Western Pacific Tropical Research Center
The Western Pacific Tropical Research Center is the research arm of the College of Natural & Applied Sciences (CNAS). WPTRC scientists explore topics that are germane to the well-being of the environment and people throughout the region. This includes research encompassing tropical agriculture, aquaculture, invasive species, plant pathology, protecting native plants, soil health and more.
Major funding for WPTRC research is provided through the Hatch, multistate Hatch, and McIntire Stennis programs administered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the government of Guam.
Additional funding comes from the National Science Foundation, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), USDA Forest Service, The US Department of Defense, and the private sector.
The Western Pacific Tropical Research Center concentrates on applied research that directly impacts agriculture in Guam, as well as in other tropical areas. Current areas of specialization are soils, horticulture, entomology, plant pathology, turf grass, human nutrition, aquaculture and forestry. Research laboratories are located at the University main campus and in Yigo with three field research facilities located in areas representing the different soil types of Guam: Yigo, Inarajan, and Ija. WPTRC has collaborative research programs with several land-grant universities in the western United States, the College of Micronesia, the College of the Northern Marianas, the American Samoa Community College, and several international research centers. Most of the research projects are designed to have direct application to Guam, Micronesia, and other areas of the Western Pacific region, and the tropics in general.
In addition to concentrating on research, the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center faculty teach undergraduate courses in Agriculture and Life Sciences, graduate courses in Sustainable Agriculture, Food, Nutrition and Natural Resources, and Environmental Science. Through their classes, WPTRC scientists provide innovative research experiences to graduate students.
Stay posted on the latest WPTRC news!
As water rates rise, drip irrigation offers farmers a way to conserve water and reduce costs.
The inventor of the first fully automated zero-waste aquaponics system visited Guam in December.
A mango orchard and two new guidebooks are ready to help improve mango production in Guam.
UOG studies about biochar were presented at a symposium at the largest national university in Okinawa, Japan recently.
Michael Fernandez was honored for his "standout" poster presentation on Guam's epiphytic orchids.
The recent passing of Bernard Watson has left a large void in the local community of farmers and consumers who relied on his goodwill and his quality produce. Students, researchers, and extension professionals from the College of Natural and Applied Sciences (CNAS) have enjoyed working with Bernard over the last forty years and are deeply moved by this loss.
Extension Agent Jesse Bamba recalls meeting Bernard in 1995 as an undergraduate student in the agriculture program when CNAS was the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Over the years Bernard was a teacher, a mentor, a collaborator, and a good friend,” recalled Bamba, “Many lively discussions and new ideas to try came about over a bottle of beer…or two.”
One of Bamba’s first memories of Bernard took place in 1995 when now retired CNAS Cooperative Extension Agent Frank Cruz took him to his farm. Cruz had helped Bernard bring in a hybrid banana variety called “Williams” from Hawaii. He planted the trees and watched in awe as they produced the biggest bananas he had ever grown. They were more than twice the size of Chiquita bananas sold in many stores. He was delighted, until he realized consumers were not interested in big bananas. Perhaps it was this incident that inspired Bernard to always analyze the market for a return on investment.
He loved growing plants and he farmed with his hands and his head. Before he planted anything, he knew exactly what price point he needed to break even. He liked growing crops that had potential and was not afraid to experiment. “It was always rewarding to work with Bernard. He was a passionate farmer who wanted to take advantage of current research and modern diagnostic tools to make informed decisions about his crops and he allowed us complete access to his fields to monitor and assist,” said Bamba. Roland Quitugua, CNAS Extension professional, worked with Bernard for over 30 years. At the time he met Bernard, he was working in the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center (WPTRC) Plant Pathology Lab with now retired Plant Pathologist George Wall. Papaya ringspot virus caused the death of many of Bernard’s papaya trees and he needed help. “The work we did with those infected plants became part of the standard recommendations we give farmers today about growing papayas,” said Quitugua. Bernard’s papayas became the most popular on Guam. He created a red label with the word “dagua”, which means “red flesh of the papaya”, that he put on papayas for sale. That label came to signify excellence and consumers looked for it.
It was Bernard who first notified WPTRC scientists of the mysterious deaths of hundreds of ironwood trees, known in CHamoru as gågu, in 2003. He observed many of his young ironwood trees, planted as windbreaks for his crops, dying. Since that time, the condition, labeled by Plant Pathologist Robert Schlub as ironwood tree decline, has been responsible for the death of hundreds of ironwood trees throughout parks, golf courses, farms, and residential areas on Guam.
Bernard was also the first farmer to agree to work with soil scientist Mohammad Golabi on the Smart Irrigation Scheduling project, which would potentially save farmers money on water bills. “He was very cooperative and allowed us to use his farm to evaluate this technology,” said Golabi.
Bernard’s top crops that he depended on to make a profit over the last 20 years were bitter melon, Macau banana, cherry tomato, and eggplant. He really liked to grow sweet peppers, but could not make a profit, so he switched to hot peppers, which are difficult to harvest. He made a canopy on wheels for the workers so they could pick in the shade, but he was not able to make those peppers profitable so he grew them for fun.
Through all the years of storms, typhoons, pests, and problems, Bernard continued supplying Guam with top quality produce. He was talking to the Guam Legislature about food security for the island long before sustainability became a buzzword and he was one of the founding members of the current Farmers Co-operative Association of Guam.
Bernard’s legacy to Guam goes beyond farming. “His legacy is who he was as a person: smart, kind, and caring,” said Bamba.
For Quituqua, “The example he set for all is his legacy. Bernard was a pioneer and the ultimate collaborator. All of us at CNAS learned so much from solving problems with him. When we work with farmers today, we speak from the experience of working with Bernard on his farm.”
Bernard will also leave yet another banana legacy. Since he had a fondness for experimentation, he tried growing new-to-Guam tissue-cultured banana varieties. He found a variety that his local clientele greatly appreciate, the “Tanduki”. The tree is shorter and stouter, which gives it a better chance of not getting blown over, and it produces more and larger hands than the “original Tanduki”. This time, consumers have embraced the big bananas. He will be greatly missed.
June 5, 2021
A workshop focusing on cultivating breadfruit and using the fruit to make breadfruit flour was offered by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program at the UOG Yigo Research & Education Center. Dr. Robert Bevacqua, Dr. Jian Yang, and Ms. Clarissa Barcinas facilitated the workshop held on June 5th, 2021. The Guam Daily Post Article
May 1, 2021
Everyone living on Guam has seen damage to coconut palms caused by coconut rhinoceros beetles (CRB). CRB have been on Guam since 2007, but until recently, the number of palms being damaged and killed on Guam was unknown. Standardized surveys of CRB damage are needed to monitor changes over time and space, especially in response to control activities and for early detection of CRB in new geographic areas.
UOG entomologist Aubrey Moore has designed a highly automated method for routine island-wide monitoring of CRB damage using a cell phone and artificial intelligence (AI).
Previous methods for monitoring CRB damage relied on direct observation or image analysis by human experts and are too time-consuming and expensive for routine monitoring over large areas.
Dr. Trevor Jackson, an entomologist working for AgResearch New Zealand, has developed a survey method based on a five-level scale for classifying CRB damage to individual coconut palms. Jackson’s method is being used extensively on CRB-infested islands in the South Pacific. Moore decided to create an island-wide roadside CRB damage survey for Guam based on an automated version of Jackson’s method. In the automated survey, a smart phone mounted on a car or truck records continuous videos while the vehicle is driven along all major roads on Guam. The smart phone uses a couple of free apps: OpenCamera records videos and GPSLogger records GPS coordinates.
Recent technical breakthroughs in AI have made it much easier to train computers to recognize objects in digital images. Moore collaborated with OnePanel Inc., an AI tech company, to create and train a couple of object detectors using a technique called “deep learning”. The first object detector finds all images of coconut palms in the survey videos and classifies each one using Jackson’s damage scale. The second object detector locates and counts v-shaped cuts in the fronds of each coconut palm. Data extracted from the videos are saved in a SpatialLite database.
To visualize survey results, Moore uses Quantum GIS, to make a publicly available, interactive web map. There are links on the web map to download the survey database and QGIS map project for more detailed analysis.
The first operational island-wide survey on Guam, completed during October 2020, indicated that about 19% of Guam’s coconut palms show CRB damage symptoms. The Guam surveys will be conducted bimonthly. An island-wide roadside video survey is also being done on Rota for early detection of CRB damage.
There is interest in use of roadside video surveys for CRB damage elsewhere in the Pacific and Moore plans to evaluate drone imagery for use on islands without extensive roads. The Guam roadside video survey was designed to be adaptable by using only free open-source software (FOSS) components. Custom-written software for the project as well videos, databases, and GIS projects from surveys will also be made available for download from public repositories hosted on GitHub.
It is interesting to note that this is not the first time that Moore has dabbled with AI. Thirty years ago he trained an artificial neural network to identify free-flying mosquitoes.
Thanks to UOG entomology technician Christian Cayanan for doing the surveys.
Moore, A. 2018. The Guam Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Problem: Past, Present and Future. Zenodo. doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1185371}.
Moore, A. 1991. Artificial neural network trained to identify mosquitoes in flight. Journal of Insect Behavior 4, 391–396.
Funded by the US Department of the Interior-Office of Insular Affairs, US Forest Service, USDA-APHIS
March 12, 2021
The Western Pacific Tropical Research Center held a beekeeping workshop at the UOG Research and Education Center in Yigo as part of the Beginner Farmer & Rancher Development Program funded by USDA.
Participants listen intently as Chris Rosario explains the intricacies of working with bee colonies.
Saturday, March 9th, participants arrived early in anticipation of learning about bees and beekeeping practices on Guam. Christopher Rosario, president of the Guam Beekeepers Association (GBA) presented information on honey bee biology and behavior, hive management practices, and a hands-on look at beehives located at the center. GBA officers and beekeepers, Dennis Larsen and Olympia Terral spoke about their experiences of keeping bees on the island.
May 22, 2020
The US Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs (DOI-OIA) has awarded $239,994 to the University of Guam College of Natural and Applied Sciences in response to a grant proposal entitled Establishment of Self-sustaining Biological Control of Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Biotype G in Micronesia submitted by UOG entomologist Dr. Aubrey Moore.
Dr. Aubrey Moore feeds a solution containing the naturally occurring insect virus OrNV to coconut rhinoceros beetles. This proven bio-control agent has been successfully used to control CRB populations. Dr. James Grasela is working to find the appropriate strain of the virus that will be effective for the biotype of beetle decimating coconut trees around Guam.
Funding from the grant will be used for partial support of an existing project aimed at implementing self-sustaining control of coconut rhino beetles (CRB) throughout Guam by introducing an insect disease caused by a naturally occurring insect virus which infects only rhino beetles. This virus is called Oryctes rhinoceros nudivirus, or OrNV for short. Different strains of OrNV have been very effective in providing long-lasting control of rhino beetles on many Pacific islands. Typically, after the virus is introduced into the CRB population, damage to coconut palms and other palms falls to very low levels within a few months and it stays at those low levels indefinitely.
Part of the grant funding will be used to pay the salary of Dr. James Grasela, an insect pathologist who has spent his career finding ways to control pest insects with insect diseases instead of poisoning them with insecticides. Grasela has been working under a contract at the University of Guam for the past two years under a previous DOI-OIA grant. He has screened OrNV strains collected from several locations in the Asia-Pacific region and has found two that have potential for controlling the biotype causing so much damage on Guam, CRB-G.
For more information regarding research on CRB and other insects conducted by scientists at the University of Guam, please visit studentfinancialservices.ipartsolution.com/wptrc/entomology.
For detailed information on the recent grant award, you can download Moore's grant proposal from: http://github.com/aubreymoore/2020-DOI-CRB-Biocontrol/blob/master/doi_proposal.pdf
Or contact him directly:
Dr. Aubrey Moore
Cell: (671) 686-5664
February 14, 2020
The Western Pacific Tropical Research Center (WPTRC) recently made a timely contribution to the University of Guam, a Cycad Walk with cycads from around the world. The garden was the brainchild of retired professor and WPTRC research scientist Thomas E. Marler. He has spent much of his career studying this ancient lineage of seed producing plants with a focus on the region’s only cycad, Cycas micronesica
“I developed the desire to build a learning garden based on cycad plants after visiting the Singapore Botanic Garden in 2005,” said Marler. “Their evolution garden included numerous cycad species and I felt that Guam residents would appreciate a similar learning venue.”
Ben Deloso examines a Cycas micronesica specimen in the Cycad Walk.
Marler began compiling potential cycad species immediately. When Benjamin Deloso came to UOG to pursue a master’s degree and study with Marler, he moved the garden’s plans from the back burner to the front burner. The pair of cycadophiles worked on the layout and logistics following Deloso’s arrival in September 2016, and by October Deloso began planting.
Throughout the years Marler has worked with botanical gardens in Florida and Thailand that have cycads as their research and scientific plant collection focus. He grew many of the plants in the Cycad Walk from seed and nurtured them in his cycad nursery on the UOG campus. Cycads from Australia, Mexico, Cuba, Africa and Micronesia are represented allowing for a visual journey around the world and back in time.
Strolling through the Cycad Walk, visitors can learn about the individual plants by reading the interpretive signage posted and imagine how numerous these plants were during the time dinosaurs were present on the planet. In this age, cycads are the most threatened group of plants worldwide. Seventy percent of cycads worldwide are threatened with extinction including Cycas micronesica.
“The Cycad Walk showcases the beauty and unique aspects of these plants while raising awareness of the ongoing threats to their survival,” said Deloso.
November 22, 2019
The 3rd Marianas Terrestrial Conservation Conference & Workshop (MTCC) is over. Held for the first time in Saipan November 19-20, the conference attracted over 100 attendees with 28 presentations on the first day and nine scientific posters on the second day. Free and open to the public, the MTCC is the only conference held in the region that brings researchers together around conservation issues facing the islands that make up the Mariana archipelago. Talks included research on recovery of fanihi (Mariana fruit bat), såli (Micronesian starling) and åga (Mariana crow), native skinks, and snails. Talks can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2ycP1zJLco5-gR8rkL8m4Q/videos.
Several University of Guam (UOG) students and graduates presented at the conference including Maria Lynn Cruz, Jerilyn Calaor and Ann Marie Gawel. Calaor and Gawel are currently working toward their PhD degrees under Haldre Rogers at Iowa State University. Moneka de Oro, research technician at the Ecology of Bird Loss Project on Guam attended the conference and believes it is important to have a venue to showcase terrestrial research in the region. “It is vital for people to know about the research being conducted on native flora and fauna in order to understand where we are now and our relationship to the land,” said de Oro.
Jerilyn Calaor presents her research via online connection from Iowa on the role of spiders in arthropod communities in the absence of birds. Photo Credit: WPTRC
UOG, Western Pacific Tropical Research Center (WPTRC) was a major sponsor for the conference. “I was very impressed with the caliber of the research and presentations at the conference,” said WPTRC Associate Director Adrian Ares.
Researcher Michael Lanzone from Cape May, New Jersey, presented on an upcoming project tracking såli (Micronesian starling) on Guam at Anderson Air Force Base. “I believe this conference is critically important for understanding the conservation of island ecosystems. It brings people together to learn from each other and allows conservation players a chance to get on the same page,” said Lanzone.
Hawaii based USGS Pacific Island Ecosystem Research Center scientist, Eben Paxton, said, “This conference allows attendees to hear what researchers are doing in the field of conservation research and know that our science is applicable to the region. It is also important to hear the concerns and needs of other scientists and the public.”
Emma Hollowell, a recipient of the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship that allows participants to gain hands-on experience at host government offices in Washington, D.C., transferring science to policy and management, attended the conference. She came because she personally cares about the issues around invasive species management and conservation and wanted to see firsthand what is happening in the Marianas. Working in D.C. with the office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Environment), she hears a great deal about environmental issues in the region.
The second day of the conference, scientists along with representatives from local and federal agencies, focused on brown tree snake research in the region. A panel discussion on conservation efforts in the islands brought together the issues of reintroducing birds on the island of Guam and brown tree snake eradication efforts. The well-attended poster session held at the Carolinian Utt drew conference participants and local people interested in conservation. The CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources hosted a BBQ as the culminating event of the conference.
The conference organizers included interesting field trips making the two-day conference overwhelmingly enjoyable. Thrilling pre-conference proa rides by Saipan-based nonprofit 500 Sails, Inc. and a hike to visit a Mariana swiftlet cave gave conference goers an introduction to Saipan. Multiple morning field trips included an early morning birding trip, tree planting for typhoon Yutu recovery efforts, and a native limestone forest hike.
“The zories-on-the-ground conference organizers, Jill Liske-Clark and Ann Marie Gawel, did a fantastic job in making the 2019 MTCC was a tremendous success,” said Rogers.
MTCC’s 2020 conference will be held in mid-November in Guam. For more information contact Haldre Rogers at email@example.com.
August 15, 2019
Three University of Guam (UOG) graduate students are benefitting from the pay-it-forward philosophy of local entrepreneur Bob Salas. Actively involved with the Guam Chamber of Commerce and managing his landscaping company, LMS, Salas knows talent when he sees it.
Graduate students Mario Martinez, Gregorio “Goro” Borja III, and Jonathan “Kawika” Davis were also working full-time with the UOG Guam Plant Extinction Prevention Program (GPEPP). It was through GPEPP’s connection with LMS to transplant thousands of federally listed threatened orchids, that Bob Salas met the students. He was very impressed with the tenacity and hard work of the GPEPP team and decided to offer financial assistance to help with their studies. “Mario, Goro, and Kawika accepted my offer. I understand Mario recently had a very successful thesis defense on the essential stages of orchids’ growth and their conservation, which was heavily influenced by the projects we’ve been working on,” mentioned Salas, “I am so pleased to hear that.”
This coming fall semester will mark five semesters of aid to both Borja and Davis. Martinez received four semesters of Salas’ generosity and graduated last May. He was the first to graduate from the Sustainable Agriculture Food and Natural Resources (SAFNR) graduate program.
GPEPP trained LMS personnel on identifying federally listed threatened species that are endemic to Guam. Together, GPEPP and LMS carefully salvaged and translocated over 5,000 Tuberolabium guamense, Bulbophyllum guamense, and Dendrobium guamense. In addition to providing maintenance and monitoring, their team had successfully created an adaptive methodology that helped these orchids become established in their relocation area where they can continue to not only survive but also thrive.
Bob Salas’s vision for Guam is large and all encompassing. LMS has a native plant nursery, a composting facility, and a machine that separates rebar from concrete to better repurpose concrete debris. He would like to see a greater collaboration between UOG and local businesses. Salas expressed his desire to continue working on projects with UOG; “With the expertise UOG faculty and staff provide, it makes good environmental and business sense for us to work more closely together.”
His son, Robert “Rob” Salas II, has started his own company, Pacific Federal Management, to better situate themselves for federal projects involving native plants. Bob Salas believes local companies should be contenders for the big contracts that are put out for bid by the federal government. “It is through receiving federal contacts that I am able to fund scholarships for local students so that when faculty retire from UOG there is someone qualified to replace them.” He is looking at funding off-island studies if any of the three master’s candidates wish to pursue a PhD.
A good-hearted man with a vision and a mission to help others can make an immense difference in peoples’ lives and keeps communities thriving.
August 1, 2019
While observing the macrocosm; climate change, life-threatening heat waves, sea level rise, species extinctions, Dr. Sean Gleason is focusing on the microcosm, the function of water transport in plants, to solve the issues of feeding an increasing global population in times when temperatures are the highest ever recorded on the planet.
As a plant physiologist with the Agriculture Research Service within USDA, Gleason believes it is important to investigate the characteristics of xylem, the tissue responsible for transporting water throughout plants. In a recent seminar, “Plant Water Transfer Traits” at the College of Natural & Applied Sciences, University of Guam, Gleason presented to a room full of CNAS researchers and graduate students. “With the increases in temperature and population, precipitation gets harder to predict. As arid places get drier, plants find it more difficult to thrive. If we can discover a way to help plants transport and utilize water more efficiently, people can remain in these affected areas with agriculture to support them,” said Gleason.
Gleason believes there are many unanswered questions as to what factors influence the efficiency of water transport. With a dearth of research in the scientific literature on this topic, Gleason is working to close this gap and welcomes other scientists to help unlock the pieces of this puzzle. To what degree will doubling xylem efficiency increase photosynthesis rates and therefore biomass production? Why does high xylem efficiency exist in wet environments but not in dry conditions? Are current plant hydraulic ideas being effectively transferred to other disciplines? These are a few questions Gleason posed to attendees of his seminar.
The CNAS Western Pacific Tropical Research Center (WPTRC) Associate Director, Adrian Ares, invited Dr. Gleason to Guam. During his visit, Gleason instructed CNAS graduate student, Pution Mendiola, on the procedure for measuring plant root pressure, a highly specialized, little known process. He also met with scientists from WPTRC. “Having lived in Hawaii and Kosrae, it was a real pleasure to be back in the islands. I greatly enjoyed meeting WPTRC researchers and seeing them so enthusiastic about the projects they are working on,” said Gleason.
When speaking with Gleason it is easy to see that researching plant water transport traits is not just a job, it is a passion.
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