provided a foundation upon which the development of sound methods to limit the impact of pests and pathogens could occur. Additionally, potential interactions among Miscanthus, its pests and pathogens, and neighboring crops were evaluated. Knowledge of the insect fauna, including pests, predators and parasitoids, and of the pathogens associated with Miscanthus and switchgrass is essential for development of IPM tactics.

2012 Highlights

In 2012, Dr. Erik Sacks joined our program and provided leadership for the collection of Miscanthus seed in Japan. He established a large population (~600 individuals from 200 accessions) of Miscanthus in a greenhouse at the University of Illinois. This population will be used in further evaluations that assess Miscanthus resistance to nematodes. In addition, Dr. Sacks began a third season of field trials to compare M. x giganteus, corn, and sugarcane for resistance against nematodes. Ongoing greenhouse investigations with the fungus Leptosphaerulina chartarum determined that the above-ground biomass of M. x giganteus could be reduced by as much as 33% from this pathogen. Evaluation of 11 fungicides revealed that application of demethylation inhibitor fungicides could reduce the severity of this disease by 29%. Even though the severity of the disease was lowered, biomass reductions were still severe.


Our team identified several new viruses that infect switchgrass in Illinois. Of these, one is a DNA virus, and the rest are characterized as RNA viruses, each belonging to a different genus. These viruses are being further studied to determine their impact on biomass, more complete symptom characterization, and their relationship with vectors. Regarding vectors, switchgrass fields were sampled for leafhoppers throughout the summer at multiple locations near Champaign-Urbana, Ill. Graminella aureovittatus, the suspected vector for the switchgrass marafivirus, was found in limited numbers. The population dynamics of the cordgrass seed bug, Ischnodemus falicus, floret feeding caterpillar, Aethes spartinana, and a planthopper, Prokelisia crocea, were monitored in prairie cordgrass plots located near Champaign-Urbana. The planthopper species was found in high densities during the very hot and dry summer. Feeding preference studies continued with the yellow sugarcane aphid, Sipha flava. Choice assays indicated that yellow sugarcane aphids showed no preference between energy cane and M. x giganteus.

2011 Highlights

In 2011, upon harvesting test plots of Miscanthus x giganteus (Mxg) and switchgrass, the Gray team found that parasitic nematodes had a major negative impact on biomass yield. They also isolated and identified several fungal organisms. They continue to determine the impact those fungi might have on biomass production. Gray’s group also characterized five viruses infecting switchgrass and evaluated nine switchgrass varieties for susceptibility to the Panicum mosaic virus. In addition to fungi and viruses, the researchers looked at common corn pests to see what impact, if any, they might have on Mxg and switchgrass yields. They found supporting data that Mxg is a poor host for western corn rootworm relative to corn. Switchgrass also was determined to be a poor host for armyworms, another common pest in corn.

2010 Highlights

A single-step multiplex PCR method was developed that can be used to detect simultaneously four nematode species discovered from previous surveys of biofuel crops. A sequence-independent amplification (SIA) virus identification method was developed to identify a new marafivirus infecting switchgrass. The full genome of the marafivirus has been sequenced. Potentially important fungal pathogens of switchgrass and Miscanthus were identified. The team assessed the impact of southwestern corn borer injury to Miscanthus x giganteus biomass production and evaluated the host suitability of switchgrass to several small grain aphid species. Preliminary research also was begun on energy cane susceptibility to selected fungal pathogens.

2009 Highlights

Surveys of diseases and insect injury and nematodes on Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) and Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) were completed in multiple states including Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Laboratory investigations indicated that Miscanthus and switchgrass could serve as potential hosts for Spodoptera frugiperda (fall armyworm), a significant insect pest of corn, particularly in the southeastern United States. In addition, soil samples obtained in Miscanthus and switchgrass plots revealed 21 and 24 species of nematodes, respectively. In 2008, the nematode species Longidorus breviannulatus was collected in significant densities from Miscanthus plots in central Illinois, and the roots were severely injured. A new generic method for the identification of viruses facilitated the molecular characterization of a new Marafivirus prevalent in switchgrass, and the design of species-specific PCR primers that can be used for the quick detection of selected fungal pathogens of Miscanthus. Microplots of Miscanthus and switchgrass were established at the EBI Energy Farm. These microplots will be used to establish precise densities of insects on plants so that their effect on biomass production can be measured more accurately.



Published in 2013

Adult Activity and Oviposition of Corn Rootworms, Diabrotica spp (Coleoptera: Chrysomeliae) in Miscanthus, Corn, and SwitchgrassJ. R. Prasifka, J. L. Spencer, N.

A. Tinsley, R. E. Estes, M. E. Gray, Journal of Applied Entomology, doi: 10.1111/jen.12050, March 15, 2013.


Detection of Switchgrass Mosaic Virus in Miscanthus and Other Grasses, B. Agindotan, N. Okanu, A. Oladeinde, T. Voigt, S. Long, M. Gray, C. Bradley, Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology, doi: 10.1080/07060661.2012.752763, 2013.


Biomass Reducing Potential and Prospective Fungicide Control of a New Leaf Blight of Miscanthus X Giganteus Caused by Leptosphaerulina Chartarum, Monday Ahonsi, Keith A. Ames, Michael E. Gray, Bioenergy Research, doi: 10.1007/s12155-012-9293-0, 2013.


Transmission of Switchgrass Mosaic Virus by Graminella Aurevittata, B. O. Agindotan, J. R. Prasifka, M. E. Gray, C. H. Dietrich, C. A. Bradley, Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology, doi: 10.1080/07060061.2013.810176, July 2013.

Published in 2012

Complete Genome Sequence of Switchgrass Mosaic Virus, a Member of the Proposed New Species in the Genus Marafivirus, Bright Agindotan, Michael E. Gray, Rosemarie Hammond, Carl A. Bradley, Archives of Virology, 157(9), pp. 1825-1830, doi: 10.1007/s00705-012-1354-3, September 2012.


Detection of Switchgrass Mosaic Virus in Miscanthus and Other Grasses, Bright Agindotan, Ngozi Okanu, Adebosola Oladeinde, Thomas Voigt, Stephen Long, Michael Gray, and Carl Bradley, Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology, DOI: 10.1080/07060661.2012.752763.


Research Needs and Potential Effects of Biomass Crops on Pest Management, Jarrad Prasifka and Michael Gray, Journal of Integrated Pest Management 3(4). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1603/IPM12011.


Seed Reduction in Prairie Cordgrass, Spartina pectinata Link., by theFloret-Feeding Caterpillar Aethes spartinana (Barnes and McDunnough), Jarrad Prasifka, D. K. Lee, Jeffrey Bradshaw, Allen Parrish, and Michael Gray, BioEnergy Research 5: 189-196.


Potential Biomass Reductions to Miscanthus x giganteus by Stem-Boring Caterpillars, Jarrad Prasifka, Jeffrey Bradshaw, and Michael Gray, Environmental Entomology 41(4): 865-871.

Published in 2011

Distribution and Diversity of Root-Lesion Nematode (Pratylenchus spp.) Associated with Miscanthus x giganteus and Panicum virgatum Used for Biofuels, and Species Identification in a Multiplex Polymerase Chain Reaction, Tesfamariam Mekete, Kimberly Reynolds, Horatio D. Lopez-Nicora, Michael E. Gray and Terry L. Niblack. Nematology 13(6): pp. 673-686, July 1, 2011.


Stem-boring Caterpillars of Switchgrass in the Midwestern United States, Jarrad Prasifka, Jennifer Buhay, Thomas Sappington, Emily Heaton, Jeffrey Bradshaw, Michael E. Gray, Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 104(3): pp. 507-514, May 2011.


Plant-Parasitic Nematodes Are Potential Pathogens of Miscanthus x giganteus and Panicum virgatum Used for Biofuels, Tesfamariam Mekete, Kimberly Reynolds, Horacio D. Lopez-Nicora, Michael Gray, Terry Niblack, Plant Disease, doi: 10.1094/PDIS-05-10-0335, 95(4),  April 2011.


Seed Reduction in Prairie Cordgrass, Spartina pectinata Link., by the Floret-Feeding Caterpillar Aethes spartinana (Barnes and McDunnough), Jarrad Prasifka, D. K. Lee, Jeffrey Bradshaw, Allen Parrish, Michael Gray, Bioenergy Research, doi: 10.1007/s12155-011-9120-z, March 9, 2011.


First Report of Basal Stem Rot and Foliar Blight Caused by Pythium sylvaticum on Miscanthus sinensis in Illinois, USA, Monday Obaigboruen Ahonsi, Bright Agindotan, Michael Gray, Carl Bradley, Plant Disease, DOI:10.1094/PDIS-08-10-0592, February 22, 2011.

Published in 2010

Application of Sequence-Independent Amplification (SIA) for Identification of RNA Viruses in Bioenergy Crops, Bright Agindotan, Monday Ohonsi, Leslie Domier, Michael Gray, Carl Bradley, Journal of Virological Methods, 169(1): pp. 119-128, October 2010.


First Report of Pithomyces chartarum Causing a Leaf Blight of Miscanthus x giganteus in Kentucky, Monday Ahonsi, Bright Agindotan, D. W. Williams, Rebecca Arundale, Michael Gray, Tom Voigt, Carl Bradley, Plant Disease, 94(4), p. 480, April 2010.


First Report of Field Populations of Two Potential Aphid Pests of the Bioenergy Crop Miscanthus x giganteus, Jeffrey Bradshaw, Jarrad Prasifka, Kevin Steffey, Michael Gray, Florida Entomologist, 93: pp. 135-137, March 2010.

Published in 2009

Symptoms, Distribution and Abundance of the Stem-Boring Caterpillar, Blastobasis repartella (Dietz) in Switchgrass, Jarrad Prasifka, Jeffrey Bradshaw, Arvid Boe, DoKyoung Lee, David Adamski, Michael Gray, Bioenergy Research, Dec. 10, 2009.


Distribution, Morphological Description, and Molecular Characterization of Xiphinema and Longidorous spp. Associated with Plants (Miscanthus spp. And Panicum virgatum) Used for Biofuels, Tesfamariam Mekete, Michael Gray, Terry Niblack, Global Change Biology - Bioenergy, 1(4): pp. 257-266, Aug. 24, 2009.


Development and Feeding of Fall Armyworm on Miscanthus x giganteus and Switchgrass, Jarrad Prasifka, Jeffrey Bradshaw, R. L. Meagher, R. N. Nagoshi, Kevin Steffey, Michael Gray, Journal of Economic Entomology, 102(6), June 13, 2009.




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